June 14, 2005

The Lost Art of Class Balancing.

Reading this article on Gamepro.com I was wondering if the author actually played MMO's or just whined about them on message boards.

His two "fixes" 1) Make every class equal in abilities and 2) Nerf the overpowered class... are the two major problems with balancing. Players think it is a cut and dry when it comes to balancing. It simply is not. Balance in a PvE or PvP game starts on day one of design. Every system needs to apply to balance.

The author further ignores the fact that these games are not rock, scissors, and papers balancing acts. It is hinted at that a certain game... Guild Wars... is a complex strategy game when that is anything but the truth. There is no need to break down Guild Wars at this moment though.

The article claims "At the heart of the issue is the devaluation of game testing." While I agree that game testing is somewhat to blame for the balance problems it can not be solely blamed. Development schedules, suits pushing games out the door, and overall bad business practices are to be blamed for the worse balancing acts.

At the heart of MMOG balance is the perception of the min/max gamer mentality. If Player A does 100 damage and Player B does only 72 because the random number generator didn't go his way... he is apt to believe that Player A needs a nerf.

Next in the article the author spews this garbage... "Balancing is especially critical in the subscription-based MMORPG market, where longevity is more crucial than initial sales for revenue." So now balance is the "crucial" factor in a MMOG's longevity? Yet in the same article he proclaims the downfalls of Star Wars Galaxies(SWG)... which to this date is by far one of the must unbalanced shambles ever released as an MMOG. SWG rebuilt its entire combat system two years after launch which is a big red DING DING DING that there was a balance issue, but it still manages to pull 350,000+ subscribers.

MMO's are built in the name they carry, their technical performance, and most of all on the communities that are built around them. This article is nothing more than blogger trash and its a shame Gamepro.com gave Funky Zealot a soap box for this. Balance is a dynamic issue that is perception more than anything else. I will follow this up with my thoughts on the "3 Biggest mistakes in MMOG PvP balance".