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The Challenges of Class Balance In MMOGs 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the stupid-druids dept.
Karen Hertzberg writes "Balancing classes in MMOGs may be one of the most daunting challenges of the industry. Few games are immune, and no game has ever claimed complete, perfect balance. So how does a developing company deal with the ever-impending demand to keep their games fair in both PvE and PvP environments? Ten Ton Hammer spoke with four industry professionals about the issue in an effort to glean some answers. Age of Conan's Craig Morrison said, 'It is part science and part intuition and experience, I think. We do, of course, have all the ... "spreadsheet" work in the back-end and development tools that calculate as many of the parameters as possible. On top of that, though, you then have the knowledge and skill of the designers involved. Working with a system, you have the general overview of how things interact and how players tend to behave in your game. Sometimes nothing beats spending time in the game itself and actually seeing how the players have been using the skills and abilities you have provided for them. Players are nothing if not inventive, and they never cease to surprise designers with their ingenuity, so it is vital that the designers are also watching and learning themselves.' "
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The Challenges of Class Balance In MMOGs

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  • by damburger (981828) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @05:13AM (#29103273)

    ...why Blizzard completely abandoned the notion of difference between Horde and Alliance in WoW, in favour of focussing on class balance. Naturally, if you ask a lot of WoW players, it hasn't even helped them do that. In fact, I see there being more and more class overlap instead of class balance in WoW, especially amongst hybrid classes. You can balance the game by making hybrid classes able to do everything well, but it kind of sucks balls for non-hybrid classes.

    I hope that the backing away from balanced-but-distinct factions and classes doesn't represent a wider change of philosophy at Blizzard. It wouldn't bode well for Starcraft II.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by reverseclipse (656074)
      There are two sides to this and both are valid. On the one side everyone wants a unique experience with varied classes. On the other hand no one wants to play a class for months or years only to be underpowered in the endgame. Skills that are fun have nothing to do with survivability and damage output. Providing all players with the same chance to be great means that classes and races get more similar. This is not as important for parties where you can have varied pros and cons spread out between players, b
      • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:45AM (#29103731)

        Actually, Blizzard has it bad. They have to balance for: 1v1, arenas, battlegounds, and to top it all off, raids. That's four very different requirements. Considering most classes have multiple roles and styles to begin with, the whole thing smells like spaghetti code: change one thing, and you have to change five others as well, which trigger more changes.

        Now, add in the players, who will always feel their class is underpowered, and every single change you make to their character will get you flamed, even from those whose particular build is way stronger than it should be according to 90% of the other players.

        Anyone still feel like tackling the problem? The players will also need gear...

        • by Ogive17 (691899)
          Except Blizzard has repeatedly said they don't balance PvP for anything less than 5v5. Certain classes dominate 1v1 or 2v2 or 3v3 and certain classes suck in those instances. But once you add a few more people into the mix there are many winning combinations.

          But they've never balanced the game well and it seemingly gets worse with each content patch. The best balance I remember was when the original game matured before burning crusades.
          • by Jurily (900488)

            Except Blizzard has repeatedly said they don't balance PvP for anything less than 5v5. Certain classes dominate 1v1 or 2v2 or 3v3 and certain classes suck in those instances.

            I know, I had a Priest. However, they do have duels, world PvP and arenas smaller than 5v5, so they should balance that too, it's just that it's impossible.

            But they've never balanced the game well and it seemingly gets worse with each content patch.

            I quit playing right after WOTLK came out. Level 62, questing for some decent gear in Outland, then along comes a shitload of hostile Death Knights, with all their ridiculously overpowered Plates. It might not have been that frustrating if a) I had gear even remotely comparable to theirs, b) the people assisting me through dungeons before hadn't been bus

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Now, add in the players, who will always feel their class is underpowered, and every single change you make to their character will get you flamed, even from those whose particular build is way stronger than it should be according to 90% of the other players.

          Sometimes a class is woefully underpowered. Like warlocks originally were. Oh how things changed after warlocks got their first re-balancing. The whining from rogues was so delightful.

          "It's fine. Learn 2 play" had been the rogue's trademarked answer to every single complaint about the rogue class being overpowered against any given class and also their retort for other classes complaints of under-poweredness. "It's fine. Learn 2 play" was trotted out over and over until it died and then its carcass wa

    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Partly - and partly because, in trying to balance Shamans vs. Paladins, they found that they were essentially giving both classes the same tools. By giving both factions both classes, they were able to keep them distinct without giving one faction an advantage.

      Remember, your fears of them giving everyone everything in aid of balance isn't new. People complained with the inclusion of Lurkers and Dark Templar in Brood War. "Waaah, now Zerg have AoE like Protoss! Terrans can heal like Zerg!" I still agree th
    • by Tridus (79566)

      That was primarily a PvE balance problem. Paladins had abilies that Shaman didn't that made a real difference (Blessing of Salvation being #1). In BC Paladins also became more viable tanks, which Shaman simply couldn't do without a drastic overhaul. It was the best decision for game balance they could make.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by plastbox (1577037)

        And why should Shamans tank? Granted, I don't know a whole lot about Shamans but they aren't plate users so why would they be deserving of an overhaul that lets them tank as well as the proper tanking classes?

        The way I wish the classes were built is the way pokemon balance is built.
        Water > Fire > Grass > Electric > Water
        ..and so on. I don't know how well balanced those games are nor do I know the full details of the "classes" but the type of balance the devs tried to achieve is much more fun t

        • In WoW, Rogues should be able to open a can of whoop-ass on clothies (Mages, Warlocks, Priests)

          I'd agree, with one qualification - Cloak of Shadows is just silly. A rogue that gets the jump on a clothie will often stunlock him and kill him before the lock has an opportunity to get any damage at all off. On the other hand, it's quite common for a caster to surprise a rogue at range, load him up with enough spells to kill him outright, and then watch as the rogue pops CoS, then runs over and facerolls h
        • by kalirion (728907)

          Warrior wearing all plate and carrying a huge freaggin' sword would make minced meat of a Rogue wearing leather no matter how sneaky he was.

          Even plate mail doesn't cover 100% of the body. In various books at least, a dirk to the armpit is often enough to bring the big bad warrior down.

    • by ukyoCE (106879)

      Blizzard completely abandoned the notion of difference between Horde and Alliance in WoW, in favour of focussing on class balance.

      The reason Blizzard abandoned the difference was essentially because of player QQ, not because it was hard (or impossible) to balance.

      In the original WOW, alliance vastly outnumbered Horde on most servers. Thus you had 2 alliance saying Shaman were overpowered (cause they died to one once, of course) for every 1 horde saying they weren't. Add in the fact that the Shaman was a more offensive class than the Alliance Paladins, and was a class that was severely effected by RNG (windfury crits), and you had a

    • And that's why I quit playing WOW. Pretty soon Blizzard will have just one race and one class since it seems they are intent on heading in that direction by constantly nerfing abilities that actually make classes and races unique.

    • A more direct approach would be to use meta data to balance PVP.

      I.e., if Alliance is winning, then "the powers that be" start lowering damage taken by Horde from Alliance. Start with 1% "handicap" and then increase it by 1% every day until the Alliance stops winning.

      "Winning" is probably most simply stated as "death rate comparison" but Wow also has event pvp (capture the flag?) I think- so for those it would be "Event winner".

      ---

      I've been running a custom FRP game since 1976. The same one continuously si

      • FYI,
        the same approach can be used for classes.

        If class "A" is beating class "B" > 60% of the time, then apply a class damage reduction modifier in pvp.

        It wouldn't correct problems where one person is locked down-- for that, you need a developer to trail the losing class and see why they are losing so much and then create something t onegate / balance the problem.

  • It's easy to balance a few diff classes. I would way rather have 4 characters classes that were near perfectly balanced than 10 classes that were a mess. This is the problem of WoW and other MMOs. They keep trying to add more and more classes when they haven't balanced what they have. But what does your average fan want?? They scream for more! Give us new! I'd way rather WoW, Aion, etc fix what they have in an expansion and with their manpower than create the placebo of new classes. It can be done but s
    • And how do you want to sell that expansion? With new content alone? C'mon... After a while, your players will notice that your new content is just the old content in a new dress, the game itself does not change at all.

  • by chonglibloodsport (1270740) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @05:39AM (#29103405)

    I don't see why we have to have classes in an MMO. I much prefer the Ultima Online system of choosing your own skills and in effect, creating your own "class". This type of system is far easier to balance since you can modify each skill "in a vacuum" without upsetting anything else.

    That, and the very old idea of the holy trinity (healer, tank, damage-per-second) needs to die, it is sucking all of the creativity out of game design. Real people are not specialists, they are capable of learning many different things.

    • by ZombieWomble (893157) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:03AM (#29103527)
      The idea that you can modify each skill "in a vacuum" is patently false - unless there is absolutely no potential overlap between skills (which would be a rather dull system), you will need to take into account what happens with a player with skills X and Y now picks up skill Z because of a change which is made.

      In reality, such a system seems like it would be massively harder to balance, since balancing a single skill against others is a meaningless task (wood-chopping is balanced perfectly against magery! Wait, what?). Instead balancing skill sets becomes the key challenge. And since the number of skillsets is vastly larger than the number of skills, it is also likely much larger than the number of classes in most MMOs, making this a very complex job indeed.

      • by muridae (966931)

        That's where tabletop games and older MUDs offer a little extra help. There was a MUD based on the Rolemaster system, that started all skills with costs that were roughly comparable, and as you gained skills in, say a melee weapon, costs in other skills increased, say learning magic. If you wanted to play a hybrid, focusing on both spells and weapons each level, you would find that, while those two skill would increase slower than if you picked just one, other skills increased costs at an even faster rate.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by anarchyboy (720565)
          wow already has a spec system that allows players to choose talents for a specific play style as they progress in the game, they are divded into 3 groups for each class, selecting talents from all 3 generally gives a weak end result while focusing on one or two gives a much stronger charchter. The only difference is that the available talents are different for each class so your choice of class still restricts you to some rolls and your choice of talents (which can be changed later) allow you to specialise
        • This would never fly in a modern MMO, as it requires that player to plan ahead from the very beginning or to re-roll once they learned how the system worked. A 'spec' system, where those points could be re-spent late in the game to allow players to shift their skills to match their play style would be interesting, but could result in players being able to shift from a tank style class to a healer or magic dps depending on the day and the needs of their group/guild. Starting from a basic school system, melee

          • by muridae (966931)

            Obvious from the fact that I even mentioned the spec system? UO, AO, AC for a little bit, EQ1 and 2, WoW. . . what else. . . Skipped Eve, waiting for Jumpgate.

            WoW is not a classless game. The talent system is not even comparable, as a rogue in WoW could never choose from a warrior's talent tree. You may say 'Why would they want to' but that is completely missing the point. As you said yourself, you respec to 'min-max specific encounters' and that is what results in all of the difficulty in balancing classes

        • This would never fly in a modern MMO, as it requires that player to plan ahead from the very beginning or to re-roll once they learned how the system worked.

          A number of third party software tools exist for Eve which allow a player to plan his character skills out across years, if he so desires. And the player can have a "neural re-mapping" once a year to change his attribute numbers -- the stuff like Charisma, Intelligence, Willpower, etc. -- which affect how fast he learns new skills, so if he made a choi

          • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

            On the other hand, in Eve, your decisions never permanently screw a character - even before neural re-mapping, all it meant was that you trained up slower than your friends did. You're never limited to a certain number of skill points - given enough years spent playing Eve, you'll eventually get all skills maxed out.

            (I mean, you would if they didn't keep adding more, obviously.)

          • by muridae (966931)

            I admit I haven't played Eve, sounds like they hit pretty close to what I remember from p&p games. My only complaint, the one that kept me from trying the game, was that all skills were time based to develop. Someone with a year's head start and a 24hour bot (or did I hear they even allowed skill gains while offline now?) would always have better skills that a new player could never catch.

            That, and if I am in a cockpit I expect more flight-sim type controls. Like X3 or hopefully Jumpgate. Personal prefe

            • In theory, you're right. In practice, it's not as dire as it look at the first glance. You have to detach yourself from the idea of standard MMOs that level means anything.

              A player with 5 years under his belt will have more Skill Points accumulated than you. But there are two things that work in your, the new player's, favor: Diminishing returns in training and diverse, different skills for different areas of the game.

              Skills in EvE are divided into 5 "levels". Every level of a skill gives you the same bonus

            • skills that a new player could never catch

              It's not a race, number one. And the Varsity is always better than the Junior Varsity, because, well, they're older.

              That said, it still does not play out as you would think. From a PvP perspective, you may have a player that focuses on getting into a battleship as soon as possible, and does so, with a minimal number of the skills to pilot a battleship *well*. Meanwhile, his PvP opponent, a month behind in skills (let's say), is in an assault frigate and is proper

    • Actually, that sort of system is MUCH harder to balance. The combinations of skills/abilities are almost endless, so you have to account for so many more options. The more rigid the structure, the easier it is to balance because you have more control over it as a designer. The problem is most players dont' want a very rigid structure, they want some skill choices and ability to shape their character development.

      The other huge issue is that there is such a huge difference between PvP and PvE. In PvP, you

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ZorbaTHut (126196)

      Didn't virtually every serious player in UO end up being a magician wearing platemail?

      The problem with a "skill system" is that, inevitably, there's going to be a small handful of "skill choices" that are just flat-out better than the alternatives. More damage, more survivability. It's only easier to balance if there's absolutely no skill synergy - and good luck making a fun game that has no synergy whatsoever between skills.

      On top of that it's hard to give flavor to a fully skill-based system. A large amou

    • I don't see why we have to have classes in an MMO. I much prefer the Ultima Online system of choosing your own skills and in effect, creating your own "class". This type of system is far easier to balance since you can modify each skill "in a vacuum" without upsetting anything else.

      That is so, so, SO wrong. Skills are much *harder* to balance than classes, because while you can modify them "in a vacuum", you don't use them that way. Each skill in use interacts with all the others, creating a nightmare of

    • by Jeian (409916)

      And nobody would play it. I wouldn't, anyway.

      One of the reasons I liked WoW when I started playing was because I *didn't* have to figure out what spells/attributes I wanted when I was levelling up (a la KOTOR/NWN.)

      Simple = good.

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:14AM (#29104493) Journal

      That would be conventional wisdom, but I had a very illustrative talk with Jack Emmert (creator of City of Heroes) before that game was released.
      Apparently well into beta they had followed that idea, that classes were bad and restrictive, and 'unrealistic'. Ironically, what they discovered (with a good, aggressive set of beta testers) is that within hours of releasing a newly-balanced client, the most intense theorycrafters would have parsed out the formulaic details (increasing skill x meant y more hp or z more dps) and posted this as a 'best spec' and (aside from some dissention between theorycrafters) the bulk of other players uninterested in crunching numbers would simply copycat those builds.

      So you ended up with a 'skill based, classless' game system, where ironically everyone was nearly identical in powers, skills, and capabilities. After butting heads against this trend for much (most?) of beta, it was a relatively late-design decision to go back to ground zero and implement a class-based structure, ironically to promote in-game diversity among players.

      I've thought about this for a LONG time, personally being a devotee of skill-based RPGs (Runequest, etc.) compared to level-based RPGs (D&D, etc.). It's really counterintuitive.

      What I've realized is that where the "that's unrealistic" criticism breaks down is the fundamentals: what's REALITY is that you DON'T get to choose ANYTHING fundamental about yourself, not really. You're born with a skin color, a set of genetics that predisposes you to a host of characteristics (appearance, height, build, even sexual orientation*), and you get to "play" real life with the good, mediocre, or shitty hand you're dealt. (I have gamer friends with severe birth defects that have said they would love to get a t-shirt saying "yeah, I'd reroll if I could, but for now I'm stuck with this character".) Sure, you can work out (+1 STR), get plastic surgery (+1 CHA), or sit at a computer all day (+1 INT, -1 CON, -1 STR, -1 CHA), but your life skills are really just tweaking the basics you started with.

      * I don't know whether the current politically correct thought is that it is or isn't genetically based, I don't really care, it's just another example of a possible predisposition.

      So my point is, the minute you allow the players free will in the creation of their toons, you've already sorely broken any connection with realism. Think about it in real life, if we had that capability we'd all probably be a monochromatic bland sea of beautiful, smart, strong, healthy people. too.

      Writing this, it's occurred to me the irony of the original D&D system - where you rolled 3d6 per stat in order, and 'lived with' the result of your rolls, meaning some characters were simply better than others - probably needed 'classes' the least, and would have worked with a skill-based system even better. But CRPGs and MMOs, which start out with a fundamental predisposition toward equivalence, it's almost inevitable that you have to channel the players early into very DISTINCT courses, lest they all choose the same 'best option' path identically.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>So you ended up with a 'skill based, classless' game system, where ironically everyone was nearly identical in powers, skills, and capabilities.

        Then, no offense, they weren't doing it right. Even though there's always going to be global minima and maxima that you have to take a look at, there should be enough variety in the encounters the players are exposed to to make players select from as wide a variety of local maxima instead. You used DPS as an example, so consider the following:
        Build A: 100DPS

        • by Reapy (688651)

          Right, that is why I think a lot of people don't understand class balance. A lot of class balance comes from practical application of the skill in the game.

          One thing I liked about skill based systems in PVP was the contribution factor. Vs mob's, well, you can just tweak the mob and dungeon layout to work, vs people, you really need to have a way to contribute. In a skill system I can max my sword out to 100 and kill a high level player. The high level player though, might have his shield block to 100, and m

      • Sure, you can work out (+1 STR), get plastic surgery (+1 CHA), or sit at a computer all day (+1 INT, -1 CON, -1 STR, -1 CHA), but your life skills are really just tweaking the basics you started with.

        This is patent bullshit. There are certainly very important predispositions to skill learning, but the Prime Requisite for skill learning in real life is time spent.

    • by brkello (642429)
      I really don't think you have thought about this very hard. With classes, you balance the specific abilities of a class against another. When there is no class, you have to balance every possible skill configuration with every other possible skill configuration. The concept of tanks, dps, and healers is not going to go away. Particularly with fantasy MMOs. It makes a lot of sense that you don't want your mage wearing his soft roles to be up front getting beat on. It's like saying resource gathering in
    • by Greyfox (87712)
      You ended up with the same thing after a couple of years anyway. There ended up being just a few min/maxed builds and if you wanted to be competitive (Especially in PvP) you went with one of those. They also started modifying the skills so that "secondary" skills (Lumberjacking etc) would give main skills a bit of a boost. This presumably to avoid the plate-wearing spell-casting swordsmen that had become common in the game. Nevermind that players invented the paladin class in the game using the original UO
  • Roshambo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tygerstripes (832644) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @05:49AM (#29103465)

    Rock/paper/scissors, anyone?

    The requirement to have a range of significantly distinct classes in raids, with their own strengths and weaknesses, opens up the possibility of having a rock/paper/scissors arrangement of class superiority in PvP. I'm amazed it wasn't implemented in the first place - it makes much more sense than trying to balance all classes to have the same chance in any given duel.

    That way, a player of greater skill will not necessarily beat a player of lower skill if they are "out-classed", as it were. It means that players have to pick their fights wisely, be more opportunistic, be more alert, and maybe go around in pairs or impromptu groups to increase their chance of survival. That would greatly enhance the experience, in my opinion - it would prevent the loss of that feeling of threat and danger when you hit the level/gear cap, and would enhance the in-group/out-group, us & them relationship between the two factions as a result.

    • It means that players have to pick their fights wisely, be more opportunistic, be more alert, and maybe go around in pairs or impromptu groups to increase their chance of survival.

      That's the PvP in Eve. And there are no classes, just skills that take a fixed and finite time to acquire (i.e., no such thing as "power leveling"). A group of small ships, with skilled pilots, can bring down a battleship. DPS, range, speed, tank, evasion, cloaking, resistance to specific types of damage, capacity to make mone

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      The Rock/Paper/Scissors is working fine in Eve Online.

      At its simplest example is that of the balance in the strategy game Homeworld, which had space craft of different sizes:

      Fighters, Corvettes, Frigates, and Capital Ships.

      Corvettes beat Fighters
      Frigates beat Corvettes
      Capital Ships beat Frigates
      Fighters beat Capital Ships

      other matchups were more or less even (Fighters vs Frigates and Corvettes vs Capital Ships)

      But keep in mind that games like Eve Online do not have "arranged pvp" .. Few people
    • Since when is it requirement to have bunch of distinct classes with unique functions?

      After all, when content is created in mind with fact that class X will be required for encounter Y, you have problems because you force group composition. That is not ideal because unless you design to take advantage of each class, someone ends outside portal desperate for group and with groups which grudgingly take class that is useless for whole run except one specific part.

      There is no need to do that. You can have as li

      • What?? What did you just say? Apologies if English isn't your first language, but you really need to work on using pronouns & conjunctions. Or consider switching to an ISP that doesn't charge per-word.
    • by skorch (906936)

      Rock/paper/scissors, anyone?

      The requirement to have a range of significantly distinct classes in raids, with their own strengths and weaknesses, opens up the possibility of having a rock/paper/scissors arrangement of class superiority in PvP. I'm amazed it wasn't implemented in the first place - it makes much more sense than trying to balance all classes to have the same chance in any given duel.

      That way, a player of greater skill will not necessarily beat a player of lower skill if they are "out-classed", as it were. It means that players have to pick their fights wisely, be more opportunistic, be more alert, and maybe go around in pairs or impromptu groups to increase their chance of survival. That would greatly enhance the experience, in my opinion - it would prevent the loss of that feeling of threat and danger when you hit the level/gear cap, and would enhance the in-group/out-group, us & them relationship between the two factions as a result.

      That's fine when you only have to deal with party raids, and full party pvp, but when you also have 1v1 pvp, a rocks, paper, scissors design to classes breaks horribly. The only way to balance this is instead of having rocks, paper, and scissor classes, you give each class a set of rocks, papers, and scissor abilities that they then have to use strategically against other classes and their rocks, papers, and scissors. But then, if each of these abilities has to be unique and interesting, and you have a half

  • PvP and PvE are so fundamentally different that balancing all the classes for both at the same time, with the same skills, is nearly impossible. The best way to deal with it is to have two different sets of rules, with some skills working differently depending on what you're doing.

    A one system fits all solution just results in either serious PvP imbalance, or seriously nerfed PvE.

    • by Megane (129182)

      You could allow "two different sets of rules" by simply allowing players to switch class in town. This is the way that FFXI works. There's not much PvP in FFXI (just a 1-v-1 and a group-v-group instance which aren't used much these days, depending on your server), but this means you're not stuck in a "wimp" class for a particular event, and can change as needed.

      FFXI is actually more complicated than that, because you have a secondary class at half level to switch, too. Some classes are more useful as a sec

      • Why not take it even further, and allow a complete reset of the skill points / abilities / etc? Not only will this get rid of situations where a highly specialized class who's been kicking butt suddenly runs into enemies with perfectly opposite defenses (*cough* Diablo II *cough* sorceress *cough* fire/cold/lightning immunes), leaving the player with little choice but to either quit the quest or be forced to find other party members, but it will also bring an unparalleled degree of flexibility and replay v
    • by fractoid (1076465)

      A one system fits all solution just results in either serious PvP imbalance, or seriously nerfed PvE.

      Depends. I believe that if you build a system around PvP, then build a PvE world around that system once it's relatively balanced, then it's possible to have both. Of course some abilities won't work on bosses - for instance bosses are generally immune to stuns, incapacitate and slowing effects and roots, otherwise a bunch of rogues could stunlock anything to death given time, or a bunch of mages could kite it round in a circle until it dies.

  • I've played lots of games such as WoW, but Age of Empires is probably the one I dedicated most time to.

    in AoE, there were 12 choices, but the Assyrians and the Yamato had an initial speed advantage, to the point where they became the only teams played, particularly the Assyrians. A 3v3 match usually had both sides with 2 Assyrians and 1 Yamato. The Assyrians were so favored, sometimes all 3 would be Assyrians. For Deathmatch, the Choson and Hittites were the favored choices. Usual 3v3 teams would be 2

  • by DrMrLordX (559371) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @06:21AM (#29103625)

    The problem with balancing classes is that all classes are essentially expected to fulfill the same basic role - namely, that they are adventurers (well, in sword&sorcery/fantasy MMOs) out to kill monsters for xp/lewt. Can you please explain to me how a wizard's training would be furthered by killing hordes of monsters? Or a thief's? Or a cleric's? For some kind of a warrior or gladiator or what have you, I can see it making sense, at least to a point.

    Sure, some MMOs feature class-specific advancement quests, but nobody's really tried taking an EQ clone with advancement radically different for different classes. Imagine being a wizard with four times the dps potential and more survivability than any melee class while being completely unable to advance by killing monsters or doing conventional errand-boy quests. You would think that everyone would want to be wizard on that basis alone, but the shake-out would be pretty fast when the wizard would have no "noob zone" or "bat yard" in which to squish little monsters and do pointless little n00b quests because, to get to level 2, they'd have to find some rare reagents and solve a complex puzzle. Combat with creatures might be an occasional nuisance and little more. If some sword n' board type wanted the wizard in his party, he'd have to give the wizard a damn good reason, such as serving as a meat shield for the wizard while in pursuit of said rare reagents, making for a party that might resemble one from real fantasy literature rather than from a standard MMO. The fighter might complain as the wizard out-dpsed him like mad for awhile until after the adventure was over, whereupon the fighter might realize that he just gained two levels whacking all the monsters the poor wizard had to wade through to get to the ancient ruins where his rare reagents were supposed to be, only for the poor wizard to miss one reagent or screw up the puzzle and not advance at all. Wah wahhh.

    • by Shihar (153932) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:52AM (#29104265)

      There are alternatives to class balance, MMORPGs just are not capable of them. Look at a game like Armageddon MUD. It has zero balance. A n00b Templar will mop the floor against pretty much everything else in its home city. Being a Templar in that game is like being a level 50 in WoW mage when no one else can ever get past level 20. How do you balance such absurd power? Social pressure and enforced role play. You might be the high and mighty Templar, but you have certain responsibilities, everyone wants to kill you, you are never allowed to actually use your full power, and if you ever abuse it you simply die. The entire game is built like that. Magic users are epically powerful, but show that your a magic user in public, and you die. Oh, and death is permanent. It isn't for everyone, but it certainly takes rock, paper, scissors and flips it on its ass.

      Personally, I think that the next "MMORPG" revolution will be a devolution. Server space, bandwidth, and general computational power is now cheap as hell. There isn't a reason in the world why a few individuals can't host a Not So Massivily Multiplayer Online RPG. (NSMMORPG?). Open it up for heavy modding, build it such that someone who wants to spend the money for a server can host a couple hundred people, and let the MMORPG ecology get some new blood. WoW is a lowest common denominator game. That is great for most people, but imagine the other possabilities. Imagine a WoW that was 100% PK all the time and super guild based. Imagine a WoW with permanent death, no levels, heavy into RP, and an iron fisted adminstrative staff that enforced it. Imagine a purely RvR game, or a game that is nothing but epic dungeon crawls.

      WoW is most mediocre of games. They have to be to appeal to a wide audience. The result is that few people are truly happy with it. Most want it to be a little more of this or a little more of that. Never Winter Nights 2 came closer to this concept of a pint sized MMO, it just wasn't robust enough to really let people tear into it. You wait. MUDs are going to make a come back. The MMORPGs will always be there, but for people who want an extreme experience graphical MUDs will be the name of the game.

      • by Reapy (688651)

        Man every time someone brings up a mud system on slashdot it really really interests me. MMO's like you said are kinda the lowest common denominator, and you sort of have to make it that way, since you just can't be as flexible as a mud due to text being easy, and size. When things get big, you can't maintain those really cool cultures that develop in small communities. Your example with a templar is something that just wouldn't work in an mainstream MMO, which is unfortunate.

        Regardless of this, I always li

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by thesandtiger (819476)

        The people complaining that the ideas discussed above won't appeal to everyone are missing the point - the OP is talking about being able to have smaller, niche "biggish but not massively" multiplayer games that will be able to give the people who like whatever kind of idea a place to play.

        Having lots of smaller MMOs out there with a smaller investment of effort to set up means that designers can take risks and experiment. I really loved the age of MUDs when you could try out dozens of different games and f

    • by srmalloy (263556)

      The problem with balancing classes is that all classes are essentially expected to fulfill the same basic role - namely, that they are adventurers (well, in sword&sorcery/fantasy MMOs) out to kill monsters for xp/lewt. Can you please explain to me how a wizard's training would be furthered by killing hordes of monsters? Or a thief's? Or a cleric's? For some kind of a warrior or gladiator or what have you, I can see it making sense, at least to a point.

      It would depend on the circumstances. True, the classic 'scholar of abstruse lore in a tower' mage wouldn't be going out zapgunning monsters for kicks, but if you tweak the world background a bit so that combat mages are the 'artillery' of armies, then you would have mages who need to learn how to handle throwing spells around while someone's trying to beat on them; you could take the other kind and make them the ones who provide a good chunk of the training for the PC mages, making them go out after the re

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DrMrLordX (559371)

        You can RP your way into providing excuses for different classes to have a mutual interest in slaughtering things, but in doing so, you've eliminated the player's ability to RP as a class that is not primarily (or even solely) motivated by acts of violence. Take a look at what has happened to the old thief class from AD&D (AD&D/D&D hs been deeply and irrevocably affected by MMO design theory): the thief became the rogue and is now more focused on the ability to stab things in the back or use an

    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      You have proposed this solution to class balance:

      ( ) hidden/earned powerful class
      (x) difficult to play powerful class
      ( ) no class
      ( ) no balance
      ( ) randomization

      It wont work because

      ( ) tough to implement
      (x) people dont like playing difficult classes
      (x) people want to essentially play arcade games
      ( ) changes game dymanics too much
      ( ) will chase off old timers
      ( ) will cause a riot on the message boards

      Ive seen something similiar in the MUDs I used to play, byt MUD players were a bit more serious and sophistice

    • by brkello (642429)
      Umm, no. What you made something that is fun for one person and sucks for someone else. In any case, even if it sucks, people will all play that class because who wants to be limited to being 4 times weaker than something else. I think fighting still makes sense. To become powerful, you have to practice. To practice, you go and fight things. You aren't born a mage ready to kill a dragon. You probably have to zap a few vicious rats first to be ready to take on a bear.
  • Real World vs. MMO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bencollier (1156337)
    Seeing as we haven't managed this in the real world, I'm not holding my breath. It should be easier in a game, but the more complex the world, the harder it's going to be, and I'm guessing they're getting more complex.
  • by Lord Bitman (95493) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:28AM (#29104059) Homepage

    The idea of "Why should I bother being a monk, when a soldier can blow up mountains by sneezing?" being a bad thing is utterly stupid. If you want to blow up mountains by sneezing, you won't be a monk. If you don't want to, you'll be a monk. If you don't want to, and still want a sword, you'll play a different game.

    It all comes down to the stupid enshrinement of a statistic: People want it so that "when these two numbers are near eachother, they should be able to do similar things", ie: a "level 80 shit-stormer" should be able to contribute as much to defeating a Monstrous Foo as a "level 80 shit-shoveler". This is ridiculous, and helps no one. Some things are more effective than other things, no matter how experienced you are with either of them. Some people want to run around pretending to be gods all day long, other people don't, and both of those styles of play are cast aside in game developers' endless quest to make everyone feel "just a little better than mediocre" at all times.

    • by ukyoCE (106879)

      Making classes identical and balancing classes are NOT the same thing.

      The WOW designers, for instance, constantly bring up the fact that they want to avoid homogenization as much as possible. People always want ability X that some other class has that's awesome. But if their class needs improvement, it should be in a unique way that works with that specific class.

      Although your post is really more about wanting to play a game that's not there. If you want to roll a class in Warhammer Online that let's you

    • by brkello (642429)
      Reading all these comments make it pretty obvious that I don't want anyone on Slashdot making games. Actually, it really doesn't matter because no one would play your game. If one class is a whole lot better than another class at dealing damage and that is there major role, no one is going to play that other class. The idea that if you play your class well, you should be contributing a reasonable amount to downing a mob. If you get rid of the balance, you have everyone playing the same class and people
  • by whisper_jeff (680366) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @07:38AM (#29104145)
    To me, the ideal approach to class balance is rock, paper, scissors. Using WoW as a frame for my post (since most people will be familiar with it), I liked the days when rogues were cloth killers but hunters were rogue killers but most mages were able to dismantle hunters. It was a perfect rock - paper - scissors balance. Sure, all the mages felt that rogues were over powered and rogues constantly complained that they couldn't get away from hunters and hunters bitched and moaned that mages 'sploited but, in the larger sense of the game, things were balanced. One-on-one, there were fights that you relished and fights that you had to run from and hope one of your teammates could pick up. It created an over-all balance.

    The benefit to this approach is designers can overlook one class beating the crap out of another the majority of the time so long as the first class gets its ass handed to them by a third, and so on. It allows the game designers to not struggle with ensuring that every class is balanced against every other class which is an impossible, moving target. It simply cannot be done and any attempt to do so will only end in gamers complaining. If WoW (for instance) had come out and said "we balance PvP around rock - paper - scissors and hunters are the rock to your scissors, dear rogues - deal with it" I think the game would be in a better place.

    Unfortunately, it is a very rare approach to class balance in an MMO because all those rogues are going to spend all their time on the forums complaining about hunters and demanding nerfs while the mages will complain about the rogues and the hunters will complain about the mages and nobody will realize the instances where they shine and instead focus only on the situations where they get their asses handed to them. Thus, game designers attempt to appease people and balance everyone against everyone else... Unfortunately...
    • by illumin8 (148082)

      I liked the days when rogues were cloth killers but hunters were rogue killers but most mages were able to dismantle hunters. It was a perfect rock - paper - scissors balance.

      Unfortunately, WoW has always had terribly unbalanced PvP. The developers just use this as a crutch, saying that not every class can be viable 1v1.

      I much prefer the PvP balance of Guild Wars. Guild Wars has very unique and diverse classes, but is very balanced. I think one thing that makes it more balanced is that you have a seconda

      • by Entropius (188861)

        So why is GW better?

        It's because all the classes are actually, truly different. In WoW, too many of the classes are reasonable substitutes for one another, since most skills are so vanilla: "this does damage", "this does damage + DoT", "this just does a DoT", etc. In Guild Wars there is no vanillaness, since most skills have more subtle effects not related to moving the health bars up and down. These sorts of utility effects -- buffs and debuffs of all sorts -- are much stronger than in WoW, and their inter

      • by brkello (642429)
        WoW is designed around PvE first. Guild Wars is designed around PvP first. That's fundamentally the difference.
  • Am I the only one who *doesn't* want balanced classes. Part of the fun of an RPG is to make a character who is totally badass, and the best part is to find the things & select the right class which make you badass--then working and grinding for it. Prime examples:

    Final Fantasy 1. The black belt was the best character, by far. Level to 50 (I think the max was 50 in that game) and do a whopping 2000 damage, even on Chaos! This was important, as the highest any other class could do was maybe like 700 IIRC

    • Your examples are really fun for single player RPGs, but in an MMO the balance is very important in PVE and in PVP. My wife and I played Age of Conan for several months with her playing a ranger and me playing a melee guy. This was a great combo for about 2 months until our guys were pretty high level, at which point the ranger became unbelievably powerful and my melee guy couldn't even get a hit in. I'd spent months on my character and it gradually became less and less fun. If I were controlling all ch

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      single player RPGs are unrelated to MMO games.

    • Am I the only one who *doesn't* want balanced classes. Part of the fun of an RPG is to make a character who is totally badass, and the best part is to find the things & select the right class which make you badass--then working and grinding for it.

      That can be a lot of fun. Until everyone else in the game does the same thing for the same reason.

      Dark Age of Camelot (yes, some people still play it) has this sort of issue.

      They do not "balance classes", they "balance realms". Problem is that when they tw

      • by Entropius (188861)

        All in all, the only valid balance path is to make all classes about equally capable of functioning in 1v1, and let the groups and zergs sort themselves out.

        Guild Wars, the MMO with the best PvP balance, doesn't do this -- the balance is fundamentally about group (at least 4v4) combat, and nobody even cares about 1v1 balance except for characters built to "split" off from the main group in Guild vs. Guild fights. And cripshot rangers are the best at that, but nobody cares since that's not as important.

        This

        • This is helped by the fact that there is no PvP other than environments of 4v4 or 8v8.

          In DAoC, you have basically anything goes PvP. 1v1, 8v8, 100v100, NvM (where N is some positive integer, and M is some positive integer, limited only by the number of people online). For that matter, you can have 1v1v1, 8v8v8, 100v100v100 - there are three sides in DAoC....

  • âoeI say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let... lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may.â

    Why are people so obsessed with balancing these classes. It's stupid and impossible in the long run to create this kind of balance. Rather, classes should be considered "easier" or "harder" to play. If the Rouge class is under-powered then it just makes a high level Rouge player that much more impressive. If a Fighter is easy to level, then you might go that route when you start p

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yunzil (181064)

      If the Rouge class is under-powered then it just makes a high level Rouge player that much more impressive.

      My 20th level Mascara would totally pwn your Rouge.

  • Class Balance in WOW (Score:3, Informative)

    by ukyoCE (106879) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @09:41AM (#29105623) Journal

    If you enjoy reading about class balance, you can see a lot of insight from the WOW game designers (especially Ghostcrawler, lately) at the following sites:

    http://www.mmo-champion.com/ [mmo-champion.com]

    http://blue.mmo-champion.com/ [mmo-champion.com]

    The latter is a compilation of every Blizzard post in the WOW forums, while the former is just the highlights of meaningful class changes and discussion.

    The Blizzard devs used to be much quieter, but coming into the latest expansion Ghostcrawler started exposing a lot of detailed reasons behind their design and balance decision. Of course everyone still QQs massively when their class gets nerfed.

    But anyone willing to take a step back and think about game balance has all the design reasons there in the forums to explain why they make the changes they do. Blizzard even had a "Class Q&A" recently that covered a lot of questions about the design goals and directions for each class.

    Unfortunately the blizzard devs get a ton of trolls and QQ in response to anything they do (no matter how kind or innocent). So be sure to watch this peephole into the design process while you can, before the whiners get Blizzard to revert to silence about their design reasons and goals.

  • by Tom (822)

    Sometimes, when you have a problem that bugs and bugs you, and won't go away, you take a step back and realize that it was your initial assumptions that are the problem.

    Classes are a dumb shortcut to simplify game mechanics. They were invented for pen-and-paper RPGs, where you need to juggle things in your head so gameplay can continue smoothly, and where you need graspable concepts or you're busy looking things up all the time.

    With computers, you don't have to look things up, or crunch numbers, the machine

  • It's pretty simple really. You DON'T. What you do is you create a mechanic that is closely tied to the story which will lead to certain classes or even entire factions being stronger in certain situations. Then you balance to the number of situations. And then you develop a method that rotates those different situations through the various content of the game. This way everyone gets their piece of the pie and the rotation ensures the pieces are equal. At this point the player can enjoy their class bec

  • I have never understood the fascination with classes. A person is capable of learning a lot of different things - so should a character in a same. Sure, you may start with a certain set of skills and characteristics that may make you better at one thing over another, but ultimately, nothing should stop a character from learning anything in a game.

    This is why I prefer the World of Darkness rule set for PnP role playing over that of, say, AD&D. Your attributes will naturally make you able to better utiliz

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      EvE does have a very interesting system, yes. UO was somewhat similar except that rather than time-based you had to take actions to raise skills and you had a set skill cap. You really don't in EvE.

      EvE is much more "gear" oriented than other popular MMOs. You fill the roles through the ship you're flying. If I want to tank level 4s for a corporation I just switch ships to one that can take room aggro and not blow up in the process. If I want to do a bit of mining I can train those skills, switch to a hulk

  • This class vs skills discussion has been kicked around since the beginning of MMOs of not since the beginning of pen and paper games (DnD vs Marvel, for example). Here are my thoughts, selectively culled over years packed with wisdom and experience (translation: "off the top of my head") --

    HEALING
    Cut healing from a distance and hit points too. Your character gets injured and this effects swing speed, concentration, movement, etc. It doesn't lower a health bar. Healers are battle clerics or paladins. No

  • Skill-based systems, where there is only one class and all of the customization is done with talents, are interesting. They are only truly interesting when there is synergy between some skills - for example, a skill that makes you shoot bolts 40% faster and a skill that gives each of your bolts a chance to stun for 2 seconds synergize well because the second skill becomes stronger if you have the first one. The key to balancing them IMO is to have a few synergies that clearly stand out, so you have to have

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