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/dev: On League’s Business Model

How does Riot think about making money?

Picking a business model for League was tricky. Many of the games we loved came in boxes that we’d buy up front, install, and then play through to the credits. After that, we’d sit waiting for either an expansion or the next year’s updated version (especially for sports games and big franchises). This didn’t feel like the right model for League because there wasn’t a final boss to beat or a story to complete. We wanted an experience that improved and grew every few weeks as opposed to dropping a big release once a year (or a completely new version every two). We also wanted to invest in ongoing services like hosted servers and matchmaking — stuff that improved the game under the surface, but wouldn’t fit on the back of a sequel box.

Boxes weren’t the only thing in the world, of course; there were also Facebook/mobile games running off microtransactions, MMOs that relied on subscriptions, and other industries (like music and movies) developing their own unique models. Working through the pros and cons of each option, we decided to launch our version of a free-to-play game with optional purchases. There was a box too, but you didn’t have to buy it. 

League has changed a lot since launch, but the guiding principles that led us to the initial business model decision are still the same. We wanted to share these core values with you because they underpin our choices today — and the direction of changes ahead.

Value #1: We care about making a great game, above all else.

There are a lot of things that go into this, like our design values for League of Legends, our commitment to raising the bar on skins, champions, and champion updates, or the new features we regularly add for all players, regardless of spend. Mastery, competition, and expression are core values to us, and we take your trust (and satisfaction) in these areas very seriously. Revenue is one of the things we care about, but it’s not the only thing or the most important. Making money enables us to build servers, pay salaries, grow esports, improve League, develop new titles, and more, but making a great game is our primary win condition.

Value #2: You can be the best player in the world without spending anything on the game.

The core engine of League of Legends is competition and mastery. Spending money doesn’t give either team an advantage going into or during the game. This is sacred to us — winning and climbing the ladder should be about getting better, not about spending more.

Also, it should be practical to be the best player in the world without spending, not just “theoretically possible.” We’ve all played games where spending is the only realistic way to stay competitive, even if you could eventually unlock everything you need. This isn’t what we want for League. Champions and runes are the obvious question here — we believe they aren’t pay-to-win because you can be effective with a basic, earnable set. Skill matters much more than your champion pool, and our bi-weekly patches are our commitment to keeping the game balanced. Runes have been a tougher challenge for us, as Ghostcrawler mentioned in Ask Riot, and it’s why we reduced all Tier 1 and 2 runes down to 1 IP as we think about how we can stay even closer to this value.

You should never feel like buying more stuff is the only way to stay competitive in League.

Value #3: You spend because you want to, not because you have to.

Constantly reminding, cajoling and tricking players into spending money might work in the short term, but it’s a lousy experience that destroys trust. We are passionate about doing better; our focus is on optional extras that are so kick-ass (we hope) you’ll want to buy them, time after time. Whether it be the skin that makes you love your main even more, the icon that expresses your dedication to your team, or the gift thanking your teammate for the carry, we want to add content that excites you when you first hear about it, feels good when you buy it, and leaves you glad when you look back, even months later. This approach lets each purchase make the game better for you while funding future improvements, without trading one for the other.

Value #4: We will keep evolving and improving.

With our values in mind, we will keep trying to make League of Legends more compelling and engaging. Players and Rioters are in this together — finding awesome new additions, fixing the broken parts, and improving things that work but could be even better. We are bound to make mistakes along the way, like we did when first launching Chromas or getting rid of solo queue. But by listening to players, revisiting our choices, and iterating, we can keep improving League for years to come.

Now that you know the core of our approach to revenue, we can have better conversations about specific decisions from the past and the ones going forward. Thanks for taking the time to read this and for supporting us.

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/dev: State of the Game, January 2017