How very much every genre can learn lessons from other genres. In some genres, there are singular titles that are far and away kings of their castles. So much so, that speaking of the genre, and you might as well be speaking of the particular game.
My goal with this blog has been to remain game aspecific, but in order to bring to bear certain arguments in this post, I’m going to break from that trend. This won’t be the last time either, as I will speak again of LoL’s number mechanics in a future post.
And The Award Goes To…
League of Legends does so many things right. I mean, it is very hard to summarize all the attention to detail and proper implementation that Riot has seen through. It isn’t without its drawbacks, mind you, but here I speak only to the game and gameplay proper.
[tangent] I have been a fan of MMORPGs before the technology existed. Playing through titles like Zelda and Dungeon Siege, I imagined how much fun it would be to experience worlds alongside friends, rather than have my play experience exist in a vacuum. I’m vested in this [MMORPG] genre. [/tangent]
So how can the MMORPG genre learn from LoL’s success, or rather, their game design that has led to their success?
Right You Are, Ken!
It’s important to re-state that no game design occurs in a vacuum. And if it does, well it probably will show as the game will flop. So much of the things that LoL does right, it does right according to the context of its setup. I’m not so much looking into the setup here, as I am with implementations of shared concepts between the genres, and specifically how those implementations have yielded emergent behavior. And in case there is any contention over the concept: emergent behavior is the lifeline of games. There, it has now been established as fact.
LoL is a lobby game, oriented on a very simple goal premise: 5 people beat 5 others in various maps but largely in the same way: win at various tactics (last hits, zoning) to win the meta game (caps, nexus kills).
MMO[RPG]s are much broader and encompass more than just isolated team style PvP, however many of LoL’s various elements can be studied and applied.
To begin, LoL does not escape the ‘Holy Trinity’ concept (bruiser, AP carry, AD carry, jungle, support). Healing is often through not just the support character, but also through ability selection as well as backing to one’s platform. Tanking is accomplished through bruisers and tanks (and junglers, depending) as well as aggro bouncing. Damage dealers specialize between different paths of damage.
The forte of LoL is that it doesn’t limit itself to the trinity, but rather beautifully expands into derivatives with buffers (characters, items) and utility (control, neutral camp buff donations from jungle to carry) but also logistics! (stealth, cv). The result is a very layered game, allowing for nigh endless combinations and emergent behavior while working inside of the rules and the overall goal for each game.
Already posted is not only how and why MMO[RPG]s will never shake the HT model, but also how it could be beautifully incorporated into play. If theoretical notions are insufficient, one has only to take an academic glance at LoL for how to properly pull it off.
And Then There Were 98 Bottles…
The main thing that LoL (or any lobby game) has going for it is that it allows the players the ability to organize themselves, to pick roles that will optimize the group for success. One common trend is that specializing is very valuable (not surprisingly!). But how would an MMO[RPG] designer tackle any combat mini-game, giving the tools to the players to form optimized groups?
Thankfully, there is an effortless solution, but it does require a deliberate, conscientious approach. Regrettably no MMOs follow it =( The saddening part is that it is only too easy to accommodate, and saves hassle from both designer AND gamer in the long run. It actually in many ways guarantees a better group outcome than if gamers were left entirely up to their own devices. I’m all for blazing ones own trail, but having a starting template is paramount when considering ‘the other guy’ in your group: PUG or organized.
Multi-spec approaches introduce their own issues, such as whether or not someone actually can effectively PLAY the spec or if it’s just included in their character for ease of grouping etc. Multi-speccing isn’t warranted in games if they are properly, cohesively designed. See above solution.
The core of the design in LoL (and other lobby games) is that group content allows, accommodates, even encourages a meta-game called PREPARATION. This is what some genres might refer to as ‘macro’ (vs the iconic ‘micro’). This is one of the main selling points of MMOs, given that they are progression-based, so why aren’t we seeing the genre catering to its fortes?
Another great takeaway from LoL is the core of the gameplay being dictated by the players. While certain portions of the gameplay are ‘highly incentivized’ enough to call it ‘dev dictated’ there is no arguing that the gamestyles change. Sometimes the gamestyles are cyclic (is now the season of ganking through the river or the bush?) but sometimes we see a clear progression of gameplay proper (lower level players not able to incorporate jungling effectively graduate to being a gamechanger inside of the team).
This is accomplished as nothing is dictated by the devs (doing the ‘dance’ just right, having a precise number of orc, resto-specced, t6 shamen in the raid). How groups should be stacked is based on the players themselves, when objectives will be attempted is up to the team, the individual decides how to level their abilities or how to gear their champion- all largely balanced and every path is a valid choice (exceptions exceptions).
Everything about the GAMEPLAY and (especially!) associated GAMEPLANS is emergent behavior. How easy is it to design, balance abilities/items/spawns and just let players go after it all? This can even be done for PvE (compared to LoL’s largely PvP game). Bosses and regular content can (and have been) done so as to allow various paths for success while still being demanding (no single best approach).
Other than grouping mechanics and community control, LoL enjoys its success because the product is so well put together, with only a short list herein showing why. MMO[RPG] designers should take a cue, and get a clue.