TFT Lead Game Designer Reflects on High Rank Expectations for Devs
The gaming community often expects the game developers to be placed in a higher rank. While it might seem natural to want your favorite game to be built and maintained by someone who is really good at it, the expectations could have deeper implications. In a , Game Design Director for Teamfight Tactics (TFT), Stephen “Mort” Mortimer, addressed the issue of the community wanting the devs to be highly ranked and why it is “not a worthwhile effort for creating a better game.”
The expectation that to work on a game, you must be at the top of the game's player base is a problem that persists throughout the entire games industry, not just TFT or League of Legends. I’ve had many people say my claims as a dev aren’t valid because I’m not Challenger. I’ve watched coworkers get roasted for only being Diamond, top ∼4% of players. And I’ve seen devs for other competitive games go through similar accusations. And it’s all ridiculous"Riot Mort
Mortimer announced that he hit Challenger rank in TFT and that he emerged as one of the top 250 players in his region. He added that his grind to Challenger to prove doubters wrong pushed him to the brink of burnout.
He wrote, “With Gizmos & Gadgets being our most dynamic set yet, I wanted to prove to myself that I could hit Challenger once and for all. It was a grind for sure and it put me the closest I’ve ever been to burning out.”
Riot Mort’s reasoning
Mortimer mentioned three major reasons why people should not ask devs to be the very best at their game.
Mortimer reasoned that playing the game regularly and grinding in the competitive ladder is something that devs can’t afford to do with their work and time commitments. He explained that game devs usually work for over 40 hours a week and a small portion of that work time involves playtests which are not done on live servers.
He said that the playtests they perform are often future versions of the game and could also be the next patch, the next TFT mid-set, or an entirely new TFT set. All this means that these habits are not great for climbing the ranked ladder on the live servers.
He wrote that the devs ideally play the game outside of work but questioned how much time they can dedicate to grinding in ranked. He added, “It took me close to 400 games in two months to reach Challenger, which amounts to more than 300 hours in around 8 weeks. If we count that as part of the job, that’s around another 25-30 hours a week. That, in addition to already working full time on TFT, is a recipe for burnout.”
He pointed out that expecting a dev to be in the top 1% of players is an expectation for that dev to work 70 or more hours a week and called it an unreasonable one. Mortimer stated that spending quality time with families, trying out other games, and exercising will all make devs resistant to burnout.
Stephen Mortimer said that devs always work towards making the game better. He added that if one wants a better game that is less excruciating to play and more enjoyable, the devs working behind the scenes need to be testing new builds or champions that are not meta to try and understand the pain points. Grinding the ranked ladder as a dev and playing the same comp that works will not yield growth, he reasoned.
“Devs already know what wins, we see it every day in our data, we hear about it every day from our top players, we live it every day in our balance discussions—what devs don’t see often enough are the things that are underplayed, underpowered, or just have yet to be discovered, and that’s what a dev should be playing the game for,” added Mortimer.
Mortimer rightly pointed out that a game’s success indefinitely rests on the audience's reach. He said that the game needs to be enjoyed by all kinds of players and should not just be restricted to players in high ranks.
“The truth that competitive players often push back on is that if you want millions of players, you need a game that millions of players can enjoy. High-level players and more junior designers will often make the mistake of designing games for themselves, which leads to very inaccessible games,” he wrote.
Mortimer quoted examples of Silco’s early iterations in TFT and how the devs had to tone him down and make him relatable and fun to play.
Mortimer said things get easier when the game has a diverse group of devs. He added that it takes more than a bunch of high-level players to make the game fun. “It takes a variety of life experiences, game philosophies, playstyle preferences, and skill levels,” he wrote.
As closing thoughts, Mortimer talked about the psychological implications that tag along with the expectation for a dev to play to the best of their ability. He said, “We are gamers because gaming is fun. If a dev wants to kick back and reroll while catching up on their latest binge, they should be able to enjoy that.”
He hoped that the community would be more understanding and supportive of the game devs in the future.
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