A look into game Balancing
- What this post was intended for
- What is Game Balancing
- Static Games
A look into game balancing
This post is intended to take a look at and analyze certain aspects of Game balancing in multiplayer environments. This post is not intended to be condescending or disrespectful to players or make them feel patronized in the way they play a game. In my time of playing video games, I have heard and listened to a lot of players complaining about how certain aspects of video games are overpowered, broken (for good and bad), and accusations of cheating (in pretty controlled environments.)
Firstly, I like to play games to have fun. I enjoy adventures, epic experiences, and funny situations. I enjoy the camaraderie that comes along with good wholesome gaming sessions. There often can be times in gaming whether, I’m sleep deprived, ill, railing on connections to a server is just absolutely horrible and make it a horrible gaming experience. We should all take the mindset that these are games, and we play them to have fun, unwind and destress. If the game we are playing not allowing us to do those things, maybe we need to take a step back and assess what is going on in our lives because there may be something not allowing us to enjoy those experiences. But hey, I’m not here to preach. Sometimes we need to clean house to truly appreciate what we have in front of us. Getting ourselves ready and set up for success, rather than struggle through occurrences is a better tact to take, I think. With all that out of the way, let us take a look into game balancing.
What is game balancing?
According to the infallible Wikipedia; “game design balance is the concept and the practice of tuning a game’s rules, usually intending to prevent any of its component systems from being ineffective or otherwise undesirable when compared to their peers.”
Pretty simple, right? A lot of game developers do a pretty good job of balance. But in this day and age, we have games that have different subclasses, monsters, vehicles, mountable animals, massive artillery, and other various weapons. That is a lot of spinning plates, and there should be no doubt certain things slip through the cracks and rear its ugly head. We are far away from the days of pong, where we had a bouncing square dot, with two rectangular “paddles” up on the screen.
Often as a result of the developers tuning weapons and classes, in efforts to make the game not seem stale (more on this later), players of the game discover certain aspects of the character subclasses or weapons; may seem to be better performing. Mostly as word gets out on these “better performing” items, the community as a whole tends to gravitate to using these items and this tends to create what we in the gaming sphere refer to a “meta”. Now, I am not a fan of this term because it isn’t used correctly. These items aren’t exactly self-referential. They are just popular, but the word “meta” has somehow become a term we use today do describe the most popular weapons. Side note: forgive me for going into a meta-discussion over the word “meta”. its a slippery and dangerous slope.
You may be asking, “why would a game developer need to tune weapons?” I’m glad you asked, thanks. Let us take a look at a game towards its initial release, for example, let us look at Destiny 2 in the beginning. At release, Destiny 2 was a time of great discovery. We had a slew of weapons that no one had ever tried. After months of the community playing the game, it appeared there was a meta that was discovered in the weapon loadout. Gamers found a select few of the weapons that performed better than the rest. Uriel’s Gift, an auto rifle that came with High Caliber Rounds or Steady Rounds and Tap the Trigger for the perks, and Scout Rifles such as the MIDA Multi-tool with High Caliber Rounds or Nameless Midnight with Explosive Rounds. There was also the Antiope, an SMG with kill clip and pretty good range and stability. These weapons were great. I feel they are still great weapons, but for a while, it is pretty much all you saw out in the wild. Now getting back to your question, to which you so graciously asked.. Gameplay became boring. You could just have eliminated an opposing player in the crucible with Uriel’s Gift, only to turn around and have your screen rocked and bounced around right before you, yourself are eliminated by another player using, you guessed it; Uriel’s Gift. It would be the equivalent everybody on the map picking up a similar shape and size of rock off the ground and chucking it at each other.
From what I know, there is a decent amount of work that goes into a weapon, or subclass creation. Whether that work gets put into their artwork or the specifics of how perks work together, often these efforts go unnoticed. Therefore, there could be a monetary reason; to justify the existence of a weapon by the simple amount of human hours that went into the creation of the weapon. But these are concepts that are out of my scope and could be categorized as speculation. Disruption could be another reason for balance. Often certain weapons, subclasses or a character becomes deemed by the players as “overpowered”. As a method to pull players out of their “comfort zone”, entice players to choose other items, or make the game interesting in another way is to nerf or buff an item or category. Sometimes this works to great effect, but as a new meta is discovered, this can be a cyclical occurrence in trying to keep a game seem exciting. It’s truly a juggling act.
We now know why many reasons for tuning and balance patches are required for most games. But, we should also look into what a game would look like if everybody truly had a static set of weapons and character class abilities. What does that mean? What it means is, everybody has all the same weapons, and the same characters, and simply comes down to a skill gap. A good portion of the gaming population would agree that games should be based on skill. I am in this camp to a point. There is a reason why the game of Chess is popular with only a select few. to get a point across let us call a game where everybody has the same characters, the same weapons, armor, etc. a “static game”. within these static games, no one holds any items that are better than any other competitor. Games are won purely on skill. A lot of you may say that this is how games should be played. Skill should be a factor in most games, but then you also have a barrier to entry. In efforts for a developer to sell games based on skill, there would have to be learning opportunities, and could take a long time for a new player to become proficient, which doesn’t really make games fly off the digital shelf when trying to build a large and loyal community of gamers to play (and purchase) your game.
That is something that I haven’t mentioned… The new player, an interesting concept. what would be the impressions if the new player, uninformed, inexperienced jumps into a game and becomes dominated by the higher skilled players over, and over again? I would assume, if you don’t have popular methods for a new player to try and get ahead quickly, they may just uninstall the game and never play it again. You have to have avenues for new players to come into a game. Sure, they will be dominated a lot, but the squirrel needs to get a nut now and then.
It may seem on the surface, game balance patches are needed simply to keep a healthy player base and generate interest in different builds within the game. I mentioned that sometimes tunings could also be used to intentionally disrupt and change how someone plays the game to force them out of a certain playstyle because that particular playstyle is being overused and trying to avoid the title of being “Stale” or a “Dead Game”. We also know that balance patches are used near times of DLC or content updates to allow for new players to partake and enjoy the game.
About the author
Gunbait is a father, gamer, streamer and podcaster. Happily married. He formerly was the host of Hoot Dawg Radio, and is still an active member of the Hoot Dawg Gaming Clan. He enjoys technology, music, and questioning the ethics of everybody in the world.