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Your Questions on Game Balance Wanted

May 3, 2012

I am working on a book about game balance starting with experience points, curves and progression. The starting point reflects the answer to the question I am most often asked about game balance. What questions do you suggest based on your own experience or what questions do you have?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. apocriva permalink
    May 3, 2012 7:37 pm

    How do you balance character progression to give the player a sense of increasing power without things getting all out-of-whack in the endgame, where either the encounters are too weak (therefore the game becomes boring), too hard (therefore the player ends up counter-intuitively not wanting to level at all), or too similar (what’s the point in leveling if the challenges level up at the same rate)?

    As a tangent to that, how do you make the game feel acceptable at all stages for both the “casual” and “hardcore” player, without making the casual player feel oppressed or the hardcore player feel bored?

  2. May 3, 2012 7:45 pm

    Any tips for getting fast feedback when tweaking/tuning things with long cycles, like leveling curves? If say your goal is an avg player would hit the level cap in 1 month (MMO?) it’s prohibitive to manually test lots of diff tweaks to XP formulas in search of the mix that feels right. Corralary, any strats to expand such feed back targeting diff player types (hardcore, average, casual)? Pick a bad formula and hardcores cap in a day, avg cap in month, casual might never. And in a MMO where all 3 interact that can lead to serious have vs have not tensions.

    Btw GREAT topic! I’m just starting out and not finding many good resources in this area. I probably have a million more ?s

  3. Jose Abalos permalink
    May 3, 2012 7:47 pm

    What are the most effective ways to detect and eliminate a dominant strategy that sends balance to hell?

  4. May 3, 2012 7:55 pm

    Hmm…sounds interesting! I’m gonna give this one some thought and provide some feedback.

  5. May 3, 2012 7:56 pm

    What would your dream game-balancing tool look like, and why? I see you mention Excel a lot when balancing and I’m curious as to just what those spreadsheets look like.

  6. May 3, 2012 8:37 pm

    How do you balance multiple things that operate on the same subject in different ways? If the ways they interact with the subject are qualitatively different (one affecting non-combat movement and the other affecting loyalty with nearby units), what methods are there for resolving how they are balanced against each other? For real-world examples I would put up Magic: the Gathering (and other CCGs as well) for their large number of moving parts that operate in exclusive ways.

  7. May 3, 2012 8:48 pm

    I don’t know if I’m wording this properly, but I’ll try.
    How should developers consider balancing their game in terms of genre? What is the difference between balancing a racing game and a fighting game in terms of how precise stats are on your spreadsheets? I had a terrible experience with someone balancing our racing game’s different vehicles, and I wonder if it was just due to bad balancing on our part, or if it was because our unit of measurement was far too low.

  8. Jeff Alexander permalink
    May 3, 2012 10:32 pm

    How do you balance for players of varying skill levels?

  9. May 3, 2012 11:12 pm

    How to weigh power-up or other material elements so that their impact on the probability distribution of skill-based outcomes is proportional to their cost?

    I’ve done some experimental work here but would love to hear your take.

  10. lucvandenborre permalink
    May 3, 2012 11:26 pm

    Not really book content, but I’d love to see some examples of your famed spreadsheets.

  11. May 4, 2012 4:38 am

    A very basic question that seems to be the main obstacle before diving into balancing goodness is how to ask the right question to find out where to start?
    As soon as the value’s been defined, it’s often easier to start balancing and juggling all the stats. The first step, the first value, though, often seems like the hardest part.
    So, which question do you ask yourself to find out what’s the best “starting point”?

  12. dreadk permalink
    May 4, 2012 5:48 am

    Should we based balancing on spreadsheets and mathematical truth, or on how the player experiences and feels it?
    What could your experience tell us about that?

  13. Léonard permalink
    May 4, 2012 7:06 am

    F2P : How to balance items (bought with real money) that give a potential in game advantage (impacting gameplay and not only aesthetic) ? Please, do not just advise to avoid these cases, because who have to deal with.

    How to balance while keeping in mind things like game pace, complexity, game feelings (I mean by tweaking values like cooldowns) ?

    How and why introducing dominant ways of playing, voluntary “unbalanced” (but always counterable) to help players to make choices (as well as to guess opponents probable choices), with several layers.

  14. May 4, 2012 7:17 am

    I’d love to hear a bit about balancing games with asymmetric power levels. (Fox & Geese, Ogre, etc.)

  15. May 4, 2012 9:03 am

    Certain games rely heavily on churn as a game mechanic, where repeating a task enough times results in a reward. How do you determine the balance of churn and payoff where the player is rewarded enough to not find the game mechanics too monotonous?

  16. Chris permalink
    May 4, 2012 1:36 pm

    It might be interesting to have a section showing a side-by-side comparison of the models / thought processes an experienced developer would use for several different game types.

    For instance:
    Hardcore / multi-stat RPG
    Casual / simple RPG
    Progression-based sim game
    Decoration-based sim game

    Not just how to balance an existing system, but how to build a system that makes balancing easier.

  17. May 5, 2012 3:40 pm

    In a social game, frictions have a direct impact on churn/retention and (possibly viralization) and monetization. How do you balance the trade off for a single friction?

  18. May 7, 2012 7:39 am

    What are good practices to optimize iterations when it comes to balancing. In other words, any techniques on how to minimize trial & error?

  19. May 20, 2012 10:44 pm

    I guess if I’m going to say it in the form of a question, why wouldn’t you just data mine your players. Look for clear patterns and see if that matches what you as the designer wanted to present? I think of a game like City of Heroes. They have shared with their community some of the results of their data mining, and then the adjustments they’ve made to the game. For example, certain classes, powers, combos are either always chosen, or seldom chosen. They then change the game to make the “weaker” classes/abilities/combos more attractive to more players.

    This way, your hardcore players help direct the game. I look at the difference in this approach (listen to what your customers are telling you) to the approach of some other worlds (Ultima Online and Everquest come to mind) where the developers had some ideas that they really were dogmatic about, and they either never listened, or listened too late to what their players were telling them.

    For board/table top games, I’ve been studying what TSR is doing with Dungeons and Dragons. They are trying to create two levels complexity, but keep the characters roughly equivalent. If they get it right, it means casual and hardcore gamers could actually play at their respective levels, and be comparable. Hard to do, and harder still when you can’t easily “patch” the written rules.

  20. May 23, 2012 10:54 am

    How do you balance games at the highest level, where the various core mechanics can interact with each other in ways that are so complex that they can’t be reduced to simple mathematical or statistical models? Is playtesting the preferred approach here, or is there some other way?

  21. Sébastien Delfino permalink
    May 29, 2012 12:43 am

    I am not so much concerned about “balance” than I am about “evolution”. In many games, progress basically means “more powerfull ways to kill more powefull ennemies” but fails to open new scales and new ways to play. So my question would be : do we exactly need “balance”, or should we search for ways for the game to renew itself by offering new challenges ?
    But maybe am I missing the point.

  22. Arielle Shander permalink
    July 3, 2012 2:16 pm

    I often wonder how multiplayer FPSes are balanced. I’m guessing a lot of it comes down to having quality assurance test the maps and weapons. Also, fighting games have to have a balanced roster (though sometimes a character will need to be updated if he or she has a particularly cheap move). I’m not much of an expert on either of those genres, so sometimes I wonder how developers balance them in multiplayer.

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