Riot has published an article on the official Runeterra site that talks about their approach to obtaining cards in Legends of Runeterra. We've summarized their post below and included the original blog.
- Progression is obtaining cards and usually prioritizes business over player experience.
- They want to create constant, meaningful sense of progression and greater periods of experimentation and discovery - the fun stuff.
- Random packs only give temporary spikes of excitement.
- Daily Quests help you gain experience every day which goes towards unlocking new cards.
- Vault Day is a weekly event that gives everyone an influx of new cards. A day for everyone to do some deckbuilding. Play more, get more cards.
- Region Rewards are the primary way to unlock cards. Pick a region, earn xp, get cards from that region.
- Shards and Wildcards let you unlock any card in the game you want. These can be obtained in-game and purchased with real money.
- Wildcards have limited quantities in the shop each week - no buying a full collection right away.
- Chest and Cards you obtain have a chance of becoming higher quality - better loot!
- They will monitor how the system works and improve it based on feedback. The system was built to be flexible.
Now that Legends of Runeterra has officially been announced, we want to share how our approach to making a card game is different from what you may have seen before. If you’re the kind of player that wants the full picture straight from the source, this deep dive into LoR’s design is for you.
This Thing We Call Progression
When it comes to card games, how you get the cards is almost as important as what you do with them.
Yet even with the move from paper to digital, the genre continues to be built on a foundation of randomized card packs. The typical systems for card acquisition—what we call “progression”—are notorious for prioritizing business over experience. It’s common to require players to make repeated purchases with little to no control over the outcome, and the best stuff is often far out of reach. For a genre that’s all about having choices and making decisions when building a deck or dueling an opponent, some players find that kind of card acquisition pretty frustrating.
Ok, we’re those players. We find that frustrating. But we know we’re not alone.
So if you’re someone that has felt the pain of paying for random packs and not having control over your collection, the way we’re designing progression in Legends of Runeterra might be exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
Here’s how we’re trying to build a better card game.
Mad Scientists and the Wild West
Let’s start where every good game should: the fun. Make no mistake, we wouldn’t be developing a card game if we didn’t love the genre. And despite the flaws in typical progression systems, we still believe the most fun happens whenever you get new cards.
It’s not just the thrill of seeing what you pulled. It's the possibility of what you can do with it. Even after you collect the cards for the perfect deck and master playing it against every matchup, odds are you’ll seek out another. For those more familiar with League, it’s a lot like when you decide to go all-in on a new main. Something draws us to beginning the process all over again, to that initial period of imagining and crafting a new strategy.
The best example of this happens right after a new release. There’s a huge batch of new stuff you get to try. Everyone’s developing their strategies in real time and figuring out how they fit into the evolving meta. Most of all, no one is completely sure of what works just yet. Anything goes in the post-expansion wild west, and we’re all in it together.
It’s an amazing time of experimentation and discovery… and it’s over in almost no time at all. Mere days, in some cases. And if the next set of cards is a long way out, you could be chewing on that stale meta for a while.
In a perfect world, that moment of experimentation never ends. Just as the meta is becoming predictable, something new appears and the surprises start again. Likewise, just as you’re settling into a routine with a strategy you’ve mastered, a new card catches your eye and you start dreaming up a totally different deck.
In our experience, that’s some of the best fun card games have to offer. So that’s the challenge we’re choosing with Legends of Runeterra: how to create a constant, meaningful sense of progression and foster greater periods of experimentation and discovery.
Let's Get Technical
To extend that experience, we have to ensure you’re still discovering new cards and reasons to experiment for a while after the latest release. And therein lies the problem.
Let’s say you have the option to unlock every card. In that “total access” scenario, you have a ton of stuff to experiment with, but there’s no more discovering new cards (you’ve got the whole set already). Ironically, by having access to all the cards, the experimental time ends up being cut short—even for players who might not have that access. Once some players have unlocked everything and figured out how it fits together, the meta for everyone rapidly finds its final form and stays that way until something new comes along.
(In theory, we could counter this effect by releasing new cards nonstop. In reality, devs need to sleep at some point.)
Even if you don’t care about “the meta,” once you have everything unlocked, there’s not really… progression anymore. Sure, you’ll probably have a blast in the first few days as you try everything out. But with no new cards to discover and nothing to look forward to, the appeal fades fast. You don’t have a reason to keep coming back, and likely won’t until the next big release.
On the other end of the progression spectrum, there’s the classic card game scheme that was first made popular on paper: Make it all random. But if “total access” was a dead end for our goal, this one is even more of a brick wall.
“Random packs” as a model can be decent at ensuring you have new cards to discover, but it’s better at delivering temporary spikes of excitement than consistent progression. Assuming you can’t instantly buy as many packs as you want (which is just a more complicated version of “total access”), getting cards at random has the opposite problem. The experimental time is increased as everyone works toward the full set one pack at a time, but now you personally are stuck with a limited, arbitrary card pool.
If you don’t unlock cards that really get your imagination going, it’s better luck next time. And if you’re dropping cash for pack after pack? It’s basically pay and pray. That may be the standard (and most lucrative) model, but it’s far from ideal as a way for players to make progress.
It all comes down to this concept of agency: You need to have some ability to control your progression, or the experience is more frustrating than fun. But given unlimited agency—like being able to get everything immediately—progression falls flat. There’s nothing to discover, and the meta stagnates. The challenge is finding the balance of controlled and random elements that add up to the right amount of agency.
You can think about it in terms of two competing rates: The time it takes to build the deck you want (short = good), and the time it takes for the meta to stop evolving (long = good).
The catch is that both rates are determined by exactly the same variable—how quickly you unlock cards. And this problem is only compounded by the two ways in which players can invest: with time or money. If you can spend money to get cards and buy everything outright, that makes the time-to-deck zero (great!), but also time-to-meta much shorter (not as great). Conversely, if you only spend time to unlock cards, it makes for a much longer meta evolution, but also a much longer time to actually get the deck you want.
That’s the fundamental tension of making a card game: How do we ensure you’re constantly getting cool new cards, but always have more to look forward to? How do we fairly balance investing time and investing money? How do we extend the experimental period without punishing players who want to go further, faster?
Careful calculations are Heimerdinger’s speciality.
PROBLEM, MEET SOLUTION
We’ve thought about this a lot. What we’ve come up with (at least to start) is a four-part system for progression. We think it gives you good choices in how you expand your collection, strikes the right balance for both agency and investment, and (most importantly) supports the discovery and experimentation that make card games fun in the first place.
- Quests. Daily quests are another way to earn experience and give you something to do every time you log in (don’t worry if you miss a day or two—you hold up to three quests at a time). Since any experience you gain goes toward the Vault and region rewards, quests are an easy way for every player to accelerate their next reward.
Complete daily quests.
- The Vault. All the fun of cracking packs, without paying for ’em. On Vault Day, everyone gets an influx of new cards and a reason to hit the deckbuilder. It’s a weekly opportunity to share your pulls and brew something new.
Because Vault rewards are random, we can give you a bunch of cards and increase the number you get based on how much you played the previous week. Players that spend a lot of time in Runeterra will be rewarded with a leveled up Vault containing upgraded chests with more cards inside—not to mention a guaranteed champion at level 10 and above.
Get chests and cards from the Vault.
- Region rewards. This is the main way to expand your collection and get the staples you need for any deck you can imagine. You choose which region you unlock cards from, so you’re not stuck building a deck with whatever you happened to get first. You can switch regions to chase other cards whenever you like, and soon you’ll unlock a solid set of options capable of supporting decks from every part of Runeterra.
Select a region to explore.
- Shards and wildcards. Get exactly what you want, no guessing required. Both shards and wildcards can be used to directly unlock any card in the game, which means the keystone cards for any deck you might want to build—like a certain champion—are always within reach.
You’ll get some shards and wildcards just by playing, but you can also buy additional wildcards from the store, which replenishes its stock weekly. While the Vault and region rewards are geared more toward the periods when you prefer to spend time over money, the wildcard stock in store is designed for those scenarios when you would rather invest your cash than your hours.
Get cards with either shards or wildcards.
Finally, there’s one more thing to be aware of: Any chest or card you get, whether from the Vault or region rewards, has the chance to upgrade into something even better.
Altogether, we’re optimistic about the potential of this system to do all the things we need it to do: accelerate how fast you get the deck you want and slow down how soon the meta settles; make getting cards feel good for all players, no matter how you choose to invest in the game; and ensure there’s always a reason to play, without restricting what you can play.
Work in Progress-ion
We spent much of LoR’s development testing the limits of what a card game can be—even trying to reinvent the formula in some ways. And you know what? That shit is hard. There’s a reason things like random packs have dominated progression (and business) models for so long.
But we don’t want to settle for the tried-and-true and just do what’s been done before. We’re stubborn enough to keep trying new things and crazy enough to think we can do it better. Like we said above—this is the challenge we’ve chosen.
But in no way is this the final state of progression in LoR. In fact, we’re still actively figuring some parts of this version out. We’re committed to carefully analyzing what’s working and what isn’t.
One of the big things we’re still debating is the fact that players are ultimately limited by time: There’s only one new quest a day, the Vault has a level cap, and wildcards in the store have a limited stock each week. It’s the tradeoff we’ve chosen in order to emphasize your agency—you have a clear way to get exactly you want, but it'll take some time to get it. Is that ultimately better? We think so, but you’re about to show us.
Wildcards are in stock at the store.
As we monitor how it plays out, we’re keeping in mind other changes we can potentially make, like a different quantity of wildcards in the store, more or less rewards from the Vault, or how much experience you earn with each game and quest. We’ve specifically designed progression in Legends of Runeterra as a flexible system, so we can adjust as needed if something isn’t quite adding up.
Victory or defeat, each match earns your experience that goes toward rewards.
And we’re not even playing with the full deck yet. On the horizon are new champions, card expansions, and yes—more regions. As we add more cards and features to the game, progression will need to evolve with it.
For example, you can expect to see more region rewards with each new one added, plus ways to go deeper into the regions you love most, with an “endless” reward system for playing as much as you want.
Progression can be about more than rewards, too. For those of you that prefer to measure your progress in terms of skill and competition, Ranked is coming soon. Alternatively, Expeditions will challenge a different set of skills—and provide a one-of-a-kind way to experiment with new decks.
And Away We Go
Getting rid of paying for random packs was just the start. Between shards and wildcards, the Vault, and region rewards, there’s a lot going on with progression in LoR.
We don’t know that it’s going to work. But we believe it will. We’re committed to seeing where this goes and communicating with you all along the way.
Let’s see if we can build a better card game together.