Maren Bruin for NPR
At USC in the late 1990s, Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck were bonding over video games and noticing that free, player-made modifications for the game Warcraft III were becoming wildly popular online.
The two friends were so impressed by these mods that they decided to create their own multiplayer strategy game with an unusual twist: they’d offer the game for free, but charge players money for new characters or customizable clothing (or “skins”). Many investors balked at the idea, unsure that a free game—created by total novices—would generate enough revenue.
After three rocky years of development, Marc and Brandon’s company Riot Games launched League of Legends in 2009. Over the past 11 years, it’s become one of the most popular PC games of all time, pulling in $1.5 billion in 2019 alone.