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General News - Strategies for Game Balancing

by Myrthos, 2012-11-11 00:20:21

Magic the Gathering creator Richard Garfield discusses balancing in games at Gamasutra and how it is an art and not a science.

He views two types of balance: Holistic and componential. When a game has separate components that need to be balanced, it's componential -- in Magic, should a lightning bolt cost just one red mana? In Diablo, should a piece of equipment give you 152 intelligence? Holistic balance issues concern the game as a whole -- in Magic should you start with 20 life or seven cards? In Diablo, should you be able to sell equipment for real money?

Sometimes the distinction is muddy, he notes, but it's still useful in talking about balance to differentiate.

"Often designers will design the game to be balanced for the expert," Garfield says. "This is certainly the way we thought about it in the early days of Magic, and it took me a while to outgrow this mode of thought."

A game balanced to favor experts risks other types of gamers having an unbalanced experience -- and the game may lose most of its players before they ever develop the skill level to attain the well-balanced experience. Meanwhile the experts run out of people to play with.

Also, balancing for experts often fails to consider that there might be levels of proficiency even above what the game is desgned to contain. Designers aren't necessarily the best players -- most of the time, they're not, actually.

All kinds of games are patched with rules to accommodate players that outgrow their bounds. Balancing is helped by the fact that most of the time skill goes up logarithmically, and the benefit for performance tapers.

The important thing is to provide options so that every type of player has a good choice, versus grouping players into correct and incorrect ways to use skills or classes. This lets players compete even if they're not mechanically-focused -- like roleplayers or fans of storytelling.

Some of these players will choose gear for their character based on appearance or narrative suitability, and feel forced out of their play style by the fact that other players are more successful. That unbalances their experience.

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