Player Dynamics Design: Looking Behind the Curtain

People who meet online, whether they are on social media or games, know that there is no way to be kind to everyone. Even though most people aren’t mean to other people, it takes just a few disruptive characters to make an unpleasant environment for everyone.

This is what almost everyone wants to see change. We do too. We are constantly looking for ways to make the games more safe, inclusive, and more enjoyable for all. This goal is not without its challenges. There are also no easy solutions.


Riot’s teams are committed to addressing reported and confirmed disruptive behavior. However, we also seek long-term solutions. Player Dynamics design is the answer. Player Dynamics is a design discipline that aims to create gaming structures that encourage more rewarding social experiences, and minimize harmful interactions. The discipline seeks to answer the question “How can we foster and sustain healthy online communities?”

This blog will give an update on Player Dynamics design since our last conversation. We also want to show you some of the internal materials we use for Rioters to learn the craft.

This is the first part of a series that introduces the concept of Player Dynamics design and its impact on the gaming experience. This is an important topic that we take seriously. We are committed to showing you how we can make player dynamics better.

What is Player Dynamics Design?

This is how Player Dynamics has been described internally over the past couple of years.


Marc Merrill, one co-founder of Riot, said recently that Player Dynamics is a modern approach to creating online games and social spaces. Our ultimate goal is to deliver on the promises of our games and make their social experiences as enjoyable as possible. Player Dynamics is not about addressing disruptive behavior – it’s just a part.

We recognize that disruptive behavior can be a concern. Let’s discuss two concepts from social sciences that have been effective in helping Rioters to understand the thinking of Player Dynamics designers.

Prosocial is a great book to summarize the first concept.

“One the most solid findings in social psychology was that we tend to attribute bad behaviour in others to our personal intent when it is often due, in part, to situational constraints.”

Lewin’s Behavior Equation is the second related concept.

In reality, what appears to be intentional is often a situational thing. To change behavior, you need to change the environment.

Game creators should feel empowered by this because they have a lot to do with defining game environments and situations. Social friction can lead to disruptive behavior. Designers have the ability to do much more than they realize. To help designers avoid social friction, we have made Player Dynamics a discipline of design.

Let me be clear: We recognize that disruptive behavior is not something we can control. Sometimes players can be intentionally harmful. These types of behavior are unacceptable. We consider anyone who is constantly harmful to the game as taking their place in the game.

We can reduce disruption and increase opportunities for positive experiences. This is what research shows.

Foundations of Player Dynamics

We are trying to transform 150 years worth of social science into services and features for games and their ecosystems, in many ways. This will allow us to provide better player experiences. Player Dynamics is a foundation of the game industry that dates back many years. A number of games and works are considered milestones in the game industry.

Some are also groundbreaking multiplayer games. We consider some of these pioneers to be Player Dynamics. Habitat (1985), is certainly one of the first to address behavior issues actively – back in the days when the Internet was free!

Riot joined the Player Dynamics team in 2012 and became a part of the Player Behavior team. We learned a lot during this time, including what we might do differently when creating a new game. In 2018, we officially launched Player Dynamics as a sub-discipline in design and it was announced in 2020.

Player Dynamics shares many skills with game design and UX but also requires skills that these disciplines don’t normally need.


Player Dynamics was named after the well-established field known as social dynamics. Although some companies call this “social design”, we prefer to emphasize “player” in order to avoid the common misconception that it is all about chat.

State of Player Dynamics Design

We are now where we need to be.

Many parts of the company are now involved in Player Dynamics work. From Project L, an early stage game, to teams that specialize in live products (League VAL, Wild Rift), Central Player Dynamics, and new Platform-focused initiatives for fans, to our growing practice.

Our organization is more like a hub and spoke. Platform’s central group of SMEs coordinates with other Riot teams. Each one of them is working on different challenges at various stages of development. When they are ready, each will talk about the features or services they are developing.

Here’s how Players Dynamics has been showing Players Dynamics throughout the development stages of a game.

Player Dynamics can include everything from level design and narrative to game mechanics in prototyping, preproduction, production, and post-production. As development becomes closer to being live, the conversation will shift towards metagames and communication systems. Disruptive behavior is more likely when there are players playing the game. Therefore, risk registers and mitigations are hot topics closer to Alpha. Once a game is launched, the changes are often subtler or more integrated into and around existing systems.

We now have designers who are focusing on each of the above areas and more. Platform, which takes into account the entire social network, is another area. Some of these designers are only involved in Player Dynamics design, while others have the title of “Player Dynamics Designer”. They design features and services, consult with multiple teams, and create frameworks, tools and teaching materials.

These are some screenshots taken from the internal crash course “Player Dynamics 101”.

These materials can be helpful in scaling Player Dynamics thinking. We want all Rioters to have enough Player Dynamics tools, knowledge and information to make good social dynamic decisions regardless of their role.

We would like to see you also equipped.

Anyone can apply Player Dynamics-thinking to their lives and work by using one simple phrase: Be multi-minded. Next, we will discuss the language that Player Dynamics designers use to guide us towards healthier social environments.