Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Case Against Balance

I feel like playing devil's advocate today so decided that I would put up something that I am sure will make some people start to have steam coming out of their ears.  Everyone calls for balance in PvE and PvP, they say balance it good for the game.  I'm going to take the other side of this argument just for fun and share some of the reasons why balance is a horrible thing.

With true balance there is no real triumph against the odds.

In player vs player we usually hear about balance the most and in player vs player I would argue against balance the most.  Some classes should be able to kill others.  PvP should be a game of rock paper scissors.  Every class should have classes they own and classes that own them.  That is good design.  All things should not be equal.  All things should not be balanced.

If a mage is the bane of a rogue and always beats the rogue and somehow a rogue manages to win it is a great triumph.  It is something to be excited about.  If you are balanced then winning is just a matter of being better than another person whereas being the underdog means you accomplished something special.  True excitement is winning a battle you have no way of winning.

Isn't it just more exiting to do something that can't be done?  Coming from behind is more exiting, there is no way anyone could ever argue that.  So winning when you should lose is the ultimate win.

Same goes for PvE as well.  Isn't there something exciting about beating a fight in a way that you should not be able to beat it.  If a fight needs a warlock to make it easier.  Or needs a priest to make it easier.  Or needs a paladin to make it easier.  Or needs anything but you do it without that class, isn't it more exiting? 

With balance, the likelihood that you will enter a battle without a skill, buff or debuff you need is much less likely.  So you will always have what is needed to make the fight easier.  What exactly is fun about that?  Winning against the odds is exiting, winning when you should win is anticlimactic.

How many times have you done a fight that needed three healers and only used two?  It felt like a triumph.  How many times have you done a fight that needed two tanks and only used one?  It felt like a triumph.  That is the same as beating a boss that you needed to have hero/lust for but didn't have it.  It is exciting to do things without a needed component.

True balance, once again, means you will rarely if ever be caught in that situation because everything will always be there that you need.  Balance removes the fun feeling of having an exiting triumph in the game.

With true balance you devalue the individual class.

This effects the pure damage dealing classes the most.  If every class in the game can do the same DPS then why bring a pure DPS class when you could bring someone that could work as your third healer or second tank if needed.  If everyone has dual roles the class with only one role, to do damage, becomes worthless. 

Even more so when you think a feral or balance druid can do a tranquility when needed, a retribution paladin can do a lay on hands when needed or a warrior or DK and serve as an emergency tank for a few seconds while waiting for a battle resurrection.

So isn't balancing damage done across all classes creating an imbalance when it comes the value of the individual class?  Yes.

If you need to pick and choose because everyone is balanced completely you will choose the ones with more versatility.  When it comes down to it who would you rather have in a group when you need a battle resurrection, a feral druid or a combat rogue?  Druid of course.  If they both to the same damage then it is not a choice, it is take the hybrid class. 

If the rogue did more damage then you create a choice.  Do you want more damage or more versatility?  Can you do the fight with less damage so you can afford to take the versatility?  Without balance you create a choice on how you do things.  With everyone balanced to do the same damage you remove the choice because the correct choice is the class that brings the most to the raid outside of just doing damage.

True balance in damage dealing capabilities devalues the pure damage dealing classes.

True balance removes choices in game play.

If all healers were capable of dropping 200K healing bombs or were all capable of casting most of their spells on the move or were all capable of fantastic AoE healing then there would be no choice involved in the game.  While healers have not quite evolved into that they seem to be heading that way with the push to balance everything.

When the time comes where every class can do everything just as effectively it does become more of a bring the player not the class thing which most agree is a good thing, but it takes away from making choices.

While you might be able to argue that it creates more choices by allowing you to bring whatever healing class you want I will argue it removes choices because it no longer matters which class comes.  If it doesn't matter what the class is, then it is not a choice because it doesn't have any impact.  A choice means that you are making a decision that makes an impact, no impact because they are all the same means no choice.

When each healing class has its strengths and weaknesses you have to make choices.  Do you bring a more AoE oriented class or do you need a dedicated tank healer?  Do you want to go with three healers because you need a dedicated tank healer and the AoE healing requirements might be too much for one healer?  Will you need three because the classes you have are not ideal for this fight?  You need to make tactical decisions, also referred to as choices.

If everyone can do the same thing you might have the choice of which one you like to play but you do not have to make the hard choices that make games fun, like building the perfect team.

The same goes for tanking.  If all classes where balanced they could all handle things the same.  So there would be no need to get a tank that is better with taking melee damage or magical damage, any tank would be fine.  So when things are balanced you are given the choice to play any tank you want to play but you lose the choice to build the perfect team.

If every class could play every role the exact same then there is really no need to decide on what is the best way to do things.  There is no choice involved.  Choice is a good thing, choice shows the ability to problem solve.  Choice is why having more than one spec is a good thing. 

Choice makes situations like the following happen.  We could use some more multi dots rolling on this fight, so we will have our arms warrior switch to protection so he can tank, the protection paladin will move to holy so he can heal and the holy priest will move to shadow so he can multi dot on this fight.  I've done that in my raid before... haven't you?  That is a choice, that is problem solving, that is fun and exciting, that is what being a raid leader is about, making those choices that others did not even notice were there.  If every class did the same things across the board, there would be no choices to be made.  Boo, where is the fun in that?

True balance removes the need for strategy.

As the above example explained sometimes by switching things up you can make a fight easier on your team.  That is part of the excitement of games like this.  Deciding who is going to do what and when is a very important aspect of the game.  If everyone was the same the need to move the pieces around like that is gone. 

If all tanks are created equal you would never say a death knight is better on this fight.  If all healers are created equal you would never say a paladin would be better on this fight.  If all damage dealers where created equal you would never say that a cleave class would be better on this fight.

Like needing the multi dot class I mentioned before.  Or like needing a damage dealing class with a battle resurrection or healing cooldown that I mentioned before.  These are all strategic choices that make the game what it is, fun.  If everyone were ever able to do anything everyone else could then there would never be a need for decisions to be made.  There would never been a need to create a strategy for a fight that might very well be different then something others are using because you have a different group make up.

Some classes doing things better than other classes is an important part of making the game fun.  You have to pick and choose and decide what is needed for each fight.  One strategy would not work for all on some fights.

The same holds true for PvP, even if we have not reached complete balance yet we have reached it close enough to mean that there is no strategy to PvP most of the time.  Kill the healer first and pick apart everyone else.  95% of the time that will be your strategy so that does not really make it a strategy does it?  It means that only on that rare 5% of the times you might actually need a strategy.

If there were less balance then the strategy would be more important.  In 3 v 3 if you came up against a pack where the two DPS were super easy for your class make up, because like I said all classes should have counters, then it would be best to just blow them up, even the best healer could not keep them up if you owned them due to having the class advantage over them.  Balance means that you will not run into an easy kill like that and balance is why you kill the healer first.  It removes the need for a strategy.

True balance is bad for the community.

All the following lines are completely true in a balanced game.  If you can not do at least 20K in 378 gear you suck.  If you can't beat any class one on one in PvP you suck.  If you can not do 30K HPS on an AoE healing fight you suck.  If you can not easily control all the adds as the add tank on this fight you suck.

I've read all of these on forums.  Everyone thinks everyone is created equal and it is a balanced game design that gives people that feeling.  While it is not completely true people generalize and tend to believe that there is some sort of ultimate balance but the good thing is we have not reached it yet.

If they already make such generalizations and the game is not 100% balanced yet how bad do you think the hate spewing would be if there was a true balance.

This community is bad enough as is but it can still be decent and I've seen it.  On the stone guy in stonecore when it first came out (it has been fixed now) hunters could not DoT themselves up to get out of the stun.  They needed to run in and melee, which to anyone that knows anything about hunters would know is almost as bad as them getting stunned.  Hunters should not be in melee and even more so should not spend the entire fight running in and out. 

The forums where buzzing about this with hunters complaining and guess what happened?  People, yes the same people that love to call people bads, felt bad for hunters.  They all came out with comments like, I feel bad for you on that fight, You can run in and melee and disengage, You could got get some sulfron slammer and drink it before the spell so it will break you out.  See, people helped out.  They felt bad for the hunters.  They gave advice to the hunters.  They thought up some tips and tricks for the hunters. 

They did not call them bads because in this case hunters where not balanced on this fight and even this horrible community understood that.  They actually had it harder than any other class and the community worked with them and felt for them and understood that it was harder for them.  If all things were balanced and there was an issue that one class has a problem with they would get flamed to all high heaven.  See what balance does?  It changes people.  It changes them into, if I can do it then you can do it or you suck.

If PvP were the way it should be there would not be people saying you suck if you can't beat so and so class.  The venom PvPers spew can sometimes be leaps and bounds worse than the stuff you see on PvE forums with people calling others bads.  If PvP was a game of rock paper scissors like it should be some classes would always beat others and always lose to some others.

The community would stop saying if you can not beat them you suck.  They would do like they did for the hunters with ozark.  They would sympathize at the plight of that class vs class situation.  They would say things like, you are supposed to lose one on one so don't take it to hard, here are some tips that could help you survive while you wait for them to make a mistake and hope you can capitalize on it.  They would be helpful because they would know that it was a difficult fight for them, like ozark was for hunters.

If things are balance then everyone will always have the opinion that if I can do it anyone can, regardless of what class they are playing.  Balance creates this illusion.  Right now people think there is balance because blizzard tries to put forward the illusion of balance, so this attitude is in the community already.  Instead of creating balance they should go back to old school and say it like it is.  If a warrior gets a hunter in melee the hunter should lose.  If the warrior gets caught at ranged by a hunter the warrior should lose.  That is good design.  Making them balanced is not.  Depending on the fight one should always beat the other.  There should not be a million and one gap closers and openers to help balance things.  Bad bad bad, balance is bad.

So, in summation, balance is bad... mkay.


  1. I figure there's room for both. I like the balanced competition of something like Chess (the temporal and spatial imbalances there are relatively minor) sometimes, and I like the more Paper-Rock-Scissors nature of something like Fire Emblem at other times.

    For MMOs, I do think I'd like something in the middle, where any class can perform baseline questing without too much trouble, but PvP has clear imbalances that make sense.

    Nice article! I wrote something in a similar vein a while back:

    1. Good article. I would love to see the design FF uses in game. I liked the idea where you pick your own difficulty so to speak. Either do it at a low level, mid level or high level. Do it with specials or without, etc.

      It would be nice to see them add more of those types of things into WoW. It would give people more power to play the game they want to play it.