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Its All A Balancing Act

Yup its that time of the week again when the powers that be let me loose in blog land. This week I’ll be taking a break from looking at the developing World vs World PvP that’ll feature in GW2 and having a look at the balancing act that takes place every skill update. The question that tends to get asked a lot during the transition period after a major skill update is Can any game truly be balanced?

Now I could just answer yes but then that’d make this a really short blog…tempting though. Instead lets look at what balance, in theory, means to MMO such as Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online or any other similar type game.

Balance in a nutshell.

My view is that there are two definitions of balance is in a MMO environment

1. Each class/build must either have a counter class/build or there are methods to counter the class/build.

Example would be a Crip-shot Ranger is able to counter a melee class by hindering their movement or countering a N/A bomber in Jade Quarry by using Rend Enchantment

2. There shouldn’t be one skill or build that is vastly overpowered to anything else or there is no effective counter to.

Example would be the original A/Me perma-sin and the original Ursan build.

Balancing Why?

The main reason for balancing is obviously to prevent the game ending up in a stagnant mess where if you’re not using a certain class or build you’re either going to die a lot (PvP) or get passed up on groups (PvE). This is more felt in PvP than in PvE because when people die a lot to one particular class they tend to complain about it and that’s good. I’d rather have PvP like GW where no matter what class I play I can usually create a build to suit certain needs, rather than playing one class but knowing that I will loose to xyz class because I don’t have any counters to it.

PvE still needs to be balanced because what’s the point in playing if once I’ve gotten the uber build of l33tness I know I’m going to steamroller everything. When the Ursan build got nerf I was one of the few that thought it was a good thing because it meant people would have to think about their builds rather than using an ‘easy win’ skill. I’d rather feel like I’m being challenged rather than C-spacing my way to the end.

Thats not to say that there shouldn’t be any chance of developing an overpowered build but once one has been discovered and it doesn’t require a great amount of skill to play (the original Displacement Aura assassin springs to mind) then the devs need to nerf it, or bring other class skills to a similar level as a counter. The same goes for PvE but changing what skills the monsters have, such as enchantment removal skills the scarabs were given in the crystal desert, is also an option to use.

Can a game be truly balanced?

Yes a game can be balanced, using the definitions I gave a the start, but only if the system used is simple and the developers watch all aspects of the game. The more variables you add then the harder it will become to keep that balance. We’ve seen this and Arena Net have said it themselves that by adding more and more skills into the game, Guild Wars has become harder to keep balanced.

If you want to add anything then feel free to add a comment.

Have fun.

Mal.


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  • My definition of balance is:

    “The game promotes many different viable playstyles without making a subset of them the obvious choice.”

    By that definition, it’s clear that GW has achieved a very high level of balance, especially since the SF / 600 nerf.

    The problem with counters is that those counters really don’t count if they are not encountered. SF pre-nerf had counters, for example, but those counters were completely absent or easily avoidable in a large proportion of areas. Similarly, during the hexway meta, hex-heavy team kept winning because the counter to a hex heavy-build was a build that was fairly useless against other teams. So the existence of a counter is not sufficient for balance.

    Balance also exists conceptually on a dimension orthogonal to difficulty. You don’t want for example classes that are best at easy difficulty and bad at higher difficulty, and yet other classes that are the opposite. Spell-casters are often best in later game, and melee are often best in early game. This is imbalanced.

    Cool article!