How Games Get Balanced | Game Maker’s Toolkit

How Games Get Balanced | Game Maker’s Toolkit

  07 Nov 2019   , ,


If you’ve spent any amount of time in a
multiplayer lobby, you’ve probably heard words like overpowered, cheap, and unfair. What these players are arguing about is the
game’s balance. Balance is the art of making sure that all
options in a multiplayer game are fair: so none are underpowered, and thus pointless
to use. And none are overpowered, and thus dominate everything else. Here’s the thing though: most video games
aren’t just striving for balance. But balance among a wide range of distinctly different
options. You don’t have to work that hard to balance
a symmetric game – which is one where all players have the exact same starting conditions.
But most games are asymmetric – which means players are facing off against each other
with completely different stuff. And in a game where players can pick from
74 different fighters or 140 unique champions, the developers are counting
on them all being equally viable among players of roughly the same skill level. So how do they do it? Now, I should say, balance is an incredibly
difficult pursuit. It can be an entire department at certain companies, and Riot’s League
of Legends has had more than 200 balance patches in the last decade. Plus it’s not just about
numbers, but player psychology, with Overwatch’s Jeff Kaplan saying “the perception of balance
is more powerful than balance itself”. So this is not going to be an intensive tutorial. Instead, Game Maker’s Toolkit presents a whirlwind tour through the ways games are
balanced – and rebalanced – and rebalanced – and rebalanced. So how do developers go about balancing a
game in the first place? Well, the first consideration is trade-offs. This is when you essentially
cancel out a character’s competitive advantages, with drawbacks. Think of Mario Kart characters, where heavy
racers like Donkey Kong have a high top speed, but low acceleration, while featherweight
racers like Toad are the opposite. On the right track design, they’ll be almost evenly
balanced. You can think of characters as having a “power
budget” – at least that’s why Riot calls it. Advantages are a cost, but disadvantages
are a discount. If all characters are just about hitting the limit of the same power
budget, they’ll be closer to being balanced. It’s rarely that easy, of course. I mean,
okay, sometimes you’ll get a card that does 1 damage to all minions and another that does
4 damage to all minions. That’s an easy one: just make the second card cost a bit more energy. But how do you calculate the power budget
for completely incomparable options like heroes in Overwatch? Or options with dozens of stats
to tweak? Like, when Bungie was reigning in the initially overpowered sniper rifle in
Halo 3, it had loads of stats it could tweak such as clip size, time to full zoom, reload
time, and max ammo. (It ultimately decided the best knob to tweak
was the time between shots, which it bumped from 0.5 to 0.7 seconds). What’s important, though, is to celebrate
the big differences between choices. The sniper rifle and the shotgun offer a more exciting
choice to players than two types of assault rifle – even though the latter is much easier
to balance. So I agree with ex-Blizzard designer Rob Pardo
when he warns designers against using the maths to balance games into mediocrity, saying ROB PARDO: “you’re gonna end up with a game where everything kinda feels the same. And you can high
five each other and say it’s balanced, but is it fun? Probably not”. Another consideration is counters. This is
when we give characters the ability to negate each other’s moves and strategies. For example:
a quick Zerg rush in Starcraft is all well and good – unless your opponent is one step
ahead and has already built defensive bunkers. And what we ideally want is for everything
to have a counter. So a defensive Starcraft player can, in turn, be countered by a more
economical strategy, where you save up resources to build units that can eventually crush those
bunkers into dust. And we could make a counter to that counter,
and so on – but then we’d be here for forever. There’s a more elegant solution though,
because how do you deal with someone who’s sitting around saving up money? Well… a
rush. And, wouldn’t you know it… it’s rock,
paper, scissors. This goofy game you play to see who has to do the washing up might
be incredibly simple and lacking any strategic depth, but it is perfectly balanced – because
everything has a counter, and everything is a counter. EDDIE: Damn man, killed those scissors. And that’s why it forms the backbone of
a lot of multiplayer games. Pretty much every fighting game has a system like this, such
as Dead or Alive which boasts about its triangle system, where strikes beat throws, throws
beat holds, and holds beat strikes. In strategy games, it’s not just the strategies
that work like this, but the individual units. And the different Pokemon types all sit in
a massive web of interlocking counters – but starting, of course, with fire, water, and
grass. Rock, paper, scissors is a great balancing
framework to start from, because you can ensure that no element is overpowered – it’s countered
by something. And no choice is irrelevant – it at least works as a counter to something
else. And also, in strategy games at least, it encourages
mixed strategies, it makes you into a multi-disciplinary player, and it forces you to switch tactics on
the fly in a really dynamic way. And in class-based games, it’s a great way
of automatically making mixed teams. Take Team Fortress 2, where seven of its nine
classes fit into a complex web of interlocking and interchangeable triangles of rock, paper,
scissors. Here, teams must pick complementary classes to protect each other from weaknesses.
If you’re an Engineer and Spies keep sapping your sentries, then you’re going to need
to get one of your team mates to switch to Pyro. These counters are often described as hard
counters if they completely shut something down – like a punch is a hard counter to a
throw in ARMS because it will nullify the effect every single time. But soft counters
just mean one choice will have an advantage over the other. McCree will outperform Tracer,
but his chance of winning is far from 100%. When it comes to counters, it’s really important
to figure out what are the hands and what are the throws. The hands are the things that get locked in
before the match even starts. You know, the characters and the races. The throws are the
things you pick during the match. The moves, the units, and the strategies. And in a team-based
game, like Overwatch, the entire team is the hand, while the individual players are the
throws. The throws are specifically designed to be
unbalanced against each other, to create that back-and-forth counter-play and teamwork.
But the hands are supposed to be balanced, and so they should have access to all of the
throws. If Zangief simply couldn’t block, for example, he would be unusable. So you’ve got a bunch of characters, with
trade-offs and counters, and you think you’ve made them balanced. But how do you actually
make sure that’s true? Well this is when we start collecting data – either from internal
play-testers, or the millions of people playing your game online. Now you might think that all you need to do
is track how often each character results in success – i.e it’s “win rate”. And
if a character has a 50 percent win rate, it’s balanced. But, like all stats, this can be misleading.
Imagine a fighting game with three characters – and if Ryu won every match against Chun-Li
and lost every match against Cammy, his win-rate would be 50 percent. Perfectly balanced, though?
I think not. That’s why match-up charts, where you where
you can see the win rate of a character, when played against all other characters, are so
important. But even that’s not going to tell you everything.
Riot had a problem with the League of Legends character Akali. The numbers said she was
pretty balanced, with a 44 percent win-rate – perhaps a tad underpowered. So how come
she secured a 72 percent win rate at the 2018 World Championship, and was banned more times
than any other champion? It’s because while she was really powerful,
she was difficult to play effectively. She had a super high skill floor, in other words.
So while top-tier players could use her to wipe the floor with the competition, the low-ranking
players using Akali were getting killed left, right, and center. Therefore, her win-rate
was being dragged down. That’s why it’s important to look at a
character’s win-rate and match-ups across all skill levels. And finally, win-rate doesn’t really tell
you what’s actually going on in the game. We need to know what characters people are
actually picking. People might be avoiding a character who is otherwise well balanced
because that character is not much fun to play, or is only useful in certain situations. Blizzard found that Overwatch hero Symmetra
was a largely balanced character, but she wasn’t being picked as much because her
use was highly situational. So in her first complete redesign, they tried to make her
more popular by giving her two ultimates to pick from: a teleporter or a shield generator. That’s why player feedback is so important
– as well as pick-rate, which tells you how often a character is actually getting used.
For Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft uses a matrix to cross reference both win rate and pick
rate -with different considerations needed for operators who fall into these four buckets. And the pick-rates help tell you the state
of the meta – which is essentially just the characters, cards, strategies, and so on that
the community at large have found the most effective and are currently using. This is often shared through forum posts,
fan-made tier lists, YouTube videos, and eSport victories. When a kid called Jason won the
Clash Royale tournament in Helsinki, his chosen cards suddenly became massively popular. The meta can actually act as a self-balancing
force. Let’s say everyone discovered that a certain character was overpowered, and everyone
started using it. It’s now in everyone’s best interest to try and discover strategies
that can counter or out perform that favourite. And if players find it, the meta might change. This rolling meta keeps the game fresh, and
gives the players who found the counter a real sense of satisfaction. Overwatch’s
Jeff Kaplan says “regarding the meta changing because players have innovated a new strategy
– well – this is the best-case scenario. We’ve seen this happen time and time again.” Of course, that’s not always going to work.
Sometimes the designers will have to go in and change things. If a strategy is overpowered,
if a character is never getting played, or if a play-style is proving annoying then it’s
time to swing the hammer. First, the devs need to figure out the exact
reason why that character, or strategy, or whatever is unbalanced. It’s easy to see
that a character is dominating the match-up charts, but can be harder to pin-point why. So for a character like Meta Knight in Super
Smash Bros Brawl, it was mostly because of his extremely fast attack speed, and an ability
to cancel his momentum in mid-air and avoid being KO’d. He had lots of advantages, and
not enough trade-offs – and other characters don’t have the tools to counter him. Once the source has been found, you’ve got
to figure out what to nerf and what to buff. Nerfing means making something less powerful,
like reducing their speed, limiting their range, or cutting down their strength. Buffing
is the opposite: making it more powerful. You don’t necessarily have to buff the weak
characters and nerf the strong ones, though. You could leave an overpowered character alone, but
buff the characters who counter them, and still solve the same problem. Make sure you
watch this Core-A Gaming video on why buffs are, generally, better than nerfs. Balance changes can be anything from a tiny
tweak to a character’s movement speed, to a complete overhaul of how a character works.
It might be a fundamental change to the rules of the game – Rainbow Six Siege made attacking
and defending more balanced by changing the match time to three minutes. And sometimes
you’ve just to pull things from the game entirely, like when Epic scrapped the overpowered
infinity blade in Fortnite. Any change is going to affect players – especially
those who are very used to the way a specific character, or its counters, work. So when
the game gets patched, it’s important to communicate the changes through patch notes,
videos, and so on. In fact, patch notes are so important that
Riot once put out of a note saying a champion was nerfed, but forgot to actually implement
the nerf in the code. Even so, the character’s pick rate plummeted, and even his win rate
decreased a bit. Didn’t I say that player psychology was an important factor? Now, at the beginning of this video, i said
that balance was about trying to make characters equally viable among players of roughly the
same skill level. But what happens when players aren’t at the same skill level? Well, a lot of highly competitive games use
matchmaking systems to pair up similarly skilled players. But for more accessible, party-style games,
we may want to build in negative feedback loops, or catch-up mechanics, where players
who are doing poorly get a helping hand. Examples are the deathstreak mechanic in Modern Warfare
2 where you get a special bonus for dying a whole bunch. And the item system in Mario
Kart where powerful items – including that pesky blue shell – are only given to players
at the back of the pack. These are pretty contentious, and must be used sparingly. We can also reduce the value of skill by adding
in more luck. We see this in most family board games like Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly
which are heavily based on the luck of the die roll. But in video games, you see this
in games like Apex Legends, where your chances of winning are shifted, based on what goodies
you find when you drop into the map. Game can also offer handicapping modes. And
in team-based games, we can give players alternate play styles that allow them to contribute
to the team without needing to do highly-skilled, front-line action, like being a medic or an
engineer. So balancing a game is a really challenging
job. The more you make characters distinct, the harder it is to put them on an even playing
field. And that’s not taking into account players of unequal skill level. We can try to design in trade-offs, to ensure
characters don’t have too many advantages. And give characters counters, so they can
keep each other in check. But even the best designs won’t stand up to scrutiny when
put in front of millions of players. So we need to constantly determine the balance,
by watching win-rates, match-ups, pick-rates, and player feedback. And while hopefully the
meta will naturally shift in response to imbalance – sometimes devs have to go in and make the
hard changes. And then you introduce a whole new character
and everything breaks again. Sigh. I said this wasn’t an easy job. So let me know:
what do you think is the most balanced game around, and have you ever played a game where
the devs just got it oh so wrong? Let me know your experience with balance in the comments
below. Thanks for watching! I had a lot of help on
this one, from people who know multiplayer games really well to developers who have worked
on games like League of Legends, Dirty Bomb, and Rainbow Six Siege. There’s definitely
more to talk about – like balancing multiplayer maps in shooters. But we can get to that in
the future.

100 thoughts on “How Games Get Balanced | Game Maker’s Toolkit

  1. In Clash Royale (mobile) the head of balancing released a presentation concerning the teams views on balancing, mainly the concept of making everything op.

    Also, funny about how he shows a picture of Ganondorf when talking about underpowered and shows Meta Knight when talking about OP. Ganondorf is the most used fighter in ranked play in ultimate.

  2. I mean, you talk about multiplayer games exclusively but in practice, single player games can also be challenging to balance, especially those that are "supposed" to be difficult to begin with such as the shmup/ bullet-hell genre. It then becomes hard to decide what is and isn't fair in these games.

  3. They dont. Its a myth that allows devs to manipulate the players by making them think they dont SUCK and therefor like the game more.

  4. To the final question. I don't know the specific maths of it but i think double Helix did an amazing job with Killer Instinct. A huge problem with balance in fighting games is that all characters should have a good personality and playstyle in order to appeal to the players. But there's should be a minimum balance that could affect the playstyle of the characters. K.I. have a little more than average ammount of characters so with every character gets harder. How they pull that off?

    Well, for starters i think one key factor is that K.I. is a heavily footsies based game (Even tough they have any other playstyle in the game) but still the main options for every character is based in the combos and combo breakers, so for starters EVERY character could pull out combos and combo breakers so no matter the playstyle, speed, damage output, etc the fact is that EVERY character have at the very least those fairly needed options. With that in mind i think they did focus in the main aspects of playstyles and boy this is where they shine, every character feels different, and even with the footsies Focus you still have plenty of options from rushdowns, all rounders, zoners, giant characters and so on. In my opinion is a great example on how to balance fighting games.

  5. Exactly thats why Counter Strike is so succesful and an awesome experience. Everyone starts with the same options, same opportunities. Also i find great that Valve concetrating so much on map design, making the whole game more balanced and fun to play.

  6. In my Country,In Rock Paper Scissors,we also tend to use Pencil,which counters paper,so you were less likely to win as paper,and more likely to win as pencil. So It Wasn’t Perfectly Balanced.

  7. oh yeah, I remember the Finka winrate of over 70% in Rainbow, but she was so boring, nobody wanted to win that way

  8. Loved the video. I'll say that being a healer in a game is its own challenge and not necessarily easy. Depending on the two sides, it can require excellent situational awareness and constant evaluation of things seen and unseen. Understanding the opposing side's behavior can be just as critical as understanding your own team.

  9. The hand and throw analogy is all over the place. It does not work on something like pokemon. Now before a battle a pokemon stays a certain type. You said that the hand is what you have before the match start, but a pokemon is already a certain type making it a rock paper or scissors. That whole part of the video is just hand, throw nonsense. Go make a game of your own for fuck sake.

  10. Marvel vs Capcom 2 throws over 50 wildly different characters together and lets players sort it out themselves. very little balancing. it wouldnt make for a good esport but it is damn fun.

  11. I think Pokémon deserves a special mention for maintaining something resembling balance even at 800+ monsters. It's nowhere near perfect balance and there are absolutely distinct tiers (including a bunch of monsters that are not competitively viable at all, though for a lot of the lower evolution etc I believe that is fair, they don't need to all be competitively viable), but I can't think of another game with anywhere near as many possible character choices and the added complexity of so many types and them being used in teams that is still competitively playable at all.

  12. Akimbo model 1887’s it modern warfare 2 we’re ridiculously OP. You should never be able to kill from across the map with a shotgun!

  13. 7:02 "The Hans are supposed to be balanced. They should have ACCESS TO ALL OF THE THROWS."
    As a german I agree.

  14. I think putting fun factor above balance is very important. Overwatch got a bunch of new characters at one point that were technically balanced, but I still think Doomfist's one punch KO and Moira's randomly bouncing orbs are some of the most annoying things the game has.

  15. Something that is rarely talked about is balance in PvE games, like Monster Hunter.
    In MHW, the Hunting Horn is one of the least popular weapons, but is arguably the most helpful in multiplayer hunts. Conversely, the Long Sword is one of the most popular weapons and its one of the most annoying weapons to be paired with.

  16. Vampyr is really not well balanced, really liked the idea but deleted the game with passion. The game pushes you to kill innocent people.

  17. Modern Warfare 2 is a perfect example of a game where everything is overpowered (from the automatic shotgun AA12, trough OHK potential of Intervention quickscoping, to the absolute laser gun that is the ACR) and it all works when players are of a similar skill level. Except One Man Army grenade launchers… Fuck u noobtubers!

  18. I think that it's OK to have things purposefully have games unbalanced, for instance a muzzle loader in an fps, or a bow. People would still play with them, so long as you accept that players will play with a handful of the most effective stuff

  19. ArmA III seems to have an interesting concept of balance.
    It has always favoured CSAT by giving them better body armour and equipment and even furthered that in updates with the best tank in the game and, depending on pilot preference, what might be the best air superiority fighter in the game. (Talking about the vanilla base gamey since mods like ACE and RHS add realism to the game which completely balance out the window)
    Still, in modes other than King of the Hill, it isn't more likely that CSAT will win simply because the game is heavily based on player cooperation, a team with the best equipment can still lose to one with next to none if the latter is more coordinated.
    I think it's interesting, since the game in and of itself isn't balanced at all, but in modes like Warlords balance can be created by using tactics and coordinating attacks.

  20. In Paladins, tank name Torvald with High rate of health but he can attack at short range attack and he can't attack a mid range character so, team needs to help him on field. Although Torvald ultimate was a dangerous skill. He can throw whole opponent team out of the map by using his range power. To balance this Hi-Rez change his power range and increase the cool-down with decrease in health.

  21. It's 2019, things don't get balanced they get forced to nerf or buff stuff based on what 10 year olds cry about.

  22. I played a game once where the balance was oh, so wrong. There were basically 2 metas based on your rank, with multiple champions being broken at one level and useless at the other level. The game receives constant updates to it's balance, and yet the balance seems to be getting worse every single time. And that game is…overwatch.

  23. To add to that end note. "Balancing maps for multiplayer shooters."
    There are a lot of very interesting cases in the map balancing in the esport scene for Starcraft 1. It's an interesting case already in and of itself how long that game and its scene kept going and innovating while the game didn't see any new content in such a long time.

  24. Don't forget that if players develop a strategy to counter an overpowered option, it can mislead the developers, changing the statistics to make the broken option seem balanced, meanwhile the actual gameplay DEMANDS the new strategy be used in favor of options and "counters" that the developers spent time and money creating.

  25. In cs:go, the devs try to balance it mostly for gold nova players and pros. This is why the auto-sniper seems so broken when you are new to the game or just stuck in silver. If you get good enough at the game, it becomes extremely easy to counter (an AWP should always beat an auto of similar skill).

  26. balance is an issue in every game but in pvp it becomes over inflated. Balancing players against the npcs and balancing those balances against each other sounds like more work but it's less game breaking if you dont hit it perfect. in pvp you you start trying to pick apart a seemingly infinite spider web.

  27. This is why I play chess. White has a 3 tenths of a pawn advantage with perfect play but this is drawn.

    at any level other than the very top, three tenths of a pawn has no effect so the game is essentially equal. Win lose or draw is 100% determined by skill

  28. Ryze is way better example of "Hard to ballance" character than Akali from League of Legends universe.
    In hands of the good player it is Nuke dropped on map. In hands of "Not so good player" it is dull blade.

  29. I think designers of SC2 said that games do not need perfect balance. A perfect imbalance is better but it has to evolve.

  30. Dark Age of Camelot — a player vs. player (or realm vs. realm in its terminology) focused game was, at its best time, nearly perfectly balanced, which is a tough feat given how many classes there were across three realms (i.e., sides which players can choose to join).

  31. I like the quote from one of your other videos..
    "Players will optimize the fun out of a game."
    It's too true. Everyone wants what's considered the most powerful, not what they enjoy using.

  32. One thing I'd just like to point out. I know some people like to say "oh, companies should just test more to get balance better" but I'd like to throw out some numbers, just to present a counter point.

    Lets say, hypothetically, Riot had an absurd 100 employees whose job was to just test a new champion in games for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, for 2 months before that champion came out, quick math. that's 64,000 hours of testing on one champ. That sounds like a lot, however.

    When the champion is released to live servers, let's just guess (very low) and say that 1,000,000 of the 30+ million players try the new champion. In under 5 minutes, that champion has seen more play testing than in 2 months of Riot's internal workings. in one day's time, that champion has had thousands of years of play testing.

    Of course any decent company always tries to stress test everything, but compared to the live player base, there is physically no way they can ever test as much as the players in a few hours time, simply by sheer quantity. It always sucks, but bugs are going to happen and be found. This is true for any game company, Just wanted to throw out this example.

  33. I'm probably a bit late to this discussion, but I believe Hero in smash ultimate is a good example of when a team took a character a bit too far.

    I'm not jumping on the bandwagon and just going 'oh he's too op' I believe he's simply too random… there's a 1/10 chance he can kill some characters from 0%. about… probably 14 out of the 18 or so possible abilities he can get with his down b are all viable kill skills on most targets above 30%. Some of them are completely unavoidable (magic burst) and even whack and kawhack have their own random chance of simply 1 shotting the opponent. And that's not including some of his other moves being pretty strong as well

    I like the idea and theming of the character and I think it's a really cool design… I just think he's far too random to ever really work in a competitive area without some heavy tweaks or limitations.

  34. That thing about zangief and throws was genius, illustrates to newer players that it's not their character but them that's losing the match. A well thought out and genius video

  35. Great video, but should have mentioned matchmaking a bit more probably the best way to balance an online game and the main reason, i stopped playing Overwatch, PUBG or Star wars Battlefront's. These games might be balanced but they don't have matchmaking which makes them really hard to come back to after a short break.

  36. Heard that Dota 2 was perfectly balanced at some point. But that just made it boring, so they had to switch it up lol.

  37. 13:42 I don't think luck is a good way to balance games. Monopoly is considered one of the least strategic board games, and while it does have it's niche, like introducing non-board gamers to board gaming, it's generally not any fun if you can't really learn and improve from gameplay that is mostly luck.

  38. You got the CoD MW date wrong, I'm pretty sure that version didn't come out in 2007 lol.
    Also, loved that GRID music.

  39. I think it should also be considered, for fighting games, the concept of rock paper scissors is only half applied. Although some characters can have an evident advantage over others, no character should be able to completely stomp the other, otherwise any tournament would be decided on the character select screen.

  40. Probably the most balanced game I’ve ever played was/is Battlerite. Although it’s played base is extremely small at the moment.

  41. The most balanced video game I know is Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (the arcade version, known as SF2X)
    There is only one character above the rest, but the game has so many layers that even the only best character can be totally destroyed by a master of a "bad character".
    Its fun when you pick the game for the first time, its fun after 2000 hours on it. And you will be better every time you play.
    That is a well designed balanced game.

  42. 1:15 For a character like meta knight in super smash bros brawl his advantages where mostly because of everything while his disadvantages where mostly being banned on many tournaments.

  43. Love how Mark just created so many accounts just to record multiplayer footage
    And having things like double longsword Morgana

  44. Winning is all about have an advantage over another. Else its just a tie. I think its not a problem that can solved. Its a lot like real life. Real life is a competitive game. unfortunately our brain reward system doesn't always motivate us properly. Its archaic,only understands the immediate gratification we would experience in caveman days.

  45. The most balanced game I ever played was back on the NGC. Smash bros melee… Every character is kinda Ok, except for competitive Falco players…

  46. "The perception of balance is more powerful than balance itself" -Jeff Kaplan's excuse for making a game that managed to drive off every day-one player I know

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