League of Legends has experienced some rather phenomenal growth in recent months. Growth that in many ways mimics the early days of World of Warcraft, where an initial niche group of players (DoTA for LoL, pre-WoW MMO player base for WoW) jumped in on day one, and then through positive buzz more and more people were drawn in.
And like WoW, much of that success is due to simply launching a rather outstanding product. LoL takes what made DoTA great and polishes it, giving it a more professional look and feel while also tailoring everything around that core game. Sure the client is stable, easy to use, and gets you into a game without much fuss or struggle, but none of that would matter if the core game, the part that is almost 100% DoTA, was not a fun way to spend an hour or so per game.
But what separates Riot, the makers of LoL, from many other dev teams (including the team behind WoW today) is that rather than simply settling for the success that comes with shipping a good game, they embrace that success and aim higher. Between aggressively expanding their dev team, sticking to a ridiculous patching pace (one significant update every two weeks if not more), going above and beyond in terms of community interaction on the forums and at events, and (at least so far) not abusing their success and trying to ‘cash cow’ on the game, they are on track to continue the ‘good vibes’ around the game and to keep the snowball of momentum rolling.
The game also shows that if your product is solid enough, you can overcome initial problems that would otherwise cripple a similar product. For instance it’s almost a given that on patch day, the LoL server is going to have issues, ranging from slight lag to being offline for hours at a time. And until recently, due to that exceptional growth, even on non-patch days the servers were having issues and going down at random, much to the angst of the players (sound familiar early WoW players?). Then you have to factor in that in a competitive game like LoL, you will ALWAYS have people calling a certain champion OP, UP, or broken. You will always have a rapidly shifting metagame that itself shifts the balance of power without a single line of code changing, and you will constantly have to react quickly to players trying to game the system and advance by questionable means. So far, Riot has done a great job dealing with all of this, between clearly communicating champion changes, limiting exploits and cheating, and making significant progress in server and client stability.
Finally the business model itself is an important factor as well. With the upfront cost being zero, and the ultimate cost to compete at the highest level also being zero, the ‘Free to Play’ distinction truly does apply here. Riot balances convenience items (XP/IP boosts, buying champions with RP points) with pure fluff (skins) well, and the game itself does a handy job of ‘marketing’ those items. Even if you don’t follow what skins have been released and such, seeing someone in-game using one might trigger that interest. Likewise, the release of a new champion might motivate some players to create a custom rune page for that champion, and if they don’t have the IP to do so, they might be tempted to speed things up with an IP boost. Want to catch up to your level 30 friends quicker? Grab an XP boost, etc.
What makes the model not just acceptable but enjoyable is that along with new skins being patched in, all players also get new champions and balance tweaks, along with more major upgrades like a UI revamp or the upcoming graphics overhaul, so rather than fearing updates like many MMO players do in the F2P market, LoL players always have something to get excited about, be it something they intend to pay for or just enjoy for free. This keeps Riot as the ‘good guys’, and that goes a long way in terms of positive buzz and overall player satisfaction. It’s hard to root for a game when you fear or distrust the people behind it.
As I’ve said before, if you are looking to trying something different or get back to a DoTA-like game, you really should give LoL a shot. Whether you casually play a few games a week or attempt to climb the ranked ladders, it’s entertaining stuff that continues to get better and better. Sign up (referral program ftw) and feel free to friend me (SynCaine in-game), I’m on most nights now.
Chuck-o-the-day: Chuck Norris is the only person Kanye West won’t interrupt.