The purpose of this thread is to outline my philosophy on Multiplayer Balance in Shooters, and why it’s important for us, as gamers. So let’s begin with one of the most important questions:
Why do we care so much about balance? When the topic is discussed, most supporters of a currently imbalanced game will ask this question: why do you care? It’s just a game, they say, so you either like it and play it, or don’t play it. This is one of the hardest questions to respond to, because it’s an incredibly difficult idea to convey. Why do we care? “I just do” is hardly an acceptable answer when you’re trying to make a point.
To answer that question, we have to understand a bit about human nature, and the nature of competition. The reason we care about balance issues in videogames we play is the same reason that the NFL has millions of passionate fans who endlessly debate a single referee call. It’s the same reason why millions of viewers tune in to watch the Olympic Games. It’s the same reason why sports programs at schools are commonly the backbone of the entire area. Human beings care about competition, and as insignificant as it may seem, it is inextricably part of our nature.
Competition is healthy, it’s a good thing. It is essential to the development of youth; it builds self-esteem, sportsmanship, it engenders self-improvement and discipline and provides an outlet for emotions and anger. It pushes us to excel, to think critically, and to strive for self-improvement. The point of competition is to build a good work ethic and to build sportsmanship. Its necessity in today’s society, where mediocrity is coddled and even catered to, should not be understated.
Why do we care when athletes cheat, either by steroids, corked bats, illegal equipment or other means? It is, after all, just a game. It doesn’t affect us personally in any measurable way. So why is it such a huge deal?
It’s because the balance of the competition is broken; the experience is tarnished. When that drive to win is cheapened by an unbalanced, unfair system, it degrades the overall experience. It insults one of humanities most fundamental natures. And so it is with an unbalanced game; the competitive nature that is at the heart of every match played between two opposing sides is cheapened, lessened, and leaves us with a bitter taste.
The second aspect of the original argument against balance is the suggestion that we simply find another game if we don’t like it. Generally, when a game garners a lot of attention from competitive players, it is because the potential for greatness is there. Despite the harsh criticism we lay on some titles, the games have the potential to be amazing, and are usually the best viable option currently on the market. It says something about the state of gaming right now when there are truly only one or two viable options, and those options still require us to devote days of our time trying to get them fixed.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s define what we really mean by “balance.” The focus of this article is balance as it relates to multiplayer video games, first person shooters in particular. Most gamers think of balance as some nebulous term relating to weapons and how they compare to each other. They often have difficulty describing it in any concrete terms or ideas, and the focus is generally on weapons, aim assist and player traits. I think it can be summed up in one sentence:
"Balance" means that success is directly proportional to the abilities, choices, and actions of the players.
Balance does NOT mean that the outcome of each game is closely contested. What it means is that the outcome of each game is dependent on how well each player performs during the course of the game. A player who has low ability shouldn’t be rewarded equal to a player of greater ability. Your reward should be proportional to your performance; there is nothing more “fair” or “balanced” than that.
This is where a lot of people get misled. They think that if the outcome of a game is close, it’s balanced! No! The outcome of the game should only be close if the performances of the competing sides are approximately equal, which is rare. If one team consists of unskilled players making bad choices and the other consists of skilled players making good choices, the outcome should in no way be close. If the game artificially renders a specific skill more or less valuable, that’s imbalanced.Take aim-assist for example: some people think that if the aim-assist is high for all players, it’s balanced! No! That rewards poor players disproportionate to their ability and prevents good players from using their superior ability to its full advantage. That is not balanced.
Take this analogy: a pro golfer can drive a ball 350 yards while a new golfer can hit the ball 250 yards. One year, the PGA decides that a new golf ball that boosts everyone’s drive to 325 yards shall be allowed on the tour. The pro can still hit it 350 yards, but everyone else can now hit it 325 yards. Is that balanced? Is that fair? Everyone can now hit the ball 325 yards, so that’s balanced right? No, its not. That’s rewarding people disproportionately to their ability. The pro’s advantage is no longer proportional to the extra effort and ability he had.
Balance is an essential element to any game played between competing sides; it has a direct impact on the replay-ability and enjoyment of the game. Players want to feel like they are treated fairly and that they are rewarded for their performance and abilities.A game that does not give players the impression of being fair is frustrating and generally not as much fun to play. If players can not see a correlation between their performance and the results, they will quickly lose interest.
From the standpoint of a company seeking to make profit, longevity of a game is very important. A poorly balanced game causes the discerning player to care less and less about the game, and significantly decreases the replay value. If a player does not feel they are being rewarded fairly for their efforts, they are not likely to continue playing or continue to support that company.
So how do you ensure that your game is balanced? Simple - reward skillful playing…