The strengths and weaknesses of Hextech Crafting

In a recent piece published on Polygon, Riot revealed new details about how they plan to use their upcoming Hextech Crafting system to reward positive players and punish “toxic behavior”.

Photo via Twitch, Image via Capcom

In a recent piece published on Polygon, Riot revealed new details about how they plan to use their upcoming Hextech Crafting system to reward positive players and punish “toxic behavior”. While this loot system probably represents Riot’s best anti-toxicity initiative to date, it still has a significant weakness that may prevent what right now sounds like a really, really good idea from being great.   

The Good

Before we discuss this weakness, let’s look at what Hextech Crafting does right. From what we know, the loot system is based on key and key fragment drops that will occur after each win. Keys can be used to unlock mastery chests, which also need to be earned and are tied to post-game grades. Unlocking chests will give players access to a range of rewards like champion rentals, and full champion and skin unlocks. However, players consistently tagged for negative behavior will not get any drops, thereby preventing them from unlocking any rewards. What Riot has done here is build an interesting and engaging positive reinforcement system for players. Positive reinforcement occurs when the addition of a stimulus increases or maintains the probability of some desired behavior. If a player displays the desired behavior (not being toxic), they receive a stimulus (key, key fragment or chest), which trains them to continue to display the desired behavior to keep getting the stimulus. What’s really great about this mechanism, and has been lacking from previous toxicity-curbing attempts is the high frequency and short delay of reinforcement. It is well known that if you want people to learn a behavior quickly, you need to frequently reinforce with short delay between observation of the behavior and application of reinforcement (see diagram below). Let’s contrast this to last season’s initiative to withhold a random free skin unlock from players who had received match bans. Here a positive player only receives the stimulus once (free skin unlock) after an entire season. While our diagram below suggests that this initiative would encourage persistent learning, the low frequency and long delay is probably too extreme to be optimally effective. More importantly, it does very little to help a toxic player learn how to behave correctly during the course of an entire season of play. We can extend this thought further by speculating that soon after this initiative was announced, average player behavior improved. However, because it was not frequently reinforced, players would eventually forget and go back to their previous behavior. With Hextech Crafting, misbehaving players will immediately know if they are not behaving properly and can adjust accordingly.  

Still Room for Improvement

Now that we’ve broken down what’s good about Hextech Crafting, let’s look at its weakness. Simply put, the problem with Hextech Crafting is that it assumes all players are motivated by champion and skin unlocks. Admittedly, that’s not a terrible assumption; it’s probably safe to say that the majority of players are indeed motivated by the prospect of free champions and skins. Still, a player who doesn’t care about champion unlocks (e.g. already has all champions) or skins (e.g. Faker) will have little motivation to change their behavior under this new system. Additionally, consider that we still have few details on the specifics of this system. For example, we don’t know how many/what combination of keys or chest will be needed to unlock a free skin. What if it works out to having to play about 300 games to get a free random skin. If a player knows they only play about 200 games a season, they may feel this effort does not reasonable justify the outcome. Therefore, their motivation to behave positively can be significantly inhibited. This ties into something called Expectancy Theory but we’ll skip that for the time being. So what can Riot do to overcome this weakness? There are two obvious recommendations we can propose. First, they need to ensure that the amount of effort needed to translate earned key, key fragments and chests into a desired reward is reasonable. However, this can be a difficult line to tread. If it’s too hard or tedious, players will eventually lose interest and it might as well be another end-of season free skin unlock. If it’s too easy, it not only dilutes the value of rewards but it also risks upsetting the hardcore player base who feel they are not being fairly recognized for their dedication relative to the casual player. Second, Riot can try to figure out what else motivates its player base. Does it really just boil down to free champions and skins? A better understanding of player motivation would not only help diversify player rewards but could also probably be easily incorporated into Hextech Crafting. In this manner, a broader range of players could be engaged and encouraged to exhibit positive in-game behavior.     

Trying to encourage positive player behavior is no easy feat. Hextech Crafting promises to be an interesting new game mechanic and we should recognize Riot for their continued efforts to think innovatively and improve League’s player experience. Hextech Crafting objectively has a lot of good going for it, and looks pretty fun to boot. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and work went into it. It should also be noted that we still have very few specifics about the system and that it is entirely possible that Riot has already addressed the weaknesses we have outlined. In any case, as per the Polygon piece, we’ll probably find out soon enough:

“While Riot has not given an official date for when the crafting and loot system will be added to League of Legends, Lin said they’re the number one priority for the developer on the long list of planned 2016 additions to the game. Riot plans to start testing it shortly after a new champion select system is implemented.”