Riot to offer free RP to new players, not veterans

Leprechaun Veigar

This past holiday season Riot was kind enough to dish out 450 RP to any summoner who had not been the subject of punitive action over the course of November and December. It was a nice gesture, though the surprise gift didn’t do much to incentivize ongoing good behavior. Riot did mention that the gift was the beginning of a much larger project aimed at rewarding the kind and persistent.

That project starts…at an undisclosed time. Once a summoner reaches level 3, a staggering feat to be sure, he will be gifted 400 RP, just for sticking around. Yes, level 3. No, you don’t get it if you’ve been level 30 for the past two years. Apparently the 450 RP in December was for you…and everyone else over level 6. Honestly, these initiatives confuse the hell out of me and seem to stir up a real shit storm for the folks at Riot. Almost the entire first page of comments on that post fall in line with this sentiment, courtesy of GuardiansAngel:

“How about you start rewarding the guys playing thousands of games of league of legends before you reward the guys who play a few games and quit.”

Those posts have hundreds of upvotes while the actual announcement has less than 100. Now, it could be that the malcontent level 30 summoners are the majority of the players on the forums, but it could just as easily be that the people committed to the game don’t like to see new players get incentives just for being new.

I understand that this is meant to be a gesture, but here’s the thing: gestures are usually thoughtful ways to show appreciation, gratitude, or praise. Key word in there is thoughtful. Riot’s efforts in this regard have been historically careless, and feel much more like a marketing gag to get their hooks into new players than an actual gesture of appreciation. The 450 RP this December was the exception – that was a nice gesture. This, this is just a marketing gag.

I’m also curious, why level 3? Is Riot struggling with new player retention and, if so, is 400 RP at level 3 going to change that? I don’t believe that this is an actual strategy for keeping players around, but then why do it? Level 3 can be accomplished by winning two games – is this really something worth pumping RP into? Maybe the numbers simply worked out that when players are given a certain amount of RP, X percentage of players will double down and buy RP to bridge the gap for a more expensive purchase. If that’s the real reason this RP is going out, well, good for Riot I guess. I’m just so confused by the whole thing that I’d be happy with such a logical conclusion.

Oh Riot, will you never learn?

This isn't working.

You know, I hate to write this post again, but repetition as a method for conditioning behavior is tried and true, and frankly I don’t know what else we can do. I’ve tried to appeal to logic, to cite examples of effective communication strategies, to state again and again that players want information and that the information we want should be readily accessible, but Riot continues to drop the ball and seems to be committed to doing so.

It’s Tuesday. What’s Tuesday? Tuesday is patch day. Don’t give me any of this “we patch when patches are ready,” crap. Nope. Tuesday is patch day. Why? Because the vast majority of patches go out on Tuesday. Because humans are creatures of habit. Because your customer base prefers a consistent update schedule.

Does every patch have to go out on Tuesday? Of course not. As is the case with today’s patch, things come up. However, when things come up, the changes need to be communicated to the user base in a timely fashion. The message should be clear, concise, and easy to find. I found the explanation of the delay by going to CLG’s redtracker–which remains a superior tool to Riot’s own because it threads red responses, but that’s another issue entirely–and finding RiotRara quoting RiotDaemon from another thread, which was also asking for the patch notes. RiotRara also posted the following:

Check out the Service Status forums. I will no longer be posting these kinds of threads in GD because they don’t belong here.

The Service Status forum is a new sub-forum, which on some level I can appreciate. Riot is trying to compartmentalize information to make it more accessible. Unfortunately, the effort is sort of half-assed. There is no indication on the home page that this kind of information is available or where it might be available. As far as posts “belonging” anywhere, General Discussion is the most used sub-forum Riot has. That probably won’t change any time soon. I found the post directing me to Service Status in General Discussion. Without that post, I wouldn’t know where to get the information. What was wrong with the old banner system? Granted, I don’t think that was perfect, but it was certainly better than a random post in one of the likely thousands of posts asking for information about the patch.

Like I said, I’m tired of talking about this, which is really to say I’m tired of it being an issue. Players shouldn’t have to hunt for this kind of information.

Riot Kills Mac Client, My Remaining Faith in Their Customer Service [RANT]

Note: This is the rant version of a post on communication I wrote earlier today. This is centered on Riot’s Mac Client shutdown. It is long. If you’d rather read suggestions for solving the problem, here’s the link to my earlier post.

I’ve been trying to give Riot the benefit of the doubt over the past 6 months. I got a bit cynical for a while there, but the bottom line was that I was enjoying their game, a game that experienced such explosive growth that very few companies could possibly have maintained, and if I wanted to play with new friends they could jump in the game for free. All of that is great stuff.

There were a few bumps along the way – we were promised things we never got. We were promised reparations for some customer services snafus and never got them. We’ve been promised new features for more than a year and they still aren’t here. But today a friend of mine sent me a thread that trumped it all and effectively killed any remaining faith I had in Riot as “the most player-focused game company in the world.” As of this past Tuesday, Riot officially killed the League of Legends Mac client.

I’m not here to bitch about the disintegration of the Mac client. It had been unsupported for months, and though it ran, some fairly serious problems would pop up from time to time for many of the users. I understand that maybe it was just more work than it could ever be worth, or that it just might never get to an acceptable state. I get that. What I don’t get is the method Riot used to communicate the change, the way rewards are being handled, and the message Riot is sending to a portion of its playerbase.

Forums have a couple problems, not the least of which is the amount of data they generate. Important posts get buried and can be incredibly difficult to find again, and that’s only for the forums you actually read. When a platform has been unsupported for months, chances are good that players stopped reading the Mac Client forum. Hell, who says they were even reading it in the first place? I know for a fact my brother didn’t read it, and the Mac client was the only way we were able to play LoL together since his PC died.

Then there’s the timing. The announcement was made on September 2nd. The shutoff date was September 6th. That’s four days. Four days. That has to be a joke. It’s not just that the notice window is so small, it’s also that the consolation prize for Mac testers can only be verified within that window. Here’s a quote from Tamat’s post:

Riot would like to give all active participants in the Mac beta a code that unlocks the Champions Pack, as a token of appreciation for the time they have dedicated to helping us evaluate the Mac client and our sincere apology for not being able to have the testing work out as originally planned. To qualify for the reward, you must have a majority of your logins come from the Mac client, and you must login to the Mac client and click on the Store button between Friday, September 2 and Tuesday, September 6.

So if you aren’t actively reading the Mac Testing forum (which is probably most people) and don’t log in for four days, you get nothing but a giant middle finger to stare at. This might not affect millions of customers. This might not affect even a thousand customers. It will affect some, though, and the message from Riot to those players is loud and clear: We don’t want you. Despite the time you spent testing the stillbirth that was our Mac client, we’re only going to offer a thank you once, and only for four days.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a situation in which players wouldn’t be able to log in for four days, or that they might choose not to. You know, like if they had been planning for the end of a season that was delayed without explanation. If they made the grind to Bronze or Silver or Gold status and then decided to check out other games while they waited for those rewards to come through. Gee, wasn’t that also a holiday weekend? You don’t think anyone may have been traveling or otherwise away from a computer that entire weekend, do you?

Well, we actually don’t know the answer to that because, as far as I can tell, Riot hasn’t been back to that announcement thread since Friday. I say “as far as I can tell” because that thread is now more than 100 pages long, and I’ve only been through about 30 of them. I would use Riot’s DevTracker, but it’s actually more polluted than the thread itself (more on that in today’s earlier post). I would use CL Gaming’s redtracker, but I can’t filter for the Mac Testing forum because, again, no one reads it or posts in it.

So I’m done. I’m done digging through thousands of forum posts for information that should be easy to find. I’m done assuming Riot knows best. Most of all, though, I’m done believing that somewhere Riot has a plan, that when the timing is right they’ll let us in on it, or that they’re actually in touch with their playerbase at all.

Come at me, most player-focused game company in the world. Prove me wrong.

Riot struggles to maintain server stability

For the second time in as many days, Riot had a hard time keeping League of Legends stable. The servers were set to busy sometime this afternoon after recovering from a critical error. Players were none to pleased, as you might imagine. The forums exploded just before servers ground to a halt with posts like “Stability Issues 7/19 – reserving this for Riot” and “Want to know how many times VALVE Servers have crashed?”

I can understand the frustration. Last night’s FG LoL Monday was cut short due to service issues. Two days of problems are somewhat rare for Riot, but certainly still annoying when they happen. When coupled with the extended Leona release window and the downtime around her launch, Riot has a woeful lack of positive buzz around League of Legends. I’m sure the game will bounce back, but it would be very cool for the company to do some things to drive a little positive interest in the League.

This isn’t some “Riot doesn’t do anything” post – just today they’re bringing down the EU servers to split them into two regions to improve stability. It’s a good move, but it’s almost invisible to the player (except for the downside of not being able to play with friends across the EU servers). Riot could do some little things to help keep League of Legends players happy during the lull between Season One and Season Two.

The easiest suggestion would be an IP-boost weekend. Those seemed to happen fairly often in the game’s first year, but I haven’t seen one in a long time. Why not give double IP for a weekend here and there leading up to the Season Two launch? It could easily drive sales for other IP boosts – 4x IP rocks – and encourage people to spend some extra time online over the weekend.

What about a skin giveaway? Hell, they could even tie it in with a livestreamed tournament or event. Just make a reusable code for the store that’s shown on-screen at the end of a tourney stream and make it available for 24 hours after the tourney. People love exclusivity with skins and it would be a great way to drive traffic for a specific tournament. Riot could even use the stream they’ve been promoting during server downtime as a stage for this.

In short, Riot needs to meet the concerns of the player base head on. Show the people crowing about HoN or DotA 2 something that says, ‘hey, we hear your concerns, we know you could be playing other games, thanks for sticking with us.’ I love LoL, but Riot has to do more than say that they’re the most player-focused company in the industry. It’s time show it.

Riot’s take on the E3 info

Riot has graciously stepped onto the E3 news scene with its own explanations of the champions and features in development for League of Legends. Thank god. That Gamespot video just wasn’t cutting it.

The video rehashes a lot of the information I’ve put together on Yorick, Leona, and Skarner, though Paul Bellezza did expand on Skarner’s design direction a bit. In case there was any doubt, it looks like Tanky DPS is here to stay. Bellezza called Yorick a “tanky fighter” who can “pretty much tank down anyone.” Skarner is a “vicious and aggressive fighter tank” (the extent to which that’s different from a tanky fighter is unclear) who allows you to “focus on enemies and the more you attack them, the more you debuff them and are able to take them down.” Wedged in between these two is an archetypal tank with some crowd control abilities. If ever there was a bad time to be a squishy, July and August will surely top it.

I’m hoping that those releases will also come with some itemization/character updates that help deal with Tanky DPS. The idea behind tankier champions is a fine one – longer fights means you get to play the game more – but when it comes at the expense of so many characters and when so much of the playstyle revolves around skills like Jarvan’s passive, the gameplay isn’t very fun. This is the big reason I don’t play Tanky DPS toons – they aren’t enjoyable. It’s fun to get a ranged carry farmed up and burn through enemies. It’s fun to drop Tibbers on a group of opponents and see huge chunks of health fly off. If Riot can find a way to make these longer fights similarly enjoyable, I’ll gladly take the addition of more Tanky DPS champions to the League.

Big LoL changes in store next week?

We’re fast approaching the end of Season One, a huge milestone for Riot and one that hopefully means we’ll see a deluge of new content for Season Two. We might get some news about some long-anticipated changes as early as next week. If Rinoa’s Twitter stream is to be believed, the company is taking a cruise on Wednesday of next week. That’s the day after patch day, folks.

Personally, I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m…pessimistically curious? I think the problem with a major content release in May is that there are so many other games that Riot will be competing with later in the year, potentially Dota 2. Unless there are some major feature releases planned at that time, Riot would be stuck hoping player enthusiasm can tide people over through the changing MOBA landscape. I don’t think that’s a realistic assumption.

That said, Dota 2 doesn’t look to be changing much about the game, other than adding an official support/development structure, so it could be the case that LoL carries on just fine. The game seems to continue to grow, even if Riot has squandered some of the good faith of the veteran player base. At any rate, keep your eyes open for big changes next week.

3 simple things Riot can do to repair customer relationships and restore good faith

Co-Op vs. AI

UPDATE: Since writing this post, Riot hotfixed to make Co-Op vs. AI live. While cool, it doesn’t have an effect on these suggestions.

The forums were again ablaze with outrage this morning, this time because Riot released the Co-Op vs. AI game mode to European servers before those in North America. Adding insult to injury, Phreak posted a video recap of an Olaf vs. Soraka fight from the Co-OP vs. AI preview Riot held a full month ago. As I’m sure you recall, we were also told the new bot matches would go live in the “coming days” after the patch that implemented the feature clientside. Well, it still isn’t here, and this is far from the first time Riot has mismanaged a feature launch or leaked an update far too early. Frankly, Riot desperately needs to improve its customer relations across the board, and it wouldn’t take much. I’ve come up with three simple, low-cost steps Riot can take to repair customer relationships and restore the good faith of its playerbase.

1. Stop Overpromising/Underdelivering

Riot knows this. The company knows it botched the Magma Chamber announcement in a big way. CEO Mark Merrill had this to say in a recent interview:

“We feel terrible about the whole experience there, where we learned a valuable lesson. We do a lot of iteration, we have a lot of cool design, where we’re innovating on lots of features and maps, modes, and all sorts of these things. And until we nail it and get it right, because our core experience is really fun, because there’s built-in expectations that users have on quality, we don’t want to screw anything up. And so we’re willing to take the time — and sometimes it’s a painful amount of time obviously — and it’s our fault for setting expectations the way we did.”

That’s actually a fantastic apology, but why are we still seeing this mistake being made? Where’s the Tribunal? Where is Co-Op vs. AI? The Magma Chamber mistake has been made several more times, and its breeding bad blood in the playerbase. This issue is compounded when the features that are leaked too early would add great value to the game. This week’s bans highlight just how much good Tribunal could do. I realize it’s being delayed so that it can be implemented properly, but the fact that I know of its existence and know that it is overdue makes the glacial pace of bans/suspensions all the more frustrating.

2. Implied Expectations Still Have to be Met

As Tuesday, February 15th rolled around I was getting geared up to play the newest champion in the league, Maokai. I fired up the client that morning and much to my surprise, servers were up. Awesome! Unfortunately, they had never gone down. The Maokai patch was delayed by a day.

Several players made forum threads about the delay and received responses like the following, from Phreak:

This week most likely. No promises on patch date.

Actually, guys, when you released the previous dozen-or-so patches on a Tuesday, Tuesday became patch day to your customers. Similarly, when you release a Champion Spotlight showcasing a champion’s skills accurately for several weeks, we assume those spotlights will be accurate on launch day. When Renekton launched, he was very different than he looked in the Spotlight. I realize both of these situations involved last minute changes, but those changes need to be foreseen and dealt with accordingly. Remember, you set the two week patch cycle, not the players. If it’s too tight to accurately represent and release a product, maybe you need to reconsider the patch cycle. Repetitive action on your part implies expectations from the consumer. When your action changes, you’ve failed to meet expectations you set, explicitly or otherwise, and that creates a bad customer experience.

3. Revive the Blog

The last official League of Legends blog post went live on June 10, 2010. It was actually a great post, giving players a closer look at upcoming changes to the recommended items for each character in game. Unfortunately, the blog wasn’t updated very often (despite several posts on June 8th that were conspicuously just a few minutes apart) and content that would otherwise be appropriate for a blog was sent to the forums. More unfortunate still is that the forums lack functionality to make them a decent place to get information. The red tracker is pretty weak when compared to community alternatives (CL Gaming’s is awesome), there is no search function, and posts go up so fast that important posts often get buried.

Oddly enough, Riot is pretty good at communicating with players on the forums. Red posters respond regularly to community concerns, but how much of the community actually sees those posts? Shurelia started a thread a few days ago just to make a weak Rammus joke. That thread has since become one of the most transparent looks at the design process behind League of Legends the company has ever had in the public forums. Shurelia has leaked changes for several champions next patch. Morello has posted to drop knowledge on some fool several times. It’s an awesome post, but the community needs easy access to that information, access that should come from Riot. Pendragon’s ban post would also make a perfect blog entry.

As it currently stands, we have the easiest access to the announcements that have disappointed us in the past. The good stuff, like designers thoughts on different champions or interesting posts about design in general, are buried under tens of thousands of forum posts without a way to search for them. Riot needs a centralized location to highlight the positive aspects of its relationship to the playerbase. Personally, I think a blog is perfect solution (and it just so happens I know a fairly prolific League of Legends blogger).

I know that the issues I mentioned in this post are complicated. I know that Riot has to make sure it can deliver a quality product before releasing features willy-nilly. I know it isn’t as easy as just flipping a switch. As you probably noticed, these three solutions all concern communication. That’s really where Riot is missing the mark. The game is still pretty great, the upcoming features still look awesome. By communicating more effectively with the playerbase, Riot can capitalize on the positive aspects of League of Legends and restore the good faith of its loyal fans.

PsyonicHero gets canned for inappropriate behavior

Unemployment.

I’ve been dealing with the hell-fever that’s plaguing the nation over the past few days, hence the lack of content here. If you haven’t had it, stay as far as possible from people that do. Avoid them like the Black Death because, frankly, that’s what they have. It’s a terrible, consuming beast that will wring you dry ass-first and force feed you fiberglass insulation. If you have had it, well, you know what I’m talking about.

Back to the matter at hand. This is actually old news – almost two weeks old – but quite interesting. PsyonicHero, a former customer service rep at Riot, got canned for bad behavior and misuse of power, as a post from Pendragon on the 17th confirms.

Here’s the post:

Over the weekend we were informed of an unfortunate incident where a Riot Games employee acted inappropriately during a game he was streaming. Riot employees are held to a high standard and after thorough review of the incident we have determined that the employee’s actions were both inappropriate and outside the confines of Riot Games internal policy. We hold our employees to higher standards of discretion and professionalism, and take matters that impact our community extremely seriously. We have since unbanned the account that was negatively impacted by this regrettable turn of events.

As a result of this unfortunate situation the employee in question is no longer with Riot Games. Additionally, we will be reviewing internal policy and training procedures to take steps to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

The employee in question apparently directed a bit of foul language at another player during a match and then banned the player without cause, all while streaming the game. He attempted to remove the streamed game, but not before viewers got some screenshots and sent them to Riot.

It’s nice to see that Riot takes the whole Summoner’s Code thing seriously, at least for internal folks. It’s also interesting, though, to see how quickly things can devolve in game, even for someone who should know better. League of Legends can be a frustrating and infuriating game if you aren’t making an active effort to keep your emotions in line. I realize it’s easier for some than others – if you’re one of the many folks that are bigger and better than me, I salute you.

Riot rocked the Harrowing

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Seriously, I don’t know if I can say enough good about the Harrowing event that Riot put together for this Halloween. This event blows everything they’ve done in the past way out of the water, so much so that I can’t wait to see what’s in store this holiday season.

If I have one criticism it’s that the new map doesn’t play often enough. I feel like I’m only seeing it 30-40 percent of the time, and I’d definitely like to see it more. It just has great character – the jack-o-lanterns, the bats, the nightly setting, the crazy saturated orange colors. It’s great. Gimme more.

The skins rock, too. My personal favorite is the Poppy skin. Her lollipop turns into a red/white candy cane pattern when Paragon of Demacia is at max stacks and, c’mon, you’re smacking people with a sucker. I also picked up Nosferatu Vlad and Zombie Ryze in the hopes that someday Ryze will be decent and I’ll have a kickass skin for him. I won’t be going for Mundo Mundo, mostly because I saw it in game and I literally didn’t notice it was different until I heard the sound his cleaver made. It’s funny, but not worth $6 or so. I also passed on the Fiddle skin because I’ve already got spectral Fiddle, and if he ever becomes worthy of a cool skin again, I’ll be going for Bandito. That might change over the next couple days. Pumpkinhead Fiddle is currently my desktop background.

In any case, awesome work, Riot. Events like this make me love you.

Riot responds to server instability concerns (right here on FG!)

Riot Games logo.A few days ago I made a post regarding the recent instability issues with Riot servers, a post that seemed to resonate with a lot of you. In case you missed it, RiotChris dropped by this very blog to respond to some of those concerns, and he was followed shortly by Marc Merrill, the president of Riot Games, who linked his own response to the situation from the League of Legends forums.

Here’s what RiotChris (who is Chris Enock, the company’s Director of Marketing) had to say:

We are sorry that we have been having server stability issues and growing pains recently. Fixing them and making a better player experience is our company’s top priority.

We are as frustrated by the server issues, and we will be taking time to bring everyone up to speed on what we are doing to make the issues better. I know it doesn’t help you play the game, but I can tell you that all the problems are due to the growth – if it was just a matter of buying more servers we would do so instantly – and the cause of the problem is rarely the same issue twice because we fix the problems. Of course none of that makes LoL available to play, but our top men are also working on improving the server stability night and day.

- RiotChris

First of all, I want offer my thanks for your response, Chris. On the official forums it’s one thing – players either go there or they don’t, and it doesn’t exactly feel personal when that’s the only place we see an official response. You guys (meaning the readers, not Riot) have chosen this blog and continually choose to come back, which has made the time I spend writing here infinitely worthwhile and interesting, and the fact that Chris not only reads here, but decided to comment does feel personal, sounds informed, and seems empathetic. Despite a few blunders, I do think Riot is among best developers around in terms of community involvement and outreach, and anyone who has spent time in the customer service industry knows what a horrible, mad bitch of a task it is to keep people happy.

President Marc Merrill’s response further edified the good vibrations RiotChris delivered with a detailed look at the source of the recent issues and the efforts currently underway to resolve those issues (make sure you read his post as well as the service post he links). I had a good feeling that LoL was growing fast. I had no idea it was more than doubling the game’s audience every three months (which could mean a lot of things, but empirically means the game is exploding). That kind of growth would be hard for any young developer to keep up with, and it would be unfair to Riot to not bear in mind the company’s youth.

The takeaway message here is “stick with it.” I think we can all agree that the game is a lot of fun – it’s complex, exhilarating, and interesting enough that I can write about it every single day, and often in a positive light. Though the current stability issues are frustrating, even infuriating at times, there are “top men” working on them, and those top men really are invested and interested in what we, as a community, have to say.

N.B. – I’m really sorry about the delays on posts this past week. Moving in North Carolina in late August is horrible, but it will be done by the middle of next week. Things will return to normal. I will be my typically witty, charming, and timely self, soon.

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