The head of game design at Riot Games, Trevor Romelski, tells us how they plan to keep Valorant alive over time.
Valorant is no longer a beta to become a complete game … but constantly evolving. For Riot Games, makers of League of Legends and now also dedicating efforts to their new first-person multiplayer tactical shooter, every day is the first day. Trevor Romelski, head of design for what is already a success, reflected in a digital meeting with Regard about the difficulties of keeping a title like this on top, the importance of balancing new additions and how a project with long-term views.
Valorant is currently being developed by a team of “about 150 people,” although the figure is highly dependent on the workflow. We are talking about a live, changing video game; And from Riot Games they do not hesitate when delegating work externally or hiring staff on a temporary basis if necessary. Premium quality and, if more people are needed, more people are obtained.
Currently, still punctuated by the effects of the pandemic, the main team continues away from the offices, but this has not stopped their title from being inactive for a single moment. Success is finite, but having a League of Legends by his side capable of celebrating anniversaries for a decade is, to say the least, encouraging. For Romelski, Valorant is here to stay.
R.N: How have you adapted to work remotely during the pandemic?
Trevor Romelski: Yes, we continue to work outside the offices; completely remote. We do all our communication through different software. It is quite a challenge. Sometimes it can be easier, but when you have to coordinate, communication can be slightly more difficult than when you are with the rest of the people, all gathered in the same room. Having people next to you physically is a grade, but we are doing our best to handle the situation and to be constantly connected in the face of that communicative task around the game.
In a game like Valorant, which is always active, how important is it for you to listen to the community in order to apply certain changes that immediately affect the game?
It’s a really great component in a game as a service, in my opinion. We are constantly listening to what the community has to say to us; what you are enjoying, what you are not. We use different methods to speak even individually with the players. For example, on Discord or social media. We use them to interact with them and channel what opportunities may arise, what we should focus on in the future.
“We want to complete the Valorant ecosystem as League of Legends did”
The game has started impressively on portals like Twitch, also on the number of active players. How can those numbers be sustained over time? Is success something capable of lasting in a time like today?
I think it is our biggest challenge. One of the realities that we have to deal with being a game as a service is that you always have to keep people’s expectations high; give reasons for them to be more excited [for Valorant] than for the other games that are out there. We are very happy with the feeling that Valorant is evoking, the truth. We have to work very hard to keep this going. My answer is clear: you have to respond to the community, be quick with updates and continue to improve the game each and every day. In addition to all the content that we have on the horizon and that we believe will help maintain momentum, we want to complete the Valorant ecosystem as did League of Legends, which with a decade continues to improve every day with a constant community of players.
You said a key word we’d like you to dig into: ecosystem. What is the true meaning of “ecosystem” in Valorant?
In the particular case of Valorant I use that word in a competitive aspect. When we play and see someone who is highly motivated, what we want is to show our skills to other players. In turn, what it can mean when we play with others as a team; This results in even higher aspirations of what we can do. We want to continue facilitating ways for players to play competitively and feel that competition. We are only at the beginning of the road, we are building that ecosystem, but it is interesting what is to come based on what we have been seeing so far.
Do you intend to settle the game on the esports scene in the short term?
It’s interesting… It has never been our top priority to consider Valorant as a game primarily dedicated to esports. But, definitely, we want to see to what extent the game can be enjoyed in a competitive aspect and value it in a scenario where there are many players facing each other in, for example, tournaments. What we do want is to turn that competitive aspect into something global. Shooters usually get used to having championships divided by regions. It is a very exciting idea for us, but in our opinion it all depends on how people react to this approach. That is, we are prepared in case that happens, it would be very good, but it was not a priority goal, but to make a game fun to play and capable of having fun just by watching it.
When you create a game like this, where characters (Agents) and maps periodically arrive, what is the most appropriate periodicity to make these rotations? How can a balance be reached?
Maps and characters must be updated differently. For maps, we have adopted a strategy by which we prefer not to have dozens of maps, but rather that each map is special and we can dedicate good care to it in the event of a possible rotation. In this way, with few maps, it is easier to identify what is wrong, apply changes that can frustrate people … We want to give an acceptable number of maps in which they can truly settle down and become familiar with each Agent. “I’m going to put myself with this character in that specific corner and try how it is,” for example. When you mix different types of Agents on the same map, the game becomes more complex. Therefore, we prefer to have a reduced number of maps and, over time, add others. Now, which is better, gradually adding maps or applying a rotation system? We are exploring it, we don’t know exactly what we are going to do. What is certain is that when we introduce new maps it has to be very heavy and we have the feeling that it is going to be a significant addition.
When it comes to Agents, we have to be careful because an addition can be somewhat disruptive. Sometimes, if you don’t know exactly what that character is like, it can even be punitive for other players. Overall, we want to add characters at a much slower rate than League of Legends does, for example. I think that, soon, you will be able to see the rhythm that we adopt in the face of this aggregation of new Agents in the game. In general, we want to go slowly because with each addition there are many changes to be made to ensure balance between all.
How can you give reasons to a Valorant player to come back tomorrow and not take a look at the new competition title? Tell us about loyalty
For us, we always keep two things in mind. The first is that it obviously takes a lot of dedication to be able to master the game. That is, you can play Valorant a lot, but you should feel that you are improving over time. That is important, that you feel that there is a progression; It is somewhat satisfying on an individual basis. In turn, add new content that makes you feel like a novel again and want to repeat that process. Above all, keep it enjoyable and deep in the face of any type of addition. Despite any change, it must remain addictive, challenging. On the other hand, we want to make sure we add new experiences beyond saying, “I’m going to sit down and play forty minutes.” If you have only ten minutes and you don’t want to compete, we want to give you reasons so that you can enjoy multiple ways, not just one.
In a genre like this, where there are other video games that have done so well in the past, what have you learned from them? Is there a specific title that you consider a reference in management and debugging?
There is a lot to learn from those titles that are currently up. League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike … They are all great games and great successes. All of them are an inspiration to provide new opportunities in our project. It is definitely very important to observe what others do in different settings. Everything that others do well is a good indicator of what we can learn in order to integrate elements into our title. What can we do differently? What have they done well? We think about it to map out our strategy; All that information is really useful.
Regarding your specific role in Valorant, what are the main difficulties you usually encounter when designing some aspect of the game?
I think the biggest challenge by far is combining tactical gunplay with the skills each agent has. Always trying to keep balance in those two aspects is the most difficult. Being able to understand how the impact of each skill affects the impact of each bullet is challenging. That forces us to constantly think about how and in what way we will add new weapons and how they will be integrated into each part of the map. We have to think if each addition is going to be tactical enough and if it can break the balance in the game. When we do, it is really satisfying, I have to say.
It is striking that Valorant has really modest requirements. It can be run on virtually any PC. You have stated that this is deliberate, why is it so important for you to put greater access to technical ambition?
We want to make sure that regardless of where you are and the PC you have, you can play. That you do not need a super computer, that you can join a game even if you are with the computer in a cafeteria. Similarly, if you have a large computer, you can play comfortably. We wanted all options to be equally compatible. Apart from that, we firmly believe that there is something really important: you have to play with a high framerate. The higher the FPS rate, the better the sensations at the controls. It will be more cohesive. If the game can run even on a weak computer, and thus we guarantee that the FPS rate is up to par, much better for everyone. And if you have a high-end computer you can even play at 300-odd frames. We believe this is critical to the future success of the game.