Riot Games Reveals How It Validates Gameplay and Plans for Champion Releases
Riot Games has explained how it validates the state of gameplay and how champions are planned for release through a blogpost. Through a case study of the latest champion Renata Glasc, Game Designer Blake “Squad5” Smith delved into the process of zeroing in on champion mechanics and abilities.
Squad5Whenever we release a new champion, we often get questions like “How did you decide this champion’s new mechanic was fit for the game?” (or, alternatively, something more along the lines of “How dare you?”). We wanted to answer these questions by sharing how we validate gameplay and plan for champion releases and, since I’m the gameplay designer on the latest one, you’re stuck with me. Sorry”
The process is to closely look at the champion’s abilities, understand if they add value to the gameplay, get into the nitty-gritty details of those abilities, and then release the champion.
Riot’s goals for new champions
Even though Riot intends every new champion to be unique, be it in terms of playstyle, mechanic, theme, or ability kit, it strives to present a champion whose design is carefully evaluated and tested.
The champion should widen the gameplay experience of the players rather than shunning the older champions in the roster.
Smith explained this evaluation process by talking about one of the abilities of Renata Glasc, which made its way into the spotlight for being “too overpowered.”
“Let’s take a look at how this panned out with the hot topic of the day, Renata Glasc’s W, Bailout. Bailout is intended to create intense, live-or-die moments for her team. With its buff, an ally can push their limits and prove their value even beyond death to get a second chance at life. However, it can also be used on a champion that isn’t currently at the brink of death to boost their offensive stats,” he wrote.
For context, Renata Glasc’s W – Bailout grants her allies (or herself) a temporary attack speed and movement speed buff that resets upon getting a kill. If the ally dies while the shield is on them, they’re granted full health, but start to burn to death over three seconds. If they get a kill during the burn duration, the burn will stop, and they will continue to live with the amount of health they have left.
Smith added that they recognized that bailout as a basic ability could have too much power and topple the state of the game. Therefore, Riot had to extensively test and validate the potential of the revive.
Does a new ability force the opponents to stop being aggressive? What are the counterplay options available? Are players only waiting to abuse an ability at the right time instead of using it proactively? – These are some of the questions that Riot asks while validating gameplay.
In the blogpost, Smith posed these questions with Renata’s Bailout as a reference:
Does the existence of Bailout lead to game states where opponents feel like there’s no point in being aggressive?
Does Renata only wait for opportunities to revive allies rather than use Bailout proactively?
Do opponents feel like they have counterplay options when Bailout is cast on an enemy?
“We test these questions by adding/removing constraints or tuning the numbers until hopefully eventually the ability is in a reasonable state. If the ability isn’t matching our expectations, we keep on iterating to determine why,” he added.
According to Smith, answering these broad questions can help game designers look at specifics in order to fine-tune the champions’ abilities.
Tackling specific questions like how many times Bailout actually saves an ally or if the revive helped secure a kill that otherwise would not have happened. Such questions give the developers insight into how the ability can be tweaked.
“These give us insight into how the ability can be tuned, or what we call “levers”. Different levers tune different aspects of the ability. For Bailout, we have levers that allow us to increase or decrease outputs such as the consistency of revives, the potency of the bonus stats, and the frequency of casts. After enough iterations, we reach a point where we have enough levers and feel the ability is known well enough to release—with a plan, of course,” Smith said.
Champion release and follow-up
In this phase of testing, developers and designers plan for what they expect to see after the new champion’s release in terms of winrates, item builds, skill level-up order, and role priority.
Smith said that if any of these stats are way too off the chart from what they initially predicted, they are likely to step in and take action using the levers already identified.
“Sometimes we include specific “action items” for riskier abilities, which are like playbooks where we describe a possible scenario and list a potential action (or, like, five) to address it,” Smith wrote.
After identifying Bailout as one such risky ability, Smith said that they had to prepare action items for it. If the frequency of Bailout is too high, the team had already planned for several viable levers.
Levers for Renata’s Bailout mentioned in the blogpost are:
Reduce the duration of Bailout’s buff to reduce the window of time the unit gets to be potentially revived
Shorten the revived ally’s burndown period so that they burn faster, reducing the chance of them getting a takedown to stop their burn
Make the takedown window less forgiving by requiring a dying ally to have dealt damage to an enemy within a few seconds, rather than revive off any assist
Make the actual stat buffs bigger so that she is more tempted to buff an ally who is likely to remain alive rather than one who is near death
Blake Smith stated that Riot’s goals were to ensure that champions having new mechanics are released with acceptable conditions and that the developers are always in standby mode to deal with any gameplay issues that may arise.
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