Friday 17 January 2020

Predicting a Riot: League of Legends maker turns publisher

You want more LoL games? You're going to get lots of them, say Riot executives as they explain the new Forge label

Concept art for a Riot Forge game
Concept art for a Riot Forge game
Concept art for a Riot Forge game
Concept art for a Riot Forge game
The Riot Forge logo
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Riot Games spent a decade toiling over a single project: its billion-dollar blockbuster League of Legends. Now in the space of two months, it has revealed it’s working on anything up to a dozen new games based on the mythical LoL universe of Runeterra. How the hell did that happen?

For LoL’s 10th anniversary in October, Riot rolled out several new babies in development, including a card battler, a shooter and fighter. If you thought that was enough or even too much, prepare to gorge on a raft of Runeterra riffs, as Riot turns publisher for third-party games set in the League of League space.

The new label is called Riot Forge, focused on funding indie-style “completable” titles as opposed to ongoing live-service games similar to LoL. We know very little about the games themselves, barring a handful of concept art shots. But it will definitely be some time before we see the first fruits of the ideas, as Rioters Leanne Loombe and Greg Street explained in an interview over email recently.

“We have multiple games in development and plan to release a variety of games for our players,” says Loombe, a former EA producer who now heads up Forge at the company’s LA office. “Projects vary in size and scope, and our goal is to eventually release a couple of games a year.

Leanne Loombe, head of Riot Forge
Leanne Loombe, head of Riot Forge

“We don’t have exact release dates to share yet. Forge games will vary in size and scope. We are not aiming for a certain length, it really depends on what experience our developers want to make. However, our games will be classed as indie, we are not making huge AAA games. We want to focus on bespoke, completable experiences that are the highest quality possible.”

There’s a long list of details Riot won’t discuss about the future for Forge, such as the identity of the third parties it’s working with, the platforms, when we might see any of the games or even what they might be about.

Loombe characterises the relationship with external studios, however, as relatively hands-off: “Riot Forge is the publisher of these games and our developers own the vision and creation of the games. Riot Forge funds the development of the games in full, as well as guides our partners through the wealth of knowledge we’ve built with League over the last 10 years and help them stay true to the lore and our Champions.”

She rules out anything beyond the boundaries of Runeterra –at least for the foreseeable future and depending on customer feedback.

“As of now, we’re completely focused on developing games set in the League of Legends universe, but are always open to new opportunities if players want us to branch out,” she says.

Asked whether there is an appetite for such a deluge of LoL-based gaming, Greg Street launches into an impassioned justification for Forge, saying he didn’t want it to get lost in the hype around the earlier announcements.

Greg Street, design director at Riot Games
Greg Street, design director at Riot Games

“The focus of the 10-year anniversary celebration was on League of Legends, its amazing community and the surprise of new games Riot is working on for players. We knew that player expectations would be sky-high after 10 years of Riot having only one game. So we wanted to make sure our announcements had a huge blast radius by introducing players to several new games at once.

“We want the developers of the Forge games, not Riot, to be front and centre. They are the ones best equipped to talk about the vision for their products and it is our plan to always let them announce their games. While we believe League players will love the Riot Forge published titles, we also think there is an opportunity to attract new players who may not love MOBAs, or even competitive games or PC games. We wanted to announce the Forge project in such a way that it would be heard by all gamers.”

Street, who previously was lead systems designer on World of Warcraft before taking on the role of design director at Riot, notes that Forge will be something of a separate entity from the main League of Legends team.

“We want to keep the Forge team small to really emphasise that our strategy is to support our partners, not to co-develop with them. In terms of the way Riot is organised, Forge lives within the IP development group that I manage, to make sure we aren’t competing for bandwidth with the League, Legends or R&D development teams.”

Loombe insists the company is convinced there is a large audience for even more Runeterra adventures as promised by Forge.

“We look at many pieces of the puzzle when we are researching new opportunities, which includes player research,” she says. “There are a ton of people at Riot who love single-player games and want to experience the League of Legends universe in new ways, and we know there are players out there who feel the same way. We’ve always wanted to make different types of games set in the League of Legends universe, so Forge is our way to work with developers who have experience making these types of games while leveraging the knowledge Riot has built over the past 10 years publishing League of Legends.”

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