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Interview with Steve Rubin - Game Designer, Riot Games

Published: 21:39, 26 November 2019
Updated: 21:57, 26 November 2019
Riot Games
Steve Rubin, and a screenshot of Legends of Runeterra
Steve Rubin - Game Designer, Riot Games

After going hands on with Legends of Runeterra at EGX 2019, we were very fortunate to sit down with Steve Rubin, Live Balance Lead and Game Designer at Riot Games, to discuss the evolution of League of Legends and this new spin on the formula

A quick glance at Legends of Runeterra suggests a fairly typical card battler. Take more than a passing look, and you'll find a game steeped in League of Legends lore, faithfully representing the seemingly endless amount of content offered by its online action predecessor. Beyond that, we have a team looking to diversify, and a genuine attempt to make something fresh, with all of the additional balance issues that come with a title of this nature.

Enter Steve Rubin, the developer responsible for shaping the balance strategy on a game that will live and die by its perception of fairness. It's undoubtedly a difficult thing to do, but he's leading the charge, and during our conversation, he discussed his approach, and how Legends of Runeterra aims to do things differently. 

Riot Games A defensive turn in Legends of Runeterra. You've just got to play the hand you're dealt. Insert another card related cliche here.

The nature of your own personal day to day in R&D involves jumping between teams and your creativity affecting different aspects of the project. Is this something that is pervasive across Riot Games as a whole? 

The various teams tend to stick to their designated project, but at the time, we don't care where ideas come from. If it's a good idea, it doesn't matter that someone else pitched it. We have an open feedback culture at Riot. This means that pretty much for any feature of the game, you can go to the game designer or the engineer that's working on it and say what you think. It's honestly very direct, and we like it because... we thank people, because the best change you can make is often a problem you can't see.

That's how I became a game designer. When I worked as a play tester in quality assurance, I'd be constantly saying "Hey, maybe we can do this better?" It's very subjective, but it's still helpful because you can identify problems and work with designers to solve them. It's a really special part about being on the Legends of Runeterra team.

Given League of Legends' ongoing success, what was the impetus for jumping in to such a different genre [with Legends of Runeterra]?

So it's a few different things. The first one is that there a lot of players at Riot, and quite a few that like card games. All of our lives we've played them, and we know what the bad parts are. We thought we could "Riot-ise" it by taking something that we know tradition states can't be improved upon, and find a way to improve it. Riot's full of players that became developers, but always stayed players. 

The other thing is we felt that it [the card game genre] was perfect for building out the world of Runeterra. When we thought of League of Legends becoming a global IP, we realised how important it was to flesh out that world.

Balance can make or break a game like this. How much does it affect creative decision making?

It can go both ways. A creative decision can affect balance, and vice versa. We work closely with every team, if we need to make a balance change that might affect the narrative of a character. It's actually a really collaborative effort, which I think as a whole is best. We are running as a live service, with planned updates around every month. We're planning on keeping it pretty fresh. We've found that having a set cadence is really good. It's great for players because it generates a lot of content and buzz, and keeps them invested. 

One of the problems with card games is players playing against people who have spent a lot of money, and making it feel like it's pay to win. You can earn cards for free just by playing. We also allow players to buy wild cards, but we cap the amount that can be purchased each week. You're not opening packs. We want people to spend the absolute minimum amount to get exactly what they want. People won't be ahead just because they've spent money. We feel like there should be a level playing field.

Riot Games Playing an attack move in Legends of Runeterra. Balance is key with every engagement. Don't burn your best straight out the gate!

A huge shout out to the teams at Riot and Kazoo for giving us hands on time with the game, and big thanks to Steve Rubin for the interview. Legends of Runeterra launches in 2020 for PC, iOS and Android, which includes the recently announced "Expeditions" draft style mode. 

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