So far, Legends of Runeterra has been very well received by players all over. This is quite the feat given how the genre of Digital Card Games has been a rather difficult type of game to succeed in. With various players, streamers, and personalities singing the praises of this awesome game, we were quite honored to be given the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the thought that went into making Legends of Runeterra.
Today, we’d like to share with you this exclusive interview we had with Andrew Yip, Design Director on Legends of Runeterra who has also worked on League of Legends. He’s a huge card game and worker placement boardgame fan (Agricola, Lords of Waterdeep). Check out below as we discuss the inspiration behind the gameplay, game progression, monetization, and community building of Legends of Runterra.
UnGeek: Thank you so much, once again, for giving me the chance to be able to interview you. We’ve been playing the game and we’re really really impressed with it. So first off, when you came up with this game, were you developing this game with esports in mind? Was that the core of it?
Andrew Yip: Jeff Jew, who’s the executive producer, and myself are probably the two longest standing members of the team, and we’ve been on the project for quite a while and we both love playing card games, both in paper and digital. We both definitely love to compete and I think that’s one of the strengths of the card game genre. Honestly, 1-on-1 PVP games, in general, are a pleasure to play for a long time and I think a big reason behind that is because they are very skill intensive games that people want to compete in.
That said, we didn’t necessarily create it with esports in mind but we absolutely think that, because our aspiration is to make a game that many players love playing for a long time, that skillful play is going to have to be a key element of that throughout. While we don’t have any esports plans that we’ve announced or are ready to announce yet, that’s something that we’re actively investigating.
UG: As compared to other titles in the genre, this game seems a lot more complex – a lot slower and more methodical with so much more nuances to it. These aspects make it so interesting that it’s bringing a lot of people into playing it especially since we’ve seen various streamers and players applauding the mechanics of the game. So now, we’re wondering – what was the core concept behind Legends of Runeterra or, rather, what was the one thing that you wanted to achieve when you came up with this game?
AY: The positive feedback, of course, is great to hear! Jeff and I, as people who grew up with playing physical card games, had a lot of the things that we valued and cherish from growing up playing those games which we wanted to bring to digital. Chief among them is the relationship you build with others you play with. There’s a kind of interaction where even if you don’t know much about your opponent soon, begin to feel like you understand a little bit more about them. You know the way they make decisions and speed in which they make them.
Moments like those are really important to us because, at the end of the day, we’re trying to make game experiences create an endless stream of positive memories from players. I think one way to do that is by creating interactions like that which leave an impression. Hence we thought that a great way to do that would be to basically find that conversational gameplay that would go back and forth and would lead players to interact with each other that would be like those we had experienced from some of the earlier games in our lives.
UG: Legends of Runeterra has a lot of complexity but what’s great about it is that, as you play it, you get hooked into the game just because of how amazing the intricacies of the game are. Why did you decide to go for such a system rather than go for something that’s easier and quicker to pick up? I’m pretty sure it was a bit scary but can you talk me through that?
AY: I don’t know your League of Legends background but I think I can compare it to that game – like League is also a game that can be very brutal. So, you know, I think what you’re seeing is it’s just really a sort of philosophical difference in how you wanna serve and reach players. As a game company, we absolutely want the same outcome as many of the other companies – we want to make games that reach a lot of players. However, the layout of the strategy of how to do that is us kind of finding a need that we think the players have.
I think Legends of Runeterra is absolutely aimed at players who want a little more of a methodical experience… who are willing to overcome those barriers…those who are excited to sink their teeth into a deep gameplay experience. When we aspire to reach many many players, it’s never just about making the simplest experience that we can. It’s more about making a really deep and richly rewarding experience and then finding an initial player base whose needs we’ll be serving. We then get excited to see those players advocate for us.
It’s very hard to find LoL players who succeeded in the game by themselves. More often, I hear people who started playing because their friend is playing. So that’s the unspoken strategy of how we pursue our really ambitious goals as a company.
UG: According to you, what would be the core difference of Legends of Runeterra from all the other digital card games that are available and how does it succeed where many have failed?
AY: I think the success or failure part is something I can’t speak to yet because, for us, success is us looking back after years of making the game better and better with a player base that loves the game more and more and it grows. So with humility, I don’t think we can say we’ve been successful yet by any means even though we had a great start.
In terms of the core differentiators, I think obviously the first impression that we hope to make on players is that this is an authentic League of Legends IP experience. We think there are a lot of players who love League of Legends the MOBA but we also think they are excited about new gameplay experiences that feature their favorite champions, so we’re the CCG in town for that. Second, it’s about relentlessly pursuing this idea of deep interactive conversational gameplay where you see your opponent’s plan unfold over a series of actions and you have the opportunity to unfold your plan at the same time and make adjustments throughout the course of the game. That’s a really stark contrast to a lot of popular card games these days. The final piece is a little bit more about the business model and progression experience. I think in many games, even beyond the CCGs, have business models and progression systems that offer you loot boxes and randomize packs or whatnot. For us, we saw an opportunity to go the other direction, where we want to make progression in a card game fun again and we want to expose players to a part of CCGs that we deeply love a lot – deck building.
Deck building is yet another deep and potentially hard-to-get-into activity and is seen as expensive, right? It’s really unreliable and unpredictable when you get cards so, for us, we want to create a deck building experience where players are really excited to dive in, fit in, and even kind of ship their favorite champions together – find out who pairs well with others in gameplay and sometimes in theme in terms of their voice over interactions. To make sure that dream is possible starts with ensuring that players just get access to the cards. In many ways, that’s taken a page from League of Legends as well, where players can absolutely be competitive regardless of how much they spend.
UG: That’s actually one of the biggest things I wanted to talk to you about. With all due respect, you guys must be crazy with the systems that you guys were doing! It’s so impressive that you guys managed to do something like this. It’s such a fair monetization and progression system! Players can guide what kind of cards they get and it’s not just totally randomized… and you even limit spending towards certain cards!
You guys have put so much focus on keeping the game economy fresh and the cards fair… what was the thinking behind that?
AY: HAHA I love your phrasing!
You know, when League of Legends first came out, its business model at that time was very revolutionary where there weren’t a lot of high quality free-to-play games. The idea of monetizing off the players’ desire to produce costumes for their characters was like insane. I would say that I’m thankful that that’s kinda the perspective because I think Riot always aspires to be willing to start from a foundation of beliefs and be willing to challenge things that many other developers think are best practices.
For us, it was really going back to what do we think is fun about the genre? Like what do we love about the genre as players? A huge component of that was not just playing, not just grinding day-in day-out to get one deck but actually, as adults, some of the experiences we love most is that feeling when we can finally get more cards – when we could actually participate in that sort of wild west discovery period when all these players are really excited to try out and mix and match all the cards in really creative ways that maybe even the designers never thought of. So we want to make sure that all of the players had access to that experience that we believe was a really fun one. We were willing to do what it took to get to that outcome so each player can see the promise of the genre fulfilled while backed by the confidence that we could find other ways to make that a sustainable business in the same way as League of Legends had.
UG: As you mentioned a while ago, community is a huge important factor. How do you plan to build your community?
AY: As players have seen during our global launch celebration, we’ve been very supportive of influencers both in terms of providing access to the game and then with the content as well as like dropping in, saying hello, doing shared streams with them, etc. That’s one way to do it which is primarily through working with other players. We’re absolutely investigating tournaments – both run by us and by the community. So yeah, I think there’s a myriad of ways that we have already shown that we are investing into the community.
My morning ritual is, I admit arguably not healthy, but I log into twitter and just respond to all the feedback and direct messages that I get. Although now that we’re globally launched that might prove to be a bit more time consuming to me. One of the reasons we’re so excited about the global launch is we at Riot really believe that interacting with players, responding to players, and seeing that dedication and passion through our efforts and improvements is like our DNA. We’re so excited to just be able to have players give us feedback about the game – both positive and negative. We’re ultimately the most confident about our passion to make the game better based on their feedback.
UG: Was there feedback that you didn’t expect? Was there feedback that you were happy to have? What were they?
AY: Personally, the feedback on the initial performance has been extraordinary. Obviously, we’re really focused on the long term but looking across feedback from our existing fans as well as the new players jumping on in mobile and just reading the reviews on the appstore and the google store have been overwhelmingly positive! I’m mostly just thankful that the team who has worked on this is able to finally see the fruits of their passion and dedication to delivering this to players because, as you’ve mentioned, the genre is very saturated and there’s a lot of competition out there. It’s hard to make any impact, let alone for the little impact that we’ve already seen that we’re making so it’s been awesome.
UG: With regard to the global situation that is happening right now, how has that affected the launch that you envisioned and, upon the lift of the quarantine per area, are we to expect anything from Runeterra in terms of events and community activities?
AY: I think the covid or the pandemic has affected everyone individually and very differently on the team both personally and in terms of their relationships. I can’t speak to that necessarily but I can speak to the heroic efforts that I perceived that the team undertook just to make a global launch for players a reality. This date was that date we had aspired to prior to all this and the fact that we’re able to hit it I think is a testament to the team’s resilience and to them going above and beyond for players. The team has really picked up the pace and had rose to the challenge. Once this is all over, we’ll be very excited to be working together in person again. So while we don’t have any live events that we’ve announced, we’ll all probably find excuses just to get together in person after this haha