A Poorly Balanced Game Can Be More Fun Than a Perfectly Balanced One

What is Balancing?

Quick intro to the concept of “Balance” in a game. This applies mostly to multiplayer games, but can also apply to single player experiences.

Balance is the idea that nothing has a strong advantage over anything else.

– In MOBA games, like League of Legends or DOTA, this could mean that some heroes counter others, but none have a significant edge over the others

– In FPS games, this could mean that certain classes or weapons aren’t stronger than others, and that anybody can beat anybody else if they are more skilled.

Balancing is a Big Deal

If you spend half as much time online as I do (which is still a lot), you’d know that people are always talking about balance. What weapons to nerf and buff are talked about everywhere. Many games that seek to have a major competitive scene need to have flawless balancing to make sure the competition is fair.
Imagine booting up a game of League of Legends and everyone rushes to play as one character that is stronger than the others. Okay, maybe it’s not that hard to imagine, but you get the idea. If any one character has a slight lead, everyone plays as that character.

But what about games that aren’t as competitive?

In some cases, a lack of significant balancing can make a game much more fun than others.

image courtesy of leagueoflegends.com

“Fun” is the Key Word

One thing to keep in mind is that not all gamers want the same thing out of a video game. Some want to relax and have an easy time, maybe take in a new experience. These are the Journey players of the world (fantastic game, by the way).

Other players go out to compete. They are going to get angry, and they know it. Keyboards will be thrown through walls, and some very choice words will be spat at other players. These are the League of Legends players in the world.

Many, many players want something in the middle. They want a challenging experience, but they want to enjoy it too. These are the Modern Warfare 2 players of the world.

Before you close this post and laugh at that last statement, allow me to explain.
Modern Warfare 2 is frustrating, and a lot of that frustration comes from the lack of balance. Yet, how come whenever I talk to some friends from way back in school, we still say “remember that time when I got a nuke in MW2? People were so pissed”?  90% of what I hear these days about MW2 are fond memories, and there’s a very good reason for that.

Poor Balancing Works in Modern Warfare 2

Image courtesy of callofduty.wikia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve ever played MW2, some of these terms may be trigger words for you:

  • Noob tube
  • Akimbo
  • 1887
  • Commando
  • Tactical Knife
  • Hardline
  • Nuke

All of the above are imbalanced and overpowered weapons, killstreaks, or skills. Think about times when these were used on you. How did you feel? Angry? Probably. But more importantly, you felt motivated.  You thought, “When I hit level 67 and get that Model 1887 shotgun, I’m gonna crush everyone”.

Then you kept playing.

And playing.

And playing.

Till one day when you unlocked that 1887, you truly DID crush everyone. And you kept playing after that till you got bored. In most games, a rational person would put the game down and move on to something else, but not in Modern Warfare 2. You decided to “Prestige”, which put you all the way back to level 1, and you got to do it all over again.

The cheap tactics truly made MW2 more fun to play than its well-balanced successors in the eyes of many players. That one time you stacked killstreaks and got a nuke, instantly killing everyone and winning the game, felt far better than most moments in other games.

The thing MW2 did so well was that it used its lack of balance to motivate players to keep playing till they could use the cheap tactics themselves.

Of course, MW2 is a very specific example. It has a few key things going for it that makes this imbalanced gameplay so addicting.

When is Imbalance a Good Thing?

A multiplayer game needs to have a couple of specific traits to benefit from poor balancing. The game must be the following:

1. Skill-based

A skill-based game is one in which player skill determines victory above all other factors. Games that rely on random number generators, such as turn-based games, would be terrible if not properly balanced.

2. FAst-paced

If a match lasts more than ~20 min, losing because of lack of balance would just be infuriating.

3. Have a huge skill range

The term “easy to use, difficult to master” comes to mind here. The player should always feel like there’s people far worse at the game, and people far better at the game than themselves. The player should get killed by campers for a while, become campers themselves, and then become counter-campers who never get caught in a trap.

4. target players willing to put in many hours

Call of Duty gets a bad rap from many gamer demographics, but the developers sure know their target audience. For example: teenagers, who generally have a bit more free time than others, are more likely to stick with a game, grit their teeth through the frustrating times, and come out on top. Much of the Call of Duty franchise’s marketing is towards that audience.

When designing a game, knowing your target audience is critical.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Highly competitive games need balancing to be perfect
  2. Less competitive games can be more fun without it
  3. A lack of balance could be a driving factor to keep people playing
  4. Know your target audience

 

What do you think about balance in video games? Am I completely wrong here? Drop in a comment and let me know what you think!

Thank you very much for reading,

Harrison N

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