by Stephanie Cedeño and Jason Wong
On November 4, faculty members Ben Hooker and Tim Durfee led our lab + field concept year cohort on a field trip to Riot Games to meet with MDP alum Luke Johnson (‘10). The visit was part of the Working Futures class, which critically investigates “doing work” in the context of a reimagined Los Angeles circa 2036.
Riot Games is a player-focused company that creates the multi-player online battle game League of Legends (LOL). The popular game consists of different “champions” that battle other characters in order to destroy their opponent’s base. About 67 million users play every month, using up to twenty percent of the entire internet’s bandwidth. While some users play for pleasure, professional teams––often supported by telecom companies––compete annually in a league to win $1 million. In addition to the game’s global popularity, a defining facet of the game is the character design and the fictional world. These elements enable players to inhabit the LOL world and engage with players worldwide. The digital environment becomes a place to create community and site to engage in play.
The ecosystem that combines the physical workplace and digital environment that is LOL served as a case-study for how we may conceptualize narratives on the future of work. After our visit, we asked ourselves a few questions:
- How does the type of work change when the digital environments strongly influence physical environments?
- What is the shape of these kind of work sites?
- How do work sites such as those at Riot Games interact at different global scales and consider diverse cultural influences?
Interestingly, the online site of LOL as a space has dictated several aspects of the work environment. As a company, Riot Games tries to transpose the ethos of LOL into its office culture. Our tour guides, Greyson and Aaron, as well as Luke, boasted about their movable desks and how they could easily reconfigure themselves to meet the needs of team deliverables. There is also an entire room dedicated to playing League of Legends in the style of the PC bang, a typical South Korean social meeting place for gamers. Typically, users spend many hours interacting with fellow gamers (IRL) and also with the game, and employees nerd out by competing in company-wide contests against each other.
Besides an office culture that facilitates an engaging work environment, employees within Riot Games have immense control over the online interactions of its users. Every two weeks a new patch is updated and affects nearly 200 million people with its alteration of just a few lines of code. Work teams also manage rules of conduct for the game in order to ensure a safe and engaging player environment.
Similarly, we found the Network Operations Center (NOC) fascinating––not only are Riot Games’ NOC experts vigilant about bugs in the game, they monitor current events alongside their localization teams to make culturally appropriate decisions in adherence with the cultural values and semantics present in each area (e.g. when the King of Thailand passed away, they temporarily shut down the game in that country out of respect). The NOC speaks to a new feudalism that arises in these sites, where non-state actors such as technology companies are also responsible for maintaining localized control.
By visiting the Riot Games work site, our understanding of the various ways a site can exist in the world allowed for more specificity in our speculations about the future of work. The first hand experience with Riot employees informed our design propositions for the final output of this module and gave weight to the propositions and provocations of our respective design scenarios.
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Stephanie Marie Cedeño is from St. Louis, MO and completed her undergraduate work at Boston University. She is a visual and interaction designer based out of Los Angeles, CA. Her work tunes into alternative frequencies from political to poetic imaginaries. Drawing from the Formalist literature of Viktor Shklovsky, creative literary works, and historical elements within primary documents, she carefully combines these influences for the conceptualization of fictional worlds. She also loves the NBA.
Jason Shun Wong is a multidisciplinary designer, born and bred in Los Angeles. Having spent two years working as a experiential media designer in Shanghai, China, he is now based in Los Angeles, CA after completing a BFA in Industrial design and BA in psychology at the University of Washington. Currently, his design research lies at the intersection of interaction & industrial design, ethnography, and literature. He aspires to play basketball like Chris Paul and eats donuts at Randy’s in Inglewood.