Riot Games: Getting Into the Gaming Industry (Part 1 of 2)

Uploaded by psutlt on 27.04.2010

All right
we're gonna start here, but
as I'm making my introductions I wanted to let you know that there's a list going around the room
for emails and your names if you're interested in
gaming at Penn State. Game design, game development,
things like that. So just write your information on that list.
All right, thanks for joining us today.
And first I want to thank the
Educational Gaming Commons and the John M. Anderson
Visiting Artist Lecture series for making this possible. So thanks a lot guys.
With us today we have Mark Franz and
Travis George from Riot Games. Riot Games is an
independent Los Angeles based game developer and publisher.
The studio was established in 2006
to develop innovative online next generation titles for PC's
and consoles.
These are two key members of that development team.
Mark Franz joins us with over
twelve years of experience in the games industry. He's worked on a ton of games.
Companies like Perpetual Entertainment,
where he served as a Director of Development
for Star Trek online.
He's held roles at Electronic Arts and Origin Systems where he worked on
Altima online, Earth and Beyond and at
Travis George brings over five years of professional experience.
Eight, awe gee, this is out of date.
This is and he deals with time travel quite a bit.
So keeping up to date with his, yeah,
so Travis has worked at Activision
most notably on the X-Men game where you develop night crawlers
powers of game play from start to finish. Which maybe loosely deals with his ability
to travel through time,maybe. Let's see
then he wandered the great gaming abyss before landing at Perpetual
Entertainment where he turned his love of playing online video games into
a love of working on them. And he's crossed over to production now.
And he now serves as the Riot Games gameplay producer
where he manages the design team.
So please give them a warm welcome.
[ applause ]

Again thank you very much. My name is Mark Franz as Matt
pointed out. I'm the development director of Riot Games. And I'm joined here with Travis George
who is a Producer on League of Legends.
we wanted to first off thank Penn State for having us here.
We are super excited about being here. This is very much an honor to be here.
And a special thanks to Matt Kenyon and
Brett Bixler
thank you very much. Really appreciate you having us here.
We want to talk to you today about basically
creative problem solving in the video game industry. And how that's a key skill set
you need to actually work in the video game industry. First we want to talk about how
we got into the video game industry and what we do. So I'll start off
with my journey into video games.
So first I'm gonna ask if anyone here has had a really bad hangover?
Number one party school.
So I had a really bad hangover in 1993 when I graduated
with a degree in theatre.
Which by the way I now recognize is an amazing and awesome degree.
As it has formed so much of what I do right now. By the time I knew with getting the degree,
I didn't want to act and I really didn't want to playwright so what did I just do?
And literally on the day I was sitting in my cap in the chair going, what did I just do?
Well I,
so I sat there trying to figure out what do I actually do?
Do I join the CIA or something? They probably need people that can act
or something. And a friend of mine who actually had a degree in theatre
said, hey, I joined this cool company, Origin Systems
and I'll be making video games. And they really enjoy people that have a creative background
coming and doing that. So I packed up everything I owned into
a very small box and moved to Austin Texas and started working on
video games there. So from there
I've gone on and I've worked on a lot of games at Origin Systems. And I've held a lot of different titles
and roles. So I started out in QA. Which is a very
old school way of getting into production. You start in QA and through the
[ inaudible ] experience, you go one way or the other.
But I managed to go from QA to QA lead.
To translations liaison to also be a designer and then design manager on
Altima Online. From there I moved into
basically project management for overall operational infrastructure.
Basically how do you run, manage and operate online games for
electronic arts. So I moved out to Redwood City corporate and I worked on
some different titles. A few of them are up here. For instance, Majestic, Sims Online. I also worked
on Motor City online, Pogo. A lot of really cool stuff.
That eventually led to me
being a Development Director at another company, Perpetual.
Which kind of burned into ashes. And then
led me to write games. Where I'm the Development Director for
League of Legends.
And so what is a Development Director? So basically
I'm responsible for all long and short term planning. I have QA,
localization, release management. So basically all the processes we use to actually
develop a game, and I don't know if you guys are familiar with the concept of
has anyone heard of agile scrum?
So basically I'm a scrum master of scrum masters.
And I have a group of scrum masters below us. Then that is the way the we execute
in a collaborative fashion in key [ inaudible ] relations. We'll talk a little more about that
in a minute. But one way of looking at what I do is the how.
And then my counterpart Travis is the what.
So I'll hand this over to you.
So, hey, I'm Travis. I'm the what.
So a little bit of history about me. I don't have as many
cool box images as Mark so
I started out in 2002, I actually grew up in the middle of Kansas. Oddly enough.
And I said, you know what, I really like playing video games and maybe
there's somebody that's got to make them. They don't just come from unicorns, giggles and black magic.
Pretty much at the time the only place you could go to learn how to make video games
other than just do the Lord of the Flies QA way,
was I went to Full Sail down in Florida. And I have a degree
in game development and design. Which really just means they taught me how to write
C plus, plus. So they taught me how to write C
plus, plus. I immediately decided about half way through the program that I hated writing C plus, plus.
And instead I wanted to be a designer. So I was like
well what do I need to do to be a designer? So I worked through the program. I broke a lot rules.
Actually I technically, they do amend
a rule, because I was not suppose to graduate because I didn't write any code for my final project.
But I did the design for it. Which they never had a
designer on a project. That actually led to me
being able to do what not many people have done, which is get
a design job straight out of school. So I actually got hired by Activision
by a studio up in the bay area in California.
And I worked on excellent games there for many years. I did
the movie game that came out that wasn't very good.
My part was good.
Nightcrawler component. And I consulted on the X-Men Legend series. You guys are familiar with that.
The successful X-Men games. And then I worked on a couple
other products there. And then I went to Perpetual Entertainment.
So I took a kind of programming degree turned it into a design
for console game company. And then said, you know what, I'm gonna go work on online games.
Cause I really like playing WOW and all these other things
I worked at Perpetual Entertainment with Mark surprisingly actually on a different project.
But as you guys know they weren't that perpetual cause they're not around.
And that led to Riot Games where I started out as the
Design Manager as you heard in my bio, but now I'm just a Producer and so
what does that mean? So a Producer,
well I keep trying to click the screen. So everybody always asks me, what do you do again?
People who I work with ask me this. So this is good.
Well it always means something different. In some companies
it's Organized Designer, Schedule Manager,
like Franz is very much into the schedule.
One of my engineers who is also, and I love him to death, swears that
my sole responsibility is get him pizza, which by the way I have
never have gotten him pizza. I farm that out to
Associate Producer. And actually our community
if you guys are familiar with the League of Legends community, they actually have another idea
they have a good idea of what we do. I don't know if you guys can see this, but
this is Riot Games Board Meeting. [inaudible]
[ laughter ] That's the kind of
the impression that I think the [ inaudible ]. Is like what do you do?
A little different. What is it actually?
So Producer at Riot Games. Basically I'm responsible
at the high level. I'm responsible for the execution of our goals. So what are our goals?
Make a bunch of money. Make a really fun game.
Make a live service that doesn't crash. Those are all goals that we have.
So I'm responsible for executing those.
I create teams. I get groups of people together across disciplinary teams.
Like programmers, designers, artists whatever I need to execute against those
goals and I run them. This is what my boss,
the president of the company says, I'm the single wringable neck. So he's not gonna go
yell at an engineer, if he yelled, he doesn't yell,
he's not gonna go talk to an engineer about why the live service crashed.
He's gonna come ask me. If that's my responsibility, right. Because ultimately I'm responsible
for the entire [ inaudible ] execution.
And then that just really means prioritize objectives and resources. We have to constantly weigh
like is making the game stable
more important or is making the game more fun important. Well obviously they're both
super important and some times we have to decide what we want to do in the very
short term to whichever goal is more important
that we set. To sum it up it's
be responsible for making sure we're executing our goals and making the team awesome.
So a good producer
the team gets the credit. A good producer
if we fail at something like they should be the ones coming to me to correct.
It's my job.
Mark is actually gonna talk little about the legends.
So who's played League of Legends?
let me talk about Riot Games for minute. We're a very small company.
We're about fifty people. When we started there were about twenty people.
We got about fifty people. And we're in Los Angeles. We're funded a few years ago
with a basic idea of going after
the nova game market with a very interesting business model.
We are the spiritual successor to DOTA. I don't think anyone knows what DOTA is.
And we had about 1.5 million players world wide.
And that's just really primarily North America and Europe.
When you talk about online PC games,
we're number three on Gamespot. Number five on X-Fire. We're really excited about this.
And right now we're focusing on some new features that we
can not talk about. But they will be talking about this year.
And they're very exciting. We're actually working on them right now. And we're also
making a major push to go into Asia. Specifically we're targeting China right now.
And we're working with a wonderful partner there. Tencent to do that.
I don't know if anyone knows who Tencent is.
They're the worlds largest internet.
So we're really excited about that.
I'm gonna show you a quick trailer of League of Legends.
So you all kind of know what the game is.
[ silence ]
[ music ]
[ laughter ]
[ music ]

From the creators of DOTA All Stars,
comes the ultimate multi-player online battle arena.
With an all new
3v3 field of justice
Twisted Treeline

Enlist for Glory
Fight for Power
Play for Free
[ music ]

League of Legends

[ silence ]
we're really excited
we've had great editorial and
leadership awards. This is just a smattering of awards we've won over the year. A lot of Game of Year,
Editor's Choice, Reader's Choice awards. And we're really excited about this.
So what we want to talk to today is
about again, creative problem solving and why that's important to the video game industry.
So let's talk about what really matters in video game production.
So I've actually spent
a good portion of my time doing design. As a professional designer
for about five, six years and now I've been a producer. So one of the things that I
kind of wanted to talk about is kind of the dynamic between design and production.
And just how that applies to actually everybody. Whether you're a designer
or producer or not. So let's talk about what matters in production.
Well so awesome ideas are awesome, right.
So that's, yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense right.
Cause you know who's gonna come up and say like, hey, you know what I have
this great idea for something for X, Y or Z. Like generally people are gonna acknowledge
if it is awesome. Yeah, that is great. So why don't
we want to do this? Like Blue Sky-ing is easy to do and fun.
Like it's really fun to sit around and say, like, wouldn't it be cool if
we had dinosaurs with laser beams in our game.
Like, well, actually yes it would.
Actually it would be really awesome, cause this is awesome.
Dinosaurs with laser beams is awesome and it's great.
But why don't we have, why doesn't every game have dinosaurs and laser beams in it?
I know you guys are asking yourself that now.
So think about instead of what's just awesome.
Because nobody's gonna disagree that that's not, but ask yourself what problem are you
really trying to solve? Not just like, blue sky and something
out of the thin air. Think of the big picture. Think about the customer.
And who's the customer? The customer in some cases
is the user. So in our case, like, you guys. You guys play our game.
You guys are what we need to be thinking about. If you're an engineer
maybe if you're making a tool and maybe the customer is a designer that's gonna use it.
Instead of just always saying, well wouldn't it be awesome if? Or wouldn't be cool if?
Think about the big picture. Think about what problem
are you really trying to solve? And I want to illustrate this with
an actual wrong problem that I had to solve one time.
So here's our good friend Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
You guys familiar with Wolverine. Whew, Wolverine. He's awesome.
So I was working on an X-Men game that was
had several problems in development. And one of the key things is like you won't
believe the problems that you have to solve on a regular basis. Whether you're an engineer,
an artist, a designer or a producer.
And so I'm gonna walk you through this example here. So our good friend Wolverine here.
We're working on the game. We're still a few months from ship.
Which in consult speak, is like, you better be almost done. Because you have to print the discs.
You have to get it certified by Microsoft and Sony. Really it's not like
PC development where it's a little more wild west cowboy, yeah, let's just
push that out and see what happens. It really is a few months from ship is
we better have this thing almost finished. So we're at the point where
all of our animations for the entire game and Wolverine are complete.
And we're really just tuning, balancing and fixing.
And actually trying to make the game fun. The wrong problem again. But that's another story.
So we're at this state. We're feeling pretty good.
And all of a sudden, Marvel, you know, Marvel, who owns the X-men license
and get's to tell us what to do. Comes in and says, oh, hey, guess what,
we we're looking through all of your animations, even though we've seen them
several times and this isn't the first time we've seen them, etc., and we
noticed that Wolverine, in our Wolverine, is
actually left-handed. And your Wolverine is right-handed.
And so he leads all of his attacks with his right hand and that's wrong.
Because Wolverine is left-handed. And so we're just like what.
So I, as
a designer and my producer at the time, sat down and we're like
ok, great, so they're not gonna let us ship the game
unless we fix Wolverine being right-handed.
And so what do we do? Well we sit and we talk amongst ourselves and we say, well we
can reanimate every single Wolverine animation in the entire game or
we can build some crazy expensive tech to mirror the world.
Literally, like mirror the world.
So none of those sounded awesome. And it's like, and
p.s. we're just a few months from ship. So we don't have time to spend
twenty days building some crazy technology or whatever to solve
the wrong problem. We're trying to make sure the game
runs for more than an hour. We're trying to make it fun. We're trying to make money
on the thing. And they're telling us that we have to fix Wolverine being
right-handed. That's the wrong problem. I just want everybody to know.
That's kind of my reaction.
So we genuinely, by the way there's a
running theme with Captain Picard,
so it's like literally, like that's our reaction.
So what do we do? It's rock hard place. Wrong problem, etc., etc.
So what we did
we got a bunch of people together and we said, hey guys, here's the problem, we
really need this solved. We don't want to do the dumb thing of
reanimate every animation. And we don't want to build crazy technology to mirror the whole game world.
So an engineer at the time was actually just
started the project. Like a pretty junior guy was like, well hey, you know,
this is back years ago when Maya's not as good as it is now. Well hey, we can
actually go in and we could probably find a little hack that can write a little
[ inaudible ] script here to just reverse all the animations for us or whatever.
And we're like oh, ok, interesting, let's do that.
It only took about three days instead of twenty days. And essentially
what we did was we got a bunch of people together.
We used the collective wisdom of the group
and a junior engineer while brainstorming with the rest of us, thought out a solution
that basically made it three days worth of work and we turned this
terrible situation into like a big win for everybody. And we got to go back
to solving the right problems. So instead
of being a producer trying to solve a really complicated problem with our
retarded ways, which they were obvious.
We got everybody together and a junior guy who's been there like three months, was like, hey, I think
we can save seventeen work days or whatever by doing this.
We're all like, yes. So that guy totally saved
the day. Well seventeen of them actually. And by the way,
I just want to point out, Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine, he's right handed.
If you watch the X-Men movie he uses his right hand. I'm just saying.
So awesome ideas are awesome.
What problem are you trying to solve? Solve the right ones.
And then so here's another thing, solving problems within constraints.
Like let's use the dinosaurs and laser beams example again.
Dinosaurs and laser beams awesome. Not as awesome when they come back and say,
you know what, it's really like six days to build the laser shader.
And like all the artists need to build dinosaur models when they're trying to build models for the real game.
So that's gonna be another ten days with animation [ inaudible ], art director
approval, etc, etc. It starts to sound a little less awesome.
And so one of the biggest challenges that you'll face,
and especially people who are new to the industry, is how to solve problems within constraints.
Because you're gonna come to me and be like, dinosaurs and laser beams, awesome.
And I'm gonna be like, yes, but no, we're not going to do that because
I'm not gonna take thirty days out of the time or whatever to make
something that we may not really need to make.
Instead of looking at this as a barrier, use this as an opportunity to create
your best work and inspire your team. There's really a ton
there's countless examples of creative problem solving.
You guys who are familiar with League of Legends we basically have
a set of building blocks in our game that we use. And the designers go in and
assemble these blocks in different ways to make all the spells for our champions.
And I don't know if you guys play, but there's not really a ton of champions
that feel alike. Even though they're using this kind of kit to kind of assemble
things in a different order. They're working within constraints every day. And they're making
really awesome stuff. And that's not to say we don't help them out once in awhile.
But if the design team came and we're like hey, designers what do you want? We want a hundred things.
We'd be like, oh, well ok, well see you next year.
So this is a really important skill. And I actually wanted to demonstrate
this with something that's a little.
This is Matsuo Bosho, well it's actually not him, it's a statue of him.
But that's because he lived in the late sixteen hundreds
in the Edo Period in Japan.
He is a writer. He developed or he did not
develop, he's recognized today as one of the greatest Haiku writers ever to live.
And so everybody knows what a Haiku is, right? It's an extremely
constrained form of essentially poems. Five syllables
seven syllables, five syllables, the Japanese version is a little different.
on syllables, but you get the idea. And so a
couple examples of his work. Basically, Matsuo
Bosho is recognized today, four hundred years after he died,
as being able to express more in seventeen syllables
than countless other authors and writers that
have come after him. That nobody knows who they are. And they had intimate space
to work with. Having [ inaudible ] and no constraints doesn't
always make a better product. And so like this is something
that actually Mark and I talk about together. It's like working within constraints.
And Haiku is a great example of that. It's not gaming related at all,
but it's important to remember that when you're working on whatever projects you are.
There's always gonna be constraints. And so
awesome ideas are awesome. What problem are you
trying to solve? Solve those problems within constraints.
Use that as an opportunity. So essentially in the end change the
wouldn't it be cool if? Which is wouldn't it be cool if we had dinosaurs and laser beams
that took seventeen days and I had no constraints and then I'm not solving
the right problems. And turn that into what's the most important thing that I
can be doing? Like is building dinosaurs and laser beams the most important thing I can do?
Like, well, probably not. So ask yourself that question
and you're years ahead of anybody else who comes in.
So that's kind of what matters in production.
And the end my job is to kind of enforce these or whatever. And so people who work within
that system are again, years ahead.
So shift gears a little bit. What matters in design?
So game store designers, right, this is a term I use.
Walk into Game Stock or EB,
you know whatever, I don't think they call it EB anymore. Log into a game store
and ask a random person if they have any good ideas for a game. Like everybody here probably has good
ideas for a game. I probably have good ideas for a game.
Franz may even have good ideas for a game. Like I don't know. The point is
is that they will passionately tell you about their great idea for a game.
Well it's like ok, great, so is that what makes a good designer?
Is it good ideas? Well it's like everybody has good ideas.
Like we all have good ideas. But I would argue that no everybody that's
in a game store has a good idea about a game, is gonna be a great
game designer some day. So what is it really?
I'm gonna use an example here and tell a story. I'll tell you about two games.
I want you guys to think about which one you want to make.
So here on one side we've got the sure fire hit.
We're gonna take the biggest film franchise of the last thirty years. Like the biggest film franchise.
Not like Titanic. Not Shrek. Like the
biggest one. You can't go bigger than this one.
Thirty years of mass market awareness. We've got thirty years
of your mom and your dad and people who don't play video games
know what this is. You've got a
development team that has genre experience building the
current market leader. So it's an MMO. And you've got a team that's building
the game with the biggest film franchise. Thirty years of mass market awareness.
And all-star development team. And they've built the game that's the number one game in the genre.
Like how can we go wrong? That's a great idea.
We should build that game. Or I'll give you the option here.
You can build a relatively unknown IP.
We're gonna take a game that's definitely not a film franchise. It's definitely not the biggest film franchise.
It's extremely segmented to gamer awareness only.
And it's not even one of the most popular games.
Like your mom doesn't know about it. Your dad doesn't know about it. Like this lucrative
mass market that everybody always talks about doesn't know what this franchise is.
You've got a team that's known for kind of taking their sweet time.
They usually deliver, but it's like unpredictable. We're gonna spend a lot of money
making this game. A lot of money.
And they've never built an MMO before. So it's like, hmm,
which one do I want? Well the one on the left certainly seems like a better idea
than the one on the right.
Of course you might have guess Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft.
So it's kind of a
there you go.
Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, like one seems like
a really great idea. One seems like, huh, maybe.
But of course we all know the end results, which is four hundred thousand
estimated peak subscribers for Star Wars Galaxies. Which is good.
That's not a small number. But it's pretty small
when you compare it to eleven million peak subscribers for World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft basically did what Star Wars Galaxies didn't do. Which is
it broaden the entire genre of mass market MMO's.
This is the first MMO that's ever been mass market.
Like your mom and dad probably know what this is now. They wouldn't have known what
the warcraft type he was six years ago though.
And so what does this all mean?
Good designers and teams execute on the right things.
It's the execution path versus the idea path.
Everybody has good ideas. Like Star Wars Galaxies is a great idea.
But they didn't execute on the same things that the World of Warcraft team executed on.
World of Warcraft executed on being fun.
That's sound shocking I know, but it's fun to play.
They executed on being able to make it easy for people to get into the game.
They grew that market by executing on making it really
easy for people who have never played such a complicated game to play it.
If you want to play Star Wars Galaxies, you know, they had to redo their whole experience
their whole first experience, several times because it was so hard to get into.
Nobody that hadn't played an MMO before could play Star Wars Galaxies.
Like there's a huge learning curve. Whereas the WOW just made it super easy to get into.
They also executed on the right things. Like Star Wars Galaxies,
had a ton of cool stuff in it. Like it was a very competent game, but like
when you spend more time developing your dancing and your trading and bartering system,
than you do like killing stuff, which is what you do ninety percent of the game,
which is what WOW did. You're not solving the right problem.
So again the execution path versus
the idea path. And you see, think about all the great studios
that come to mind. Like Blizzard, PopCap,
Valve, BioWare, Riot Games.
You know like what's really important is not to say that those studios don't
innovate, but those studios are focused more on executing
things that they want to execute in their product versus just coming up with
the dinosaurs and laser beam ideas.
That's super, super important. Good designers and teams execute
on the right things. So how does this
again, what matters to the team? Well I'm an artist or I'm an engineer.
Artist and engineers need to be intrinsically
inside this process. Designers writing designs docs and throwing it over the wall to
engineers, like, it's failed more times than I count.
Working together as a cross discipline team is super important.
And so creative problem solving, like solving within constraints.
Identifying the right thing. Cross discipline collaboration.
Engineers and artists are gonna implement what designers want.
So why wouldn't everybody talk about it? Why wouldn't we all say, like hey, that sounds really awesome.
Or hey, maybe that could be better this way. So much win comes from that.
On my teams, like, I'm smart
enough to realize that I'm retarded. Just to be honest.
There's a group of seven people that are engineers
designers, artists or whatever. My job isn't to decide
what they should do for them. My job is to take all their ideas, take my
ideas and then make the decision about the best one that we want to execute on.
My job is to not have all the best ideas. My job is to make
sure that the best ideas happen. And so working together with
other people is so super important. Working within constraints,
we talked about that. You know the Haiku example is a great outside games reference.
Then again, think about dinosaurs and lasers, it's not so awesome
when you say like, well you know, it's gonna take fifteen days to build dinosaurs and laser beams.
What else could we do in that amount of time? And call your execution.
Make sure that what you're doing you focus on it and make it as good as you can.
Cause in the end, everybody's got great ideas.
It matters about how you translate those ideas into the finished product.
So, Mark Franz
is gonna talk a little bit about, he's gonna give you the secret handshake on some of this stuff here.
So turn it back over to him. So this is the secret sauce on how to get into the gaming industry.
So things that we look for and a lot of other companies
are looking for in the video game industry. When you're going through a
face the interview process with pre-screening content. First off, whatever skill set you're
going into, we want to make sure you have those skills in some fashion.
But from there what we're really looking for are workability and teamwork and collaboration.
I can't emphasize this enough. We refuse more
brilliant jerks than you can impossibly imagine. And people that can't actually
work well in team, we can't use. The team dynamic creates quality.
So what we look for are things around how does a person
work with a team? How well do they collaborate? They have to have a clear passion for games.
And just want to mention, internship, is an excellent way to get
into the gaming industry. You learn a lot about that game studio, they don't
always look the same. Almost no game studio looks the same.
We learn about the actual process and you can apply that at your next job.
we want to talk specifically for each discipline. Who here is
in engineering?
So some things you want to take into account. Have a demo game.
Absolutely! If you want to work in the video game industry and you don't have something that you can represent and say, hey, I worked
on this. This could be a solo project or a team project. Doesn't matter. We just want to see
something that you worked on. And we want to talk to about that thing.
We're interested in Math, CS, Engineering degrees.
It's always interesting to us to hear that someone has some sort of leadership role on a project
they worked on. Again that tells us that they can work well on a team.
Communication skills, engineers are not necessarily known
for having peak communication skills.
But when we're talking about, so if engineers [ inaudible ]
from a designer let's say, the bad way to do that
is for the designer to write a design doc. Hand it to the engineer. Implements. Comes back
and well this is crap.