League of Legends is a complex game, and Riot Games is OK with that. In fact, according to Design Director Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street, the dev team often makes decisions to increase the game’s complexity even if it comes at the sacrifice of accessibility.
Street bases his talk on how a game is meant to be something with a simple goal — in League’s case, destroying the other team’s Nexus — with challenges thrown into the mix. In League’s case, those challenges are represented by things like towers, minions, and opposing players. How the dev team can tweak those challenges and how players find solutions for them in terms of builds and strategies, is at the heart of design, with the ultimate goal being to take the easy choices, such as the current state of rune selection, and make them harder.
One of the initial thesis of League is that it wasn’t going to sacrifice depth for accessibility… League wasn’t going to go after being a super easy to learn game for fear of losing the depth that the team wanted League to have.
This stands in stark contrast to many multiplayer online games out there, which have long courted accessibility to try and draw in as many players as possible — including World of Warcraft, where Street previously served as Lead Systems Designer. It’s a formula that’s certainly worked well enough for League, which Street says Riot co-founder Brandon Beck refers to as “a niche product that just managed to land in a niche that ended up being pretty large.”
Of course, there are plenty of people who would say that League is the “EZ mode” MOBA out there, as compared to something like Dota 2. That’s why it grew so large, that it is to earlier MOBAs what WoW is to earlier MMOs. It’s still very complex compared to the vast majority of video games out there — just as WoW is complex to people who have never played an MMORPG — but to coin a phrase, complexity is in the brain of the beholder.
I think the line between “accessible” and “complex” might be a little finer, though, at least in terms of the game elements Street is talking about. There are, I believe, three levels to “getting” a game like League: understanding the basics, becoming a good player, and becoming an optimal player. When you hear about “accessibility,” it’s usually about overcoming thatfirst barrier, that of understanding the basics; a decent tutorial and new player experience can do that. Then you can become a good/competent player, able to play the game at a reasonable level and enjoy yourself most of the time.
But there’s another “jump” required to become an optimal player, the kind that can find ways to squeeze that extra 3% DPS out of their characters or shave 0.2 seconds off their reaction time. The kinds of changes and problem-solving Street mentions seem to me to be more about that third level of play, while maybe affecting the second level a bit, depending on how ubiquitous they are. I don’t know that they affect new players, looking for an “accessible” game or that League is any harder to learn for a new player now than it was five years ago. Maybe his definition of “accessibility” is more about getting players from that second to third level of play, rather than my (somewhat subjective) notion of getting them from the first to the second, or even into the game in the first place.
Anyway, read Street’s article for yourself, and let us know what you think about the direction that League of Legends’ gameplay has taken.