During PAX we ambushed Marc Merrill, President of Riot Games to get some insight about what the team has planned up until launch, and beyond.
Before our big Riot Games vs. Team ZAM match at PAX this year (which we regrettably lost), we ambushed Marc Merrill, President of Riot to get some insight about what the team has planned up until launch and beyond. If you haven't been able to try League of Legends yet, stay tuned -- we're going to be giving away over 20,000 beta keys sometime this week.
ZAM: League of Legends is doing great here; you have a lot of people playing the game and all of them are having fun. What kind of feedback have you guys had so far?
Marc Merrill: We've had some great feedback. Not only from guys who have been in the beta, that have been playing for a long time, coming by, wanting to meet the developers. Other players that have played DotA, but not necessarily have heard of League of Legends have had a great reaction as well. And then a lot of people that have never experienced the MOBA genre have shown up and had a great time as well. There are a couple guys playing right now, in fact, who are having a really great time. It's really exciting for us; it's been in positivity all around.
ZAM: I've been in the beta for a while, so a lot of the stuff that you guys have in right now, we already know about. We want to know about the new stuff, I want to know about the stuff that's going to go in that hasn't necessarily happened. Most notably, new maps, new champions or other juicy nuggets of information you can tell us about.
Marc: So in regards to the new map, which is one of the hottest items that we're really excited about, we're about to roll one out. It's going to be going into the beta shortly. I don't know if it's in this release or if it's in the release at the end of the month. It's coming out really soon, it's a two lane map, it's awesome, there's a lot of action, it's really well designed to force action to the middle of the map, and it's designed for a 3 on 3 play experience. So it's very different experience, it will be a lot of fun for users to go bang away on that. We just put four new champions in the build, so there are about 36 right now; we're going to have 40 available for ship. We're writing a tutorial, which is another very highly requested feature by a lot of users, especially the newer guys, obviously, who haven't experienced games like DotA before. We're also adding a lot of helpful information to the PVP.net Client, like videos and information and little pop-up menus, if you will, that can help orient people around how runes and masteries work and other stuff like that. Another really awesome feature that's going to be coming in, shortly after open beta, is ranked games and draft mode, which is one of the things I'm really excited about as well, for the top end play.
ZAM: That's one of the things that has been really requested by players; the draft and mirror mode. Are you ever going to approach the mirror mode, or is that going to be an option as part of draft? How is draft going to work in League of Legends?
Marc: Draft is going to work pretty similarly to draft mode in DotA, where you can see what the other team is choosing, both from a character, champion perspective, as well as what summoner spells they're choosing. It's probably going to alternate, 1-2-2-2-1, but it's all done in the PVP.net Client, very similar to how champion selection is done currently. In terms of mirror mode and things like that, we really want to add a lot of game modes in the future. We're going to be constantly working with the users to identify what the most requested modes are, and implement them for users to have fun with.
ZAM: Let's rewind to the tutorial. It sounds like it's going to be a really positive thing for players to sink their teeth into right from the start. Is that what you're going to be using the AI controlled bots for? How is the overall tutorial going to feel and play?
Marc: The tutorial is actually an entirely scripted experience, so it's very different from the bot AI that you can add to a practice game. It's designed to both bring in a new player to the lore of League of Legends by introducing the concept of a summoner and a champion and what it is, as well identifying the various buildings and units and how they work. It will also teach the somewhat counter-intuitive basic mechanics, like "don't just blindly rush into the fray, you should wait to follow your minions," and things like that, as well as basic controls. And then the tutorial dumps people off into the PVP.net Client new tutorial, which will educate them around what runes and masteries are, as well as recommending that people then go start their play experience by playing in practice games against bots.
ZAM: OK, down the road, after launch and after things come out, are there any things that you'd like to do, but haven't quite committed any developer resources to as of yet?
Marc: There's a ton of stuff.
ZAM: Anything to really excite the players?
Marc: One of the things that I'm personally really excited about is the potential to do PvE style maps that could explore the back stories of various champions. This will continue to expand the new player experience by allowing people to progressively have really high quality scripted events and encounters that also simultaneously explore the backgrounds of the champions. It will be really fun to help drive more immersion in the world. That's one thing. Stuff we've talked about, but nonetheless I'm super excited about is our integrated tournament functionality as well. Competitive play is extremely important to us, so integrating a tournament system that allows players to host their own tournaments and things like that will be something that I think will be really awesome. As well, we'd like to do teams with identity, kind of similar to WoW arena teams, if you will.
ZAM: Ranked matches is one thing that hasn't been available for beta testers yet. Is that going to play a lot like Ladders did in Warcraft 3 competitive play? Are there going to be seasons? How exactly is that going to work?
Marc: Yep, there's going to be ladders as well as seasons. So, at launch, we're actually positioning it as 'pre-season,' where users can come in and really get their feet under them while unlocking a lot of the content of the game, obviously, because the game is free. Season One will be when we launch the tournaments and when we have all these other features that we want to make to make the game extremely competitive, with observer mode and all these other things that are really, really demanded by the top end players. So I'm really excited about that and that's probably going to be a couple months after launch.
ZAM: Runes are kind of new to progressive enhancement or persistent enhancement. Runes are going to give you some stat increases and you'll be able to build pages of the runes. My biggest question is how are players going to be able to collect enough runes to make the ultimate page, or make something that is in line with their specific character or champion of choice?
Marc: We're going to roll out a patch that really unlocks the true progression system of the game, with influence points being used to unlock content. Right now, in the beta, users get a grab bag of a bunch of random runes, and it's hard to get the ideal rune page. Currency, on the other hand, you essentially get to go to the shop, and you identify what runes you want to buy. So if I want to go an all crit build, or all dodge, or if I want to stack ability power or some combination thereof, I'll be able to pick and choose the runes that I want a lot easier to build the ideal page, or pages.
ZAM: You mention influence points. This game is totally free to play - as you go through games, you gain influence points. But you can also buy 'Riot Points,' which also unlock the same kind of stuff through a micro transaction store. Can you explain what kind of things will be available, and if there will be anything that you can't get with the influence points that you can get with Riot Points?
Marc: The things that you can't get with Influence Points that you can only get with Riot Points are things like boosts which modify the rate at which you gain influence points. So, essentially, influence points are going to be the primary currency that everybody wants to have, because that's the stuff that unlocks runes and unlocks champions, and stuff like that. We will never directly sell power, so runes, which have a power element, you can only get by actually playing the game. But take me, as an example, my type of play style is that I work an awful lot, but even though I really want to play a lot, I may want to buy a boost for three bucks or a small price to leverage my play time more effectively so I maximize the amount of influence points that I get over a period of time. That's the type of thing that we're going to be selling. Additionally, we'll also be selling certain exclusive skins and things like that will be available for Riot Points that aren't necessarily available for Influence Points. There aren't going to be champions that you can only go buy with Riot Points, because then certain users that spend money have an advantage over other players. Similarly, you cannot use Riot Points to buy runes.
ZAM: A lot of the persistent games, like MMOs, have content release schedules. One of the popular models is to release the mini updates - four or so - before the expansion. Are you going to just be consistently releasing little updates? Or are you going to be releasing little updates, and then all of a sudden unleashing a big update?
Marc: We're going to be doing that. Essentially lots of frequent updates and then massive discreet and potentially branded expansions as well. There's a couple that we're working on right now that are actually really awesome. I look forward to being able to talk about that.
ZAM: Where's the ceiling with League of Legends? I mean, where does this end? Where does this go from here?
Marc: We hope it doesn't end for many, many years. We really sense this is going to be a globally operating product, and we're excited to pour massive amounts of resources in investing in the game, constantly improving it, and really growing it in the direction that the players want to see it going. And the cool thing is that, for each piece of content we put into the game, we're exposing it to Europe, we're exposing it to Asia, North America, and so it's much more of a global focus for us, which is when people say "well how is Riot operating this game for free? They're crazy; they're not going to make any money!" Well, for us, we want to have millions of users. And so, if we have millions of users, the company is going to be doing just fine. We expect a very small fraction of our users to ever spend any money, and that's totally OK with us. Most of our top gamers won't spend any money, and that's fine, we still want them to play League of Legends.
ZAM: Will there be any other ways to support the company that won't necessarily be monetization? Maybe word of mouth promotions and stuff like that?
Marc: Absolutely. We love the fact that we have a lot of passionate gamers that are excited about the company and appreciate the things that we're doing, in terms of making high quality games available for free and really working with the audience. One of the things that people can do to help us out is go tell their friends. We have a refer a friend program that we're about to roll out as well, where we'll actually reward people with influence points and exclusive in-game content by bringing other people into the game. Go tell your friends, tell them that you like League of Legends, tell them that Riot Games is a great company. That's the thing that we value the most, so we just want to have a lot of users and deliver great value to them.
ZAM: Awesome, Marc Merrill it's always a pleasure, I appreciate your time.
Marc: Thank you, appreciate it!
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle