On its 10th anniversary, Riot Games announced that it was expanding beyond the Summoner’s Crack with new titles of all kinds. This was about a year ago and, looking back, we can see how they have kept their promise. They have stepped on the shooter ground with Valorant, that of the card duels with Legends of Runeterra and the mobile phone with Wild Rift. We were able to speak with Josh Menke, Principal Game Designer at Riot and the MMR and matchmaking manager on the mobile version of the MOBA. If you want to discover his journey through various companies and the role he plays in Wild Rift, read on!
A very varied trajectory
Menke has been working on Riot. But how did you get to be Principal Game Designer in a company of this caliber? “It’s a long story that started when I was a graduate student working on a PhD in neural networks!” he tells us when we ask him about his trajectory. “I configured a server Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory for some neighbors. We had an excellent internet connection, so we soon had a very popular server with players from all over the world playing 24 hours a day. I wanted to build a ranking system for everyone, as well as improve the balance of the team. So I researched, learned and wrote a lot on the subject. I ended up doing my thesis on neural networks and on classification systems in equal measure ”.
It was this research work that put him in contact with people from the research team. Microsoft Research Cambridge that they had been working on TrueSkill. At their recommendation, he was able to go from his eBay fraud detection job to signing with Blizzard Entertaiment: “At Blizzard I had the opportunity to help out on various games. Designed a revamp of the skills and ranking system of WoW Arena, where we coin the MMR term to talk about matchmaking classification. I also designed the classification systems and skills for Starcraft 2, which I think was one of the first games to use the Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. style ranges. that we now see in many other competitive games. I was also able to assist in skill, matchmaking, and firsts Hearthstone skins for Hearthstone arenas. It was a lot of fun working at Blizzard Entertainment. “
After five years, Menke began working for 343 Industries designing the classification system for Halo 4 and Halo 5. However, a year before the launch of the latter he embarked on a branch of Activision dedicated to Research and Development. “It was a fun opportunity to work on many different games instead of just one, so I decided to give it a try for a couple of years.”
When Activision closed its Seattle office, Josh retraced his steps to continue working at 343 Industries. After four years, after having polished the original designs of Halo 5 and also designed what we have seen in Halo Infinite, Riot contacted Menke to offer him his current position.. “I loved the idea of having the opportunity to work on a MOBA (I had only done a little bit on a super early prototype for Heroes of the Storm), and also on a mobile game, so I decided to join in! ”
Getting into the matter: the work behind how Wild Rift works
“I think the biggest challenge in my position right now is balance the waiting time of the matches with the quality of the pairings “Menke tells us about his current job. Josh has a long history, but Wild Rift is one of the first MOBA titles he has come across in his career: “Fortunately there is a lot of overlap between the different projects I have worked on and the MOBA when it comes to my area. I can take advantage of my RTS experiences with Starcraft 2 and combine them with my team competition work with Wow, Call of Duty y Halo. The other main difference is that the players of each game always have their own uniqueness that gives us opportunities to create experiences that are better adapted to each audience.
The matchmaking is essential for the enjoyment of this type of title although on many occasions their presence can be overlooked, a phenomenon similar to what happens in the cinema with the so-called “invisible montage”: the less time the player has to wait in line and the better matched they are according to their ability, the better. But behind this fluidity there is a continuous polishing and improvement work: “We are developing a much faster and more accurate method of finding a player’s MMR, allowing us to offer new players fairer games from the start and make games generally feel fairer. Also we are looking for improvements to significantly reduce waiting times for players who currently have unusually long wait times. “
As Menke himself tells us, The Wild Rift team is always on the lookout for feedback from players give about the gaming experience. They discuss what is communicated to them, analyze data and look for solutions both in the short and long term to solve the problems in the most appropriate way.
The voice of experience: advice for designers who want to enter this world
Josh Menke began his journey in the world of matchmaking and video game design out of sheer passion. For this reason, we ask him for advice for those designers who want to follow in his wake. “To get into design in general, I would say start designing the game mechanics as soon as possible. You can start with a pencil and paper, but also test your ideas on real game engines. There are many game engines available these days that you can download and learn how to make games, even if you are not going to be a programmer or an engineer. Many junior applicants these days have already had a lot of experience using game design tools and have created at least simple games on their own. There are game design schools that give you experience with that, but even on your own you can download a lot of these tools for free and watch tutorials to learn how to use them ”.
Finally, we ask you to tell us a little more in depth how designers can prepare to work on MMR and game matchmaking: “To get into my own specific area, I would recommend studying a combination of statistics and machine learning, specifically in the areas of approximate Bayesian inference. Many of the best models for understanding player skill come from using a Bayesian framework, and fitting those models to the large amount of data you’ll find in even smaller games requires approximations. For an academic track record, I would suggest degrees in Computer Science or Data Science, with emphasis on Bayesian statistics and / or Data Science. After that, the same suggestions as above apply. Apply your knowledge to design skill, ranking and matching systems to learn the ins and outs of what works and what doesn’t, both technically and in terms of what is fun for the players. “
While Josh Menke and the entire Riot team work to ensure that Wild Rift reaches our devices in the best conditions, we can focus on making the most of the experience in the Summoner’s Crack. See you in future games!