🎮️ Game Design
⚖️ Balance

Updated at 2015-02-15 18:13

In game design, balance is the concept and the practice of tuning a game's rules, usually with the goal of preventing any of its component systems from being ineffective or otherwise undesirable when compared to their peers. Related to difficulty.

  • Symmetric Games: Pong.
  • Almost symmetric games: Chess (who goes first?)

Competitive games must have some level of perceived symmetry. Otherwise the game feels unfair. Human perception affects this greatly, as even player wearing a red shirt over a blue one will make the game feel unbalanced for most humans. In many strategy games, a computer playing by the rules perfectly feels like the computer is cheating.

Some games have game master to tune the balance. Game master tunes the game so that playing the game feels fun for the players. Game master can be a human or program, it doesn't matter.

Imbalance is not always a bad thing. Perfectly balanced and symmetrical games have the problem of fixed strategies. Good for casual play but offers less strategical gameplay.

When SC1 started becoming fully numerically balanced, it became more of an action game than a strategy game.

Balancing for skill. It is good to have some way to give new players a way to enjoy the game.

Multiple Call of Duty games have some kind of a grenade launcher, often called "noob tube" by the community, which is easy to use, gives you kills, but is rarely used by veterans and in competitive gameplay. It helps new players a way to have fun while they are not skilled enough to use normal weapons.

Star Crafts have zerg rush strategies, which work and are easy to execute. But higher in the rank ladder, opponents will know how to fight against it.

Imbalance allows deeper metagame. Multiple playing styles are allowed as universal winning strategies don't exist. It's much easier to start playing these kind of games.

Imbalanced games are usually cyclical. You can create cyclical imbalance by buffing and nerfing certain aspects of the game as the metagame changes.

League of Legends, DoTA, World of Warcraft All these games have classes/heroes/champions that player chooses to play. The choice is made interesting by crafting the options so they feel and play differently. It's impossible to perfectly balance things that are fundamentally different. So designers keep on buffing and nerfing heroes to keep players changing their selection, thus keeping them engaged to the game.

You need following elements to create cyclical imbalance.

  1. A single player avatar shouldn't be able to master all aspects of the game. DoTA, LoL: you can only play one hero/champion at a time.
  2. Designers need deeper understanding of how different aspects of the game interact with each other. Mathematical models of the metagame are common. Simple card balance model in e.g. Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone: 5 Mana = 5 Strength 5 Mana = 3 Strength + Ability (2 Strength) 5 Mana = 1 Strength + Ability (4 Strength)
  3. Give players wide enough pool of actions so they can tackle any challenge you throw at them. WoW: players can change their class by starting again or take different players to their party.