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Apr 10, 2007



Interesting topic, thought I might throw out some other questions:

Is 'balance' a nescessary ideal to reach for in order for a game to be fun? Which player (ie bartle) types does balance appeal to and which ones does it not appeal to?


Yeah, I guess that's where I'm going with this. I am beginning to suspect that imbalance -- not in the sense of intentional munchkinizing of a class, but in the sense of disrupting stable equilibria -- is a basic rule of games that seek permanent engagement by communities.


I half-remember a curve someone created for single-player games, the challenge of learning the rules keeps people occupied until they master it, then it flattens off and drops like stone into tedium. The message being that a game designer needs to keep new curves starting to take over from old ones that a player tires of.Was it Theory of Fun?

This sounds like that applied to multiplay.


The player-derived equilibrum is not always a healthy one. It is usually done through the selection of certain dominant archetypes (classes). Certain archetypes just aren't as useful so they fall by the wayside in the quest for the optimal build.

Archetypes aren't easily changed- they often require a reroll or a start-from-scratch revamp. Usually, when a dev adds "balance," it changes the "flavor of the month" and leads to a significant amount of re-rolling for the PvP base (who must then grind up in PvE before being primed for PvP combat... just in time for the next balancing act).

That constant shifting of value can do a considerable bit to keep the game fresh and engaging long after a single set of archetypes would become predictable, but it requires many people interested in one style of play to keep adopting a less desirable one (PvE to re-level a new class).

I know that "true balance" (though unattainable) would help the casual PvP'er by letting him or her play any available archetype with a reasonably equal likelihood of success, but the constant shifting of power that we see from the "rebalancing" makes it more difficult for a casual player to build the latest competetive template and get out on the battlefield.


"(because the upcoming buff to warriors is a nerf to little ol' rogue me, believe you me) "

I'm curious what buffs you're talking about; I wonder if we're playing the same game here :3


Oh -- scuttlebutt says warriors will dispel snares on an intercept or charge. That frosts my poodle, since cripple-kiting is pretty much the only tool I have against warriors. Man those guys are tough on rogues.




First, to the question of whether these multiplayer games need to be balanced at all -- sure they do, if you design them to be competitive games. It's not much fun when one mode of play is guaranteed a win.

As to whether developers actually want their games to be imbalanced, I suspect not. It's an interesting kind of conspiracy theory, but Occam's Razor suggests that the truth is probably a lot simpler: developers are constantly tweaking character interaction rules because character systems are so complex that even the developers don't understand their overall behavior.

The impression I have is that when someone builds a MMOG that's focused on combat (as so many developers seem so determined to do), two effects always emerge:

1. The code for combat systems becomes very complex, sprouting a profusion of rules and special cases.

2. The emphasis on competition attracts the gamers most interested in advantage-seeking.

The natural result of these two effects showing up in the same game is imbalance. With so many interacting parts, there'll always be some combination of rules that produces a local maximum of competitive effectiveness. And when your player population is already inclined to advantage-seeking, and you pit them directly against each other in PvP, and you take the additional step of rewarding them with in-game goodies for being the "best" competitor, well. Little wonder that every patch seems to instantly generate some new imbalance.

There are some high-level design choices developers could make to reduce the time they spend trying to tweak hundreds of itty-bitty combat rules for balance:

1. Design the game so that competition serves cooperation, not the other way around as today's MMOGs have it. Tweaking a bunch of little competitive rules gets less important when the major focus of the game shifts from a zero-sum struggle to cooperating to achieve a goal that confers no competitive advantage on specific individuals or groups. (Note that PvP is still possible in a game like this, and can be even more meaningful when it's set in a larger context.)

2. Design systems to be self-balancing. Instead of every character ability conferring only advantages, establish a design rule that every ability will have both advantages and equal-strength disadvantages. Although some abilities will still be more powerful than others, abilities at the same level will automatically wind up being of nearly equal power. Choosing abilities thus becomes more about what you-the-player enjoy doing than what confers maximum power on your character.

3. Design abilities so that they don't stack. Making character abilities as orthogonal as possible won't eliminate unexpected interactions between rules, but it will minimize them so that fewer nerfs are required to maintain play balance.

I think game worlds can have balance. It'll just take some design rethinking well above the rule-tinkering level.



I wonder if you could take advantage of this need for disequilibrium by building it right into the game? In a fantasy game, it could be as simple as subtle but ongoing changes to the powers and abilities, perhaps tied to phase of the moon (so change could be cyclical over long time frames) or some bogus astrology system.

In Eve, which I play, the rock/scissors/paper issue is extreme, and predictability of setups is a problem. There, a proposed solution has been environmental factors -- more gas clouds, asteroid belts, and other environments that alter the calculus as to what the "best" fitting is. Combine that with dynamic changes to the environement (making it harder to predict whether there's a plague of space dust in the roid belt today, until you go and look) and you might have something.


Joshua: Just a short post to support your core thesis. I don't have much experience in designing or balancing modern MMORPGs, but I am an experienced RPG and cRPG game designer, and I know the issues that afflicted the development of many of the key trading card games, popular tabletop battle games such as Car Wars, and a few MUDs too.

"Game Balance" like "Justice" is an abstraction, not an attainable state. Only the excessive influence of Platonic thinking confuses us into thinking otherwise.

It is certainly possible to balance a set of mechanics to a reasonable degree prior to a game's release, but "Perfect Balance" is unattainable; diminishing returns set in quite rapidly, and there are always going to be dominant strategies will emerge even in the most carefully balanced set of parameters.

Any set of game parametrics will generate stable equilibria of advantage for a given community (although oddly, a different community can generate a different stable equilibria - as in ecology, both environment and population are a factor). In MMORPGs and trading card games this is ever more obvious because dominant strategies become copied, and thus become more engrained.

And, as you intimate in your later comment, stable equilibria cause people to lose interest in a game after a while.

"Nerfing" is only a meaningful term in a community based game. (A change that goes on prior to a game's release may be a "nerf" to someone in QA, however, as I have discovered...) Whatever its purpose, it's effect is to disrupt stable equilibrium states.

Handled carefully, it re-energises community. Handled poorly, it collapses the community. The key to success seems to be a gentle hand and an a careful ear.

Best wishes!



I don't think equilibrium fosters boredom. If anything, I think RPGs' tendency to offer different abilities to different archetypes creates an atmosphere where players are prone to being (or just feeling) outclassed.

For example, chess and baseball are well balanced games because everyone brings the same stuff to the match. But...if you allowed people to bring baseball bats to chess tournaments, I think someone would start feeling a little underpowered.


"imbalance -- not in the sense of intentional munchkinizing of a class, but in the sense of disrupting stable equilibria -- is a basic rule of games that seek permanent engagement by communities"

Or, rather this basic rule: imbalance in the sense that one class rules and another class serves.

Many (most? all?) long-term and community-oriented players prefer stable and persistent imbalances – because 1) they know of them, and 2) they benefit from them. What is a nub other one who believes that the game, like the fight, is fair?

"It's not much fun when one mode of play is guaranteed a win."

Then I would ask why these sorts of situations are much more commonly pursued in pvp than situations in which a win is undetermined. When self and avatar are distinct, as in pve, challenge is one thing; when self and avatar are merged, as in pvp, challenge is another. Challenge is often preferred, but not so often preferred as pwning.

The pvp'ers I know and love tend to think pretty much like Jeff Goldblum's character in The Fly. And, unlike most people (I think), I consider this a good thing rather than a bad thing, but it is very difficult to come to that conclusion when your perspective is that of the individual player. You really must take a system view and look at global play rather than the single player (or player group) to judge the origin and consequence of imbalance.

After all, if equity, fairness, and balance were truly high among a player’s goals and desires, why is anarchy so seldom that player’s choice? In place of the alone and isolated equities of the poor and the scorned, we more commonly fall subject to the many inequities of the rich and all those accompanying and complex social hierarchies of the hidden and forbidden privileges that we otherwise know (if we manage to learn of them at all) as guildings.


Equilibrium and balance aren't an ideal to be reached for, really. It's a moving target. It's just a comprehensible state for everyone. The idea is to constantly change the underlying mechanics such that it takes effort to get back on top by understanding and exploiting them all the time.

Stability is for societies, not for competitions. Oh, and the fact that I didn't use the word "game" once is intentional.


@Michael: /applauds vigorously


Sounds like semantics. You say people really mean equilibrium when they mean balance, and that nerfing/buffing doesn't produce balance, it disrupts equilibrium.

It's really the same thing; changes disrupt equilibrium when that equilibrium is reached at a point that is not balanced.

Imagine a rock/paper/scissors situation where A should beat B, B should beat C, and C should beat A. Groups reach equilibrium at a point where every group has an equal distribution of each and therefore everyone has a equal chance.

However, usually this equilibrium is not perfect. You may find that while the above situation exists, A is better against C than B is against C, which favors A-heavy groups. So A gets nerfed; this disrupts an existing equilibrium while seeking better balance.


It's interesting that Guild Wars manages to be so PvP focussed, while not indulging in the kind of drastic, frequent rebalancing that occurs in World of Warcraft.

Sure, they do tune skills, and occasionally have to nerf a particular skill hard if players work out an edge case that allows it to be exploited, but it's pretty rare.

Guild Wars does have the advantage that there is no cost associated with respeccing, so rebalancing skills tends not to cause such an uproar.

Additionally, with such limited skill slots (8 equipped skills of hundreds unlocked), no one character can cover all aspects of a class, so focussing too intently on one exploit leaves one wide open to a counter - i.e. the more popular one particular build becomes, the more successful a counter-build will be.


WoW has a few things going which I at least have not seen in other mmorpg's. The most noteable is the "too many buttons" type of deal where every class has a lot more buttons to use than what a normal person is capable of using optimally. This in practice makes the info design of abilities into a tactical value, as a blunt example a paladin may not understand the actual meaning of Threat and decides that things which increase Threat are good to use in a PvP game which leads to wasted time and lost rating.

Blizzard has made it into a very important thing to understand the details of how every ability works, and no two players will have perfect agreement of what every spell in the game actually do.

You also have the communication deal, a group which communicates better will gain a tremendous advantage over the opponent. This has nothing to do with class balance...

Blizzard also balances things as a reaction to data they mine from their systems. I do not think they can mine the motivational forces of players. To make an example of myself I play a Warlock and I play a Warrior (both level 70), guess which class I work harder with to gear up?

Right, you guessed it I'm sure.

The Warrior gets almost all of the gear upgrade attention from me and that is because gear (especially arena gear) scales several magnitudes faster on the Warrior than the Warlock. The Warlock is a much stronger PvP class, but he gains no noticeable power from better equipment. The Warrior lives and dies with equipment.

Other players have also noticed this, which sends some classes into the PvP system stronger than it sends other classes. I sometimes PvP with the Warlock to have a giggle and cause mayhem, but never to advance within the game systems. The Warrior feels like he "needs" the better gear and struggles to score well and often.

This motivational bias makes some classes in general play more PvP than others, and with different motives which makes them show up as performing better than others in the data Blizzard collect from the live servers.

I'm with the original argument that the balancing changes Blizzard do are reactions ment to eliminate optima within the game systems, but they fail to understand that the optima they see are a symptom and not a cause. They proceed with hammering at the symptoms of the situation and in the process causing emotional uproar on a regular basis, when they should worry more about the cause of the symptoms and start out with making sure that all classes have at least equal motivation to partake in the various game systems.


Again, this is about how we think about the word "game". Is it a win/lose competition like tennis (the 'American' interpretation) or is it more of a shared experience ('European 'interpretation).

If it's a game to win or lose, then of course the playing field must as even as possible, achieved by regulation, just like boxing has weight groups, and golf has handicaps.

BUT if it is an experience, then certain roles to play will just automatically not be as good in combat - a bard for example would have his/her strenghts in a whole different field, and never have to compete with warriors.


@Thomas. Well, I'm not sure about that last. Arena combat seems to me to be pretty clear-cut win-or-lose. Blizzard is clearly setting up Arena combat to be a sports franchise, I think. What I'm suggesting is that an even field is not what we want even in those cases. A dynamic field might be better.


I agree that a balance or equilibriums need to be set within the parameters of these games. And from what I see on weekly patches from WOW, Blizzard does seem to put forth an effort of trying to create sometime of balance among their character types. As I am sure other titles do as well. However, if we are talking about "sports" it's hard to decide a where equilibriums should take place. In basketball, you don't nerf the centers because they are blocking the smaller guard players from shooting all the time. In order to create balance in that scenario, every player in the game would be equal in height. Some teams, players, classes, positions, will always be better than the others. Equilibriums need to be disruptive or the activity becomes boring and stagnant.


First rule of game balance: Balance != Equality. This is a terribly rookie mistake that I see all the time (making all classes do the same DPS, for example).

Second rule of game balance: Your players are obsessed with fairness. Absolutely obsessed. This is true if you're making a hardcore gamer game, or a virtual world with no combat whatsoever. Balance is primarily about that perception of fairness.

Third rule of game balance: A broken mechanic is one that removes choice, and shrinks a world of possibilities down to one viable strategy. This was from Robert Gutschera's excellent GDC talk on balancing Magic: the Gathering, and is even more pertinent to those of us balancing MMOs. Making extremely powerful cards and abilities is okay - it helps the play space evolve. What's problematic is when one tactic becomes so dominant that all players are either building that character, or building their own characters specifically to attempt to counter it. (Anyone interested in game balance should really become a MTG junkie, IMHO.)

Fourth rule of game balance: RPS is only good if that choice is somewhat mutable. I.e. it's good in the 'I played rock in the battle but he played paper and I lost' flow of combat tactics, but it's utterly lousy when used to define classes in a non-mutable fashion. No one likes being told that, if they go against a rogue, they will die 90% of the time and there's nothing they can do. Some classes may have fewer options, but they should always have something they can try.


Is 'balance' a nescessary ideal to reach for in order for a game to be fun? Which player (ie bartle) types does balance appeal to and which ones does it not appeal to?

'Balance', ultimately, is the single largest concern of a game that has reached a state of technical stability. If you go to the WoW boards, you will find that probably 80% of the posts are about balance and fairness, even though WoW is pretty well balanced as far as the genre goes.


One word: lag. Doesn't matter how stable or low latency your connection is, as long as you're dealing with another client with a questionable connection, there will never be any kind of balance where skill equals victory. How many times have I been on my rogue directly behind someone yet not able to backstab them, or getting intercepted while being at 41 yards on my hunter. Pvp is a crap shoot where skill only does so much, after that it's just lag, cooldowns, and crits. Maybe it's different in other MMORPG, but in WoW, the basic mechanics of the game and nature of online play prevent equality and balance.


Balance is like Justice... There is always places where you can improve.


TB, i believe that you are grossly overstating the issue of lag. Most people dont PVP if their connection is shotty, unless someone is purposely spamming a /sit,/stand macro to create artificial lag you hardly run into it. Ive PVPed extensively with a lot of classes and confidently say that both rogue and warrior, while easy to be good at, are the hardest classes to be great at. If youre a rogue at this stage in the game and you dont feel imbalanced (in a rogue positive way) then you probably still need more practice.


"What's problematic is when one tactic becomes so dominant that all players are either building that character, or building their own characters specifically to attempt to counter it. (Anyone interested in game balance should really become a MTG junkie, IMHO.)"

I think this parallels the original "corner solution" very closely. When a particular strategy cannot be overcome on an equitable basis by another strategy, or where it can be overcome only by a very narrow range of specialized counter-strategy, you have the thin end of the wedge for imbalance.

As an EvE player for over a year now, I've seen multiple "balance adjustments" that the developers have made to address such situations. The most recent example is where a particular strategy of turning a battleship (think hotel with engines) into to the equivalent of an F-15 through a particular "setup" (EvE ships can be customized on multiple levels, depending on the skill and budget of the character).

The result is that the "Nanophoon" (the nickname for the setup) became the strategy of choice for hit-and-run PvP'ers. This setup was virtually immune to standard responses, even from groups of more experienced characters (and players). IMHO this is a textbook example of an imbalance that takes away the options of other players and renders the game less enjoyable thereby.

The answer from the developers was to change not one but three ship modules to eliminate the strategy from working. The battleship can now be fitted to be (fairly) fast or agile, but not both. It's worth noting that since the patch, pirate activity in the area first dried up nearly completely, and recently has shifted to a different strategy (which is an example of that dynamic equilibrium that keeps things interesting).


Blizzard has to deal with the particular challenge of tuning its classes for both PvP and PvE. This became most obvious with the patch just before the Burning Crusade: warriors (who were the favored PvE tanks and enjoyed a good rate of success in PvP) were almost wiped out as a class, as several changes - not game-breaking in and of themselves - had the combined effect of making them extremely difficult and frustrating to play in either role. Some of that has been fixed by now, but tanking warriors are still in painfully short supply.


yea, two warlocks would be rough. But if you're a rogue and have a healer with you I would think you could beat them - they are clothies after all :)

Secondly, what you forget to mention is gear. With the introduction of resilience, Blizzard now forces players to choose between damage and survivability. How you balance your gear with your playstyle with your choice of teamate is a huge part of arena play. And that's all before you've even entered combat.

Just chalk it all up to one more reason WoW is great.


Fearless : I couldn't disagree more about Warriors in TBC. In fact, in my guild (which is starting Serpent Shrine atm so we are doing a fair bit of raiding) has no DPS warriors left. They've all turned to tanking. While most of our druids are still Feral too.

Anyways - the point I was going to chime in with is that Balance in an MMORPG is something that is gained only when everyone complains equally.

I don't believe that Balance is possible. Nor should we even attempt to achieve it. I feel that the inbalance makes players better, and often the most 'broken' classes have found ways to be powerful through being weaker in the past and being forced to learn new ways. Look at warriors and warlocks in the early game. Viewed as very weak classes, then MS Warriors and SM/Ruin 'Lock appeared, and the perspective changed. Balance is really a question of the ebb and flows of perspective, not really about the coding. Further, Rock Paper Scissors Design of Balance no longer work and need to be thrown away, in favour of new and more creative means of class distribution.

My Two Cents



I'm gonna go all Zen Marketing here for a second, and say simply that in a multiplayer game, where everyone has access tot he same tools and toons... balance is a measure and matter of churn.

I was once playing croquet (the actual game on grass) with my dad and bro, and the lawn we were playing on was all nasty and scraggy and tilted one way and, gosh... bad. So my brother missed a wicket and starting hollerin' about how the field was all f*$#@! up.

"Yes," replied Dad. "But it's equally f*$#@! up for everyone, so quit yer whinin' and play."

In a game like WoW, if there was one class that was *clearly* inferior at a part of the game that was of major interest to all players... it wouldn't get played. And the publishers would know in the beta test phase, "Hmmmm... the Panty-Waist Lounge Singer is not popular." In any game that is trying to attract subscribers, the goal of balance can be likened to the goal of having several flavors of coffee in the shop; enough to attract the max number of customers, but not so many of the weird ones, that the smell makes the "regular" folks go all woomzy.

If 80% of the talk on the boards really is about "balance," then Blizzard is sitting pretty. Why? Because it's all internal yap about which of *their* products (classes) is best, why it's not as good/best as it should be, how it was better yesterday, how it might be better, etc. etc. That's fan-freaking-tastic, and I do mean "fan." It's like spending all your time arguing about *which* GM car to buy.

Balance is achieved when a player keeps playing. If something (anything) happens that causes a player to quit playing while they might otherwise have been having fun with the game, then balance has been lost. If 10% of the players are having a rip-roaring good time and 90% are pissed off... that's unbalanced.

If 90% are having fun, but wish it could be a leeeeetle bit better... and 10% are pissed off. That's pretty damn good balance.

Rock, paper, scissors? Dollar beats 'em all.


Nerfing in general is a bad policy. It works to engender bad will in the players toward the developers and maintainers of the game. On a deeper level it is a violation of a players understanding and expectations of the game. Developers correctly say that players have no right to those expectations, but it doesn’t change the fact that they have them. As such smart developers will opt to nerf only as a last resort.

That being said, equilibrium is a bad thing. Stagnation is on the road to death for an MMO and equilibrium represents stagnation. Richard would argue that disrupting equilibrium is a cruel thing to do as it interrupts players’ progression along the Hero’s Journey. Perhaps, but it is not a wise business decision to keep your game in equilibrium.

The solution to these opposing demands is to use “buffing”, as Joshua puts it, to disrupt equilibrium and keep your game centered (I prefer “centering” to “balancing” as the latter implies to me two opposing forces. MMOs are far more complicated than that). It is also necessary as players will figure things out about your game that developers never ever anticipated, moving it off center.

The trick is that introduction of new skills and enhancements should not be done with announcement and fanfare. Players need to find new skills in the game leaving open the possibility that they were always there. This works to dampen bitterness in players negatively impacted by the change. It also gives hope that they themselves might find enhancements somewhere in the game. Part of the nature of MMOs is that secrets spread rapidly through the community. This is a case where developers can use this trait to their advantage.

This is admittedly a much more difficult proposition than announcing and patching, but the payoff is well worth it.


Well, designers don't have to disrupt balance in order to keep the game dynamic. They could have the game rules depend on time (phase of the moon etc). Or better, rely more heavely on randomized allocation of resources in a more stratified manner (time&space) than D&D/Diku.

Many card games are inherently balanced over time, because of the randomized hand you get. That also keep them fresh. A group of players may change the rules over time by playing different games. What is wrong with typical MMOs is that you constantly sit with the same cards. Only your opponents are randomized, and poorly as each class only have one optimal hand and you get to know what class you face.

D&D was designed for a small group of friends, not for big groups of strangers. The game mechanics are simply ill fit for MMOs... (but still addictive).


Joshua Fairfield - "Buffing and nerfing disrupts that equilibrium and sends people back into experimentation mode, as they seek new corner solutions."

chris proctor - "the more popular one particular build becomes, the more successful a counter-build will be."

i've been reading The Red Queen and hadn't realized until i read those two statements how much the theory applies to games.

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

if devs tuning a class is mutation, and the players playing or not playing a class is reproduction, red queen helps describe the reasons a game can't (and shouldn't) ever reach "balance."

we have adaptation on two fronts at once: players adapting new strategies as well as devs hardoding different limits into each class.

i finally gave in and started playing wow a couple months ago (i feel like the last person in the world).

i've been forced to develop concrete strategies against rogues and hunters, because it seems like everybody i fight in pvp is playing one. i imagine it might also makes the devs examine those classes closely to see if they may be in need of nerfs.

on the flipside of that i've heard a lot of people saying they play a class like warlocks because supposedly "nobody plays them." players seem to have a desire to play a class that is not "due for nerfs" or considered to be easy because they can spend more time refining their techniques before the class is changed by devs.

so (on my server) players might see so many players playing rogues, and develop strong strategies against rogues. devs might also start to nerf rogues if enough servers have a rogue bias. at the same time people begin to perceive warlocks as underplayed. more people begin to develop useful warlock strategies against rogues, at the same time as the devs nerf rogues. then before you know it warlocks are now the class to nerf, and balance shifts another way.

this type of evolution (in games and in biology) means that at any instant a given species/class will seem overpowered. but in the long run it should (in theory) keep one group from ever becoming all powerful and another group useless.


The Warlock thing in WoW is intriguing, because they're arguably the strongest class in the game in PvP, and in the top couple in PvE.

However, there really aren't many Warlock players around. It seems to me that Blizzard balances based on proportion of players of each class, not on power comparisons.

What is it about Warlocks that make them so unappealing to play? Maybe they just don't seem heroic enough . . .


What is it about Warlocks that make them so unappealing to play? Maybe they just don't seem heroic enough . . .

they are lame. dot dot dot, fear, run. more chain fearing, maybe some seducing, deathcoil+healthstone, fear again. its hard to completely dismiss a class or label them as "cheap and lame" without coming off as bitter and stupid, but they really take such minimal skill to play. now, there are people who play the class that are really good who can do some amazing things, a relatively skilled warlock with really good gear can fight multiple opponents at once. an orc warlock should have no problem solo'ing 3 melee classes.

heres my undocumented proof =)

i took my friends warlock, specced it for PVP with felgaurd, and having NO experience playing a warlock went outside ironforge and dueled people from every class, i hadnt even bought the books to teach the felgaurd moves because i didnt know about them. i beat everyone, people that gave me tough times on my rogue, priest, warrior and mage i destroyed. i went into BGs and topped damage and kills. i was doing this to see if i would want to roll warlock for my next character, and the answer... nooooo way. i got so bored after 5 hours and it just further deepened my disrespect for the class. whats the fun in winning if its so easy?

so to sum it all up, with a game that has as many factions to grind, gold to accumulate, instances to run, trades to learn etc, if you play WoW you are probably looking for a challenge, its something the warlock class doesnt offer.


if you play WoW you are probably looking for a challenge

i'd like the cite the sheer amount of twinks that have ever twoshotted me in a bg as evidence to the contrary. somehow the worst twinks always seem to be rogues too.

i think it must be the badass factor a chris suggests, or just a general love of griefing people that rogues really cater to. maybe dotting someone to death doesn't feel as viscerally good as stabbing them to death.


As a game designer (previously at MicroProse, then EA, and currently at Cryptic Studios, developing game systems for Marvel Universe Online), I can tell you that I have no interest in balance or equilibrium.

I have an intense interest in heterogeneity and player reward systems.

To retain and entertain my players, I build systems and make changes in the live environment specifically to maximize heterogeneity of character design and play style. I couldn't care less that a given class or power set is better or worse than others. I care a great deal when 40% of my players are using exactly the same setups and play strategies.

Homogenous character setup and strategy choice is the precursor to community collapse due to boredom. Therefore, I will act swiftly to keep each class and strategy interesting and effective, so that players will continue to explore different options.

Furthermore, I am very alert to what rewards are being earned and retained by players and which are being declined or sold off. Once again, when a single reward becomes highly prevalent, it is time to adjust the pacing of rewards and the benefits of each to restore heterogeneity.

It is all in service to keeping the game fresh and interesting. That is, after all, my job as an entertainer.



Homogeneous character choices are a sure sign and almost always caused by balance problems. The imbalance causes a particular choice to be superior to other choices, so the population % of that choice rises over time and strangles heterogeneity.

Your comment, Mr. Brink, sounds much like a Tennessee gardener saying 'I don't watch the plants, I just keep out the kudsu.' Works perfectly if the only source of damage to your plants is caused by kudsu. Luckily, most solvable causes of homogeneous player populations are rooted in balance problems.

The goal of balancing is not to create absolute balance, as that is only achievable by removing choices, but to try to level the playing field enough that player skill and random chance act to hide whatever imbalances are present. To make another bad analogy, balancing is about making the space of your game comprised of as many different terrains as possible to choose from while making sure that no high point is too much higher than any other point in the system. That's very hard. And, unfortunately, it is simply easier to cut the peaks down rather than build up everything else. That is one reason why nerfs happen more than buffs. One of the other big ones is that players inevitably grow beyond what the designers think they can/should accomplish.

Mr. Brink, please please please should you happen to read this, convince Mythic to put in a *good* statistical data collection system in Marvel Online. No other game seems to have bothered to do this so far, at least not to the extent it should have be implimented.

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