At a Gamasutra-attended event in San Francisco, Riot Games announced League of Legends: Dominion
, an expansion for its popular free-to-play MOBA game, which is "as ambitious as expanding the size of the game 100 percent," says president Marc Merrill.
The event began with a presentation in which Merrill recapped the history of League of Legends
, the lead product in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. For example, when the game launched
in 2009, it had 40 playable characters. That roster has now swelled to 80.
But just as importantly, he said, "we also attempted to innovate and evolve from a community perspective" with features like its Tribunal system, which helps maintain the "sportsmanlike environment, which is so crucial" to the game.
At launch, LoL
had 180,000 registered users. Now, the game has 15 million, who play 1.4 million matches of the game per day. "Growth has blown away our expectations and it's really, really humbling," said Merrill.
With the open beta just beginning in China under the auspices of Tencent, Riot's majority stakeholder
and the region's biggest player in online games, the developer is now turning its gaze toward expanding into Southeast Asia and South Korea.
"Riot itself has continued to evolve, and now is over 350 employees, in four offices, on three continents," Merrill said. "What continues to motivate everyone at Riot and keep us extremely humble is our fantastic fan base." The team's goal is to deliver "fantastic value to our players."
the "biggest announcement and feature we've worked on so far," Merrill introduced lead producer Travis George.
"One thing I want people to take away... we're in the position were in today because of our great community, and we always try to deliver what features our players want most," George said.
The new gameplay mode and map which will launch with Dominion
are "unlike anything else in League of Legends
," said George. "We wanted to evolve the MOBA genre again."
New features of the mode -- besides the entirely new map -- include capture-and-hold focused gameplay, new items, a new scoreboard system, and matchmaking options specifically introduced for this mode. Riot did not announce a release for the mode, but it will soon be previewed with players at PAX Prime and gamescom.
Of course, as with the original League of Legends
, the main game content will be delivered to users for free when it launches; the game will continue to be monetized via microtransactions.
Marc Merrill Speaks To Gamasutra
Gamasutra interviewed Riot president Marc Merrill about the mode, who said that, thanks to its new gameplay elements, is "a huge departure from that formula, which is what our genre has been known for -- which is why it took us a long period of time to really innovate and get the R&D right."
Said Merrill, "This took a huge time -- a really long period of time. We could have built another game; this is essentially a different game. We wanted to embark on something as ambitious as expanding the size of the game 100 percent."
While the company is well-known for its constant development -- it releases tweaks, features, and new characters frequently -- this is the first real example of its large scale undertakings since the game's launch. "We're always going to have teams focused on other major inflection points and long-term R&D, and Dominion
is a fantastic example of that," said Merrill. "We had a big team on it for a long period of time."
The company is extremely community-focused, and this mode was designed to surprise and excite that community, Merrill told Gamasutra. "It would really help us evolve the genre and the gameplay experience in a way nobody's done before, and we're confident that will work extremely well."
"It's a really interesting phenomenon to have a close relationship with the community, because many people may on the surface say, 'Well, oh. If you execute that which the community tells you, then you are listening to the community,'" said Merrill. "We actually don't perceive it that way. We think that we really try to get deeper and have lots of different data points and conversations with our players, and really try to synthesize what they're asking for -- all the different types of players."
"From there we then identify goals that we think will really satisfy and enhance our community," he said. "Dominion
is a really great example. Our community has been telling us for a long period of time, 'We want new maps, we want new game modes.' They don't know what that means, necessarily. We believed it was our job to synthesize that information and really push the envelope to innovate the right mix of features that we think they're going to love."
In his estimation, that all "goes back to the company philosophy -- to trying to be the most player-centric game company."
It also has to do with the MOBA genre itself -- which is growing and evolving, notably with Valve soon to unveil its own entrant
, Dota 2
, at Gamescom, and established competitor Heroes of Newerth moving to a free-to-play model
like League of Legends
Merrill is respectful of his competition, but insists he's focused on his own game, not theirs. "We always believed that this genre is a genre, and that it needed to evolve," he said. "That's really what we're trying to do."
And that goes back to the community: "One of the things our players always tell us is that they want the game to continue to evolve, so we're always trying to make a living, breathing, evolving game, and we never assume it's at its perfect point."