Riot CEO Brandon Beck on forging success with League of Legends

Riot Games has announced player numbers for its extremely popular League of Legends title, and they're pretty phenomenal. With over 15 million registered players, the Defense of the Ancients-style online multiplayer RTS can now brush shoulders with games like Blizzard's World of Warcraft (12 million players), Call of Duty (13 million players on Xbox Live), and The Sims (16 million copies sold), as one of the biggest PC games in history. Granted, as a free-to-play title that relies on microtransactions for revenue, League of Legends has more access to a wider audience than games driven by retail sales or subscriptions. But there's no question at all that this is a huge and exceptionally popular game.

Joystiq got to talk with CEO and co-founder of Riot Brandon Beck about today's announcement, and he says that even the company was surprised by how big LoL (as it's called in shorthand) has gotten. "The growth of the League of Legends community far exceeded our expectations," he tells us. "We are proud of the numbers we are hitting on our platform and are confident our fantastic team can continue to grow and evolve our technology to handle even greater numbers."

Even outside of that gigantic 15 million registered players, the League of Legends totals are impressive. Gamers spend 3.7 million hours fighting in the lanes of Runeterra every single day, and 1.4 million of them log on every day to do so. That Daily Active User number is very impressive, and means that not only has Riot picked up an audience, but it's an audience that's coming back daily to play and enjoy the game.

Beck says there are two reasons for that. First, as a competitive game, jumping in may be easier than it was in the past thanks to new player-friendly features and tweaks, and there's a lot of depth to explore after that. LoL is "an extremely deep experience that warrants a ton of playtime for players interested in mastering the game, and that complexity keeps players coming back for more," says Beck.

Riot also releases new content for the game every other week, and that brings players back often. "We invest a lot of time making sure that game balance is constantly tuned, that content stays fresh (we release new playable champions every couple of weeks)," Beck points out, "and all the while we are develop feature enhancements and improvements such as the recent releases of Co-Op vs. AI and our Tribunal system."

Traditionally, Western gamers -- especially the hardcore kind -- have been averse to the free-to-play/microtransaction model. While free-to-play games have been extremely popular overseas, Eastern developers have had some trouble building significant audiences here. But Beck says it's never been the model that's the problem, just the games. "In the end, free-to-play is just a business model. It is viable for some games and not well suited for others," he says. "Ultimately, if our players feel like they are getting a good value, being well taken care of, and having a good experience, they will make purchases in whatever fashion they are comfortable with."

Riot didn't share any information in this release about how many of these players are actually spending money in the game, but the most conservative of estimates for games like this put the conversion rate at around five percent. If even that small percentage of the 15 million player base has ponied up the $50 that they might normally spend on a PC retail game, you can see how Riot could have a sizable amount of revenue coming in.

And, if anything, those numbers are extremely low guesses; anecdotally, Riot's player base is very committed to the game and the company, and that much more willing to spend their money. Beck says that commitment is the reason Riot is sharing these numbers now: "We saw phenomenal turnout for our Season One Championship -- over 1.7 million viewers tuned in over the weekend. The end of Season One was a significant milestone for Riot and our players, and we felt it was time to share with our community just how big a mark they're making on PC gaming."

Going forward, Beck says, Riot plans to stick to the plan that got them here: "Our goal is to become the most player-focused game company in the world. Today that means we will continue to develop and enhance our experience so our players want to keep playing." And as for future features coming to the game, Beck had nothing specific to share just yet, but promises they're on the way. "We're going to continue to expand the game," he says, "by adding new and surprising features, adding great content, improving game balance and enhancing the player experience in any way we can."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.