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Reader Comments (38)

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:13PM smartstep said

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Balance in mmorpg's is an illusion.

Trying to 'get' perfect balance ESPECIALLY 1v1 balance is pointless and brings FAR more harm than benefit.

Posted: Feb 22nd 2012 6:29AM (Unverified) said

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@smartstep

Indeed. I believe someone said it best almost 50 years ago:

"Rock is OP. Paper is okay." - Scissors, 1963
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Posted: Feb 23rd 2012 4:59AM BaneBergan said

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To me, the worst issue with "fixing" any kind of "balance issue" is not just the direct impact on gameplay in both PVE and PVP (that is not to say the impact is not a huge factor, I agree it definitely is a problem). The single worst issue to me is the way these changes never seem to fit into the game's story at all.

For years, I have had people swear to me they stick with games like WoW because they "love the rich, wonderful lore SO much". But when a game takes a class that works a specific way, portrays the class through the lore to fill that bill perfectly... then makes sweeping changes for "balance" reasons... what happens to the "lore"? It gets ignored, because it was in the way (and players just accept this as being "the way it goes").

Last year, I wrote a piece about how these kinds of lazy "balance fixes" destroy immersion (if you are interested, it is over here: http://gameswithbane.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/world-of-warcraft-lore-exorcism-and-how-to-destroy-immersion/ ).

I totally agree that the whole concept of "giving each class it's time in the sun" is pure wretched. In fact, I would say that (in my opinion) 99% of the "balancing" most developers have attempted post-launch has done more damage to gameplay than good... let's not forget this crap damages more than just the gameplay.

What happens when a developer puts all their eggs into the "story" basket, and then tries to "balance" things the way Blizzard has always done it? I don't know, since SWTOR is the first MMO I have seen that approached things that way... but I think BioWare needs to worry less about PVP balance, "OP Class QQ" and more about how any changes made for "balance" will impact their story... because lightsabers being blocked by rifles was already ridiculously unbelievable enough.

In my perfect little dream, class "balance" is handled by giving each class unique abilities, and making them all desirable in different situations without making them mandatory. Granted, that is a 180 degree opposite view of where the average MMO developer wants us to go these days... where no class has any truly unique abilities, in order to make things more "balanced".
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:21PM Mikx said

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Also: balance is so dependent on other aspects of the game, like pve encounter design. Once you change the encounter paradigm you wildly throw off the balance of the game. Balance can also lead to stagnation in encounter design, if you're balancing classes based on burst v sustained damage, single target v aoe, etc...

And then you get to my biggest pet peeve in gaming, where you want one class to do something like poision/cripple very well so you give them lots of those abilities. But then, because of balance or you just want other characters to have those abilities, you give another class a single poison or cripple skill that is so easy to use that it quickly dominates the game and makes those classes the preferred crippler/poisoner in a group.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:35PM Borick said

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"Balance" is adding training wheels for people who are comfortable in their little niche and unwilling to lose due to circumstance or strategy rather than as an even test of skill (As if there were such a thing).

E-sports. Pah.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:39PM (Unverified) said

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I doubt balance will ever be achieved...in the players eyes. Someone in any game will feel some other class is better and complain that the game is not balanced.

However, I think in the case of World of Warcraft, the issue should be looked at much deeper. Balance has ALWAYS been an issue in the game because the game was never designed for high level PvP. Perhaps WoW should be like as the standard as to what not to do when trying to balance a game.

In a November 2008 Warcry interview, Rob Pardo was asked what the biggest mistake they ever made to WoW was. His answer was high end PvP, such as BG's and arenas. Not because they were a bad idea, but because the game was not designed and built for it. He wishes they had had the idea in the design stage and decided then whether to implement it, not do it in the middle. But because they did do it in the middle, it has consumed much of their time, which even he admits. In my opinion the constant cycle of nerfs/buffs every single patch is one the large reasons WoW in each f the last 2 expansions has had half, or less, of the content they talked about for it. Another lesson to be learned is for Blizzard's stubborn refusal to create seperate PvP skills and talents which would be active in a BG or arena and thuse be able to be designed for balance.

I think if a company would learn from those mistakes and do as you say, define balance for their game from the start, it would go a long way to achieving percieved balance from a player point of view. However, there will never be a consensus by players as to whether or not a game is balanced.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:41PM donweel said

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The easiest way to ruin a game is to attempt to balance it for one v one pvp.
Party balance is the overal thing that counts. A group of four different classes should be balanced by what they can contribute overall.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 8:46PM hansh0tfirst said

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Every time I hear someone lament that 'balance' undermines 'fun' I think to myself, "there's someone who's butthurt about having their OP shiznit nerfed."

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 9:03PM Yukon Sam said

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The fact that perfection is unattainable does not make it illusory. Most goals worth having are directions, not destinations.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 9:42PM Zyrusticae said

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@Yukon Sam

This.

Balance is a noble goal to have. A goal to strive for. It is not, contrary to popular belief, something so completely unattainable that it's not even worth looking at.

One aspect of balance that is particularly important is the range of choices. If you have a small handful of blatantly overpowered choices, every other choice becomes a trap. Likewise, if you have a "rock bottom tier" of classes or whatever, they become dead weight - you're probably better off NOT having them at all simply to avoid the frustration of angry players.

It's not even really about "fairness" as much as it is about having a wide range of viable and interesting choices for the player to make. It's perfectly fine for there to be trade-offs - the issue is that the trade-offs have to be worth what's given up in their place. Having really poor balance restricts choices to a smaller number of competitive options, and that's not good for anybody.
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 10:15PM (Unverified) said

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@Zyrusticae
Agreed, but if balance isn't something done from when the game is designed, trying to attain balance can dominate a game at the expense of all other aspects.

While it's always good to look and see if balance can be improved on, it shouldn't be something that is constantly the forefront thing for years that constantly changes each and every class every 3 to 6 months and cost content to the rest of the game.
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 10:35PM Yukon Sam said

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@(Unverified) If you test extensively and don't ship until the game is ready, then it should be fairly well-balanced out of the gate (seems obvious, but try explaining it to the suits).

But.... it's an MMO. It changes. If the dev team has its act together, it changes every month, if not more often. And every addition has the potential to transform a formerly well-balanced skill into a WIN button, often through some bizarre synergy that only an obsessive-compulsive gamebreaker would ever find.

Not only is the WIN button not fun for other players, it's not even much fun for the class that has it, because they become one-trick ponies. Boring.

So yeah... balance itself needs to be balanced against other priorities. But the quest for balance isn't ever going away.
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 11:08PM (Unverified) said

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@Yukon Sam
True, but with WoW it got out of hand because the classes were designed solely for their PvE roles in the design stage. So instead of saying "hey, we messed up and are pulling PvP" or saying "we are going to do seperate PvP skills and talents and world PvP will just have to be as is" they have let the constant nerf/buffs dominate every single patch for years and it's cost the game.

If a game is designed around balance, it is easier to do "maintenance" to the balance and easy to create PvE around that rather than vice versa.
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Posted: Feb 22nd 2012 6:47AM pancho72 said

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@Yukon Sam

Another agreement for Sam.

MMOs are notoriously hard to balance due to the extensive environments they feature. But a game that attempts balance has far better gameplay than one that doesn't try.

There is a tradeoff involved of course. Having a rich and varied environment is important for MMOs and that will result in balance issues. Using stealth classes as an example, they are hard to add in a balanced way but having them results in a more interesting game.

Balance issues become more obvious when game features are easily comparable. If a game features 2 ranged dps classes, players will expect those to be more closely balanced than a melee and a ranged dps class.
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 9:19PM dajones said

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Finally! I've been saying this for years. There is no such thing as balance and real attempts at trying to balance will ultimately make all classes unsatisying and boring.. Calling skills of differing classes different things and attaching very different graphics when the skills are acomplsihing the same things in the same way is something we're seeing more and more. I hate what theyve done to mages in wow because of the cries about balance.. some skills have become usless placeholders because they have been turned in to kid glove versions of their former self.

What Blizzard seem to do lately is rotate the classes with differing power throughout the season.. this way no one is really satisfied.

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 9:22PM Utakata said

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I hope someone mails this article to Blizz developers.

...in the meantime, was that your Warlock pictured, Mr. Lefebvre? O.O

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 9:28PM drunkingamebar said

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It's f*cked up they try to balance 2+ different classes, the reason behind different weapons/styles is to have an advantage is certain situations.

"Hey! No, that is not fair - I brought a sword, and you have a gun."

Tough, titties!

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 10:22PM (Unverified) said

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The pursuit of balance is what stripped WoW's classes of a lot of their flavor. It also drained the game's potential by forcing the developers to spend an inordinate amount of time on balancing the classes rather than new features. I don't have much love for that amount of balance, that's for sure.

Rift and SWTOR travel down a similar path but no where near the extent that WoW has thankfully. How I perceive this pursuit of balance rests within the context of a game and the actions its developers take. Blizzard has been flopping about trying to balance the classes for far too long in my opinion. When the patch notes are consistently full of class changes and tweaks I get irked.

I believe that these balance disasters are due to the design structure of a game. When you place a high priority on PVE and PVP at a competitive level you start to run into constant class fluctuations with each new content release. Many players don't mind the downsides of balance, as evidenced by the millions that play these types of games. Or at the very least, a number of these players put up with them, including myself.

I can see the danger on the flipside wherein only certain classes get chosen for set roles. This leaves players who love a certain playstyle left out for many situations.

I can see why Eliot did not offer any definitive solution to the issue at hand. It may just come down to a matter of preference. I see it as flavor versus balance and either extreme has its pros and cons. I sympathize with both design goals, and I cannot imagine how to get the best of both worlds.

Heh heh, it's a tough job balancing the act of balance, am I right?

Posted: Feb 21st 2012 11:12PM (Unverified) said

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@(Unverified)
It's a tough job to be sure, and that's one reason why games shouldn't try to please everyone at all times.

Why can't there be a great PvP game(s) for PvPers and a great PvE game(s) for PvEers? Is it so wrong to ask a games devs to come up with a plan for the direction of a game during the design phase of a game and follow through with the ideas during the life of the game and building new content around the plan?

There is nothing wrong with different people liking different playstyles and different types of gameplay. But it's getting tiresome to see every game trying to appeal to every group.
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Posted: Feb 21st 2012 11:39PM (Unverified) said

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@(Unverified)

Because it's a business and these companies will try to cast the widest net to reel in as many paying players as possible. It's not surprising from a business standpoint; it often works after all. Though down here in reality many of us are often left scratching our heads when it comes to the multitudes of MMO's that come out trying to appeal to as many players as possible. It's seems risky to the developers to create a more defined game because of how poorly niche games do in comparison to the big boys.

Personally, I always cheer on the companies that focus on creating a game that isn't designed for mass appeal. The game is rich for what it offers and the company helps to form a core fanbase that's loyal and sometimes even respectful. It also helps that when a company is small they'll feel more obligated to listen to the playerbase since they can't afford to screw up.
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