Classes and balance

 Posted by (Visited 11996 times)  Game talk
Sep 022006
 

One of the big points that people are making regarding class systems versus skill-based systems is that “skill-based systems are harder to balance.”

Balance is slightly stupid. As an overall concept when applied to co-op game systems, anyway.

If class systems are dependent on division of labor, then by definition, the classes must have different strengths. Even asking the question means that we want to compare apples and oranges. Thus, what we usually mean with “balance” is a very specific set of questions.

  • at a given challenge level, do all the classes contribute approximately the same amount to success?
  • at a given challenge level, can a single class perform the challenge as well any other given single class?
  • in a head-to-head match-up, will one class beat another?

Consider the drummer versus the guitar player in a band. When they’re both playing “Voodoo Chile” they contribute measurably to success. When each tries to play it solo, the guitar player will do noticeably better. When they go head to head in competition, the choice of who does better very much depends on what they are asked to play. Ask for “In the Air Tonight” and the results may differ.

Usually, what is the actual issue is that the division of labor isn’t actually clean. In the case of class systems today, we have everyone aiming at doing damage. So each class has a different augmenter to this basic ability. Some can heal themselves (or others) and thus last longer. Some can apply damage multipliers of various sorts. Some just do higher damage per second.

This is very very different from the notion of “balance” in head-to-head matches in virtually all other sorts of games, and it’s a situation unique to co-op games, I think. Since what we really have is multiple people playing for the same objective, these become just elements of choice. What’s more, they are usually designed to be interdependent choices, so that they are “balanced” by the expedient of not having any of them actually able to accomplish it solo. In effect, the combined group becomes one multiclassed character, a puppet controlled by multiple hands. You then design the challenges to that multiheaded target.

A real class system might say “sorry, healers don’t really do damage at all.” Or deny all damage spells to wizards. Instead, what we really have is different kinds of fighter. In other words, the reason why balance comes up because the classes aren’t actually very different at all. They all have the same goal. If they had different goals, then they’d have fundamentally different games to play. The healer would play to heal, not to kill things. (This right here was one of the core, fundamental differences between SWG and other MMORPGs).

Class jealousy arises because everyone is a fighter underneath. We don’t generally talk about whether a crafter is balanced to a fighter for good reason. There’s the true apples to oranges comparison.

So why is balance stupid? Well, you have two choices if you’re making all these classes aimed at the same challenge, e.g. combat.

  • Now that you have created sixteen flavors of damage-dealer with different extra features (damage mitigation, damage multipliers, distance attacks, increased defense, damage over time, healing, etc etc etc), you can basically tune them so that the overall ratio of (DPS/damage taken) for a given fight is the same. In groups, these folks will act as damage multipliers; individuals in the group may be off the ideal ratio, but they can pump up the ratio of a tank to heights that result in winning the fight.

    This is what we mean when we say a game is soloable.

    But then, every strategy is equally good when you’re alone. You have the classes solely for tactical differentiation during combat. You don’t have the equivalent of artillery that supports infantry and cavalry, and so on, where there are strengths and weaknesses that make a given challenge harder or easier for you. You can compensate for this by having opponents that do better against one set of tactics versus another, but then by definition, this opponent will be “balanced for artillery” so to speak and your game will not be “balanced” because someone will complain that dragons are best taken down by cannons and their class isn’t allowed to use the big guns.

  • Or you can say that the classes are all in fact different, like artillery, light infantry, heavy infantry, cavalry, and so on. Some will be successful at the challenges, and some won’t, but all will experience a damage multiplier overall when in a group. But you can’t call them balanced. And in fact, the ratio of (DPS/damage taken) will be very different from class to class. Particularly if the challenges faced have different characteristics.

    This one is what we mean by “balanced for groups.”

There’s endless math tricks you can pull to get around these fundamental assumptions, and they make up the art of RPG design.

Balancing becomes easier in general when you aren’t trying to have sixteen ways of solving the same problem. That’s where the immediate (and generally invidious) comparisons come in. You can do this with classes, but nobody does. You can do it with skill-based systems, and people tend to because in skill-based systems you usually have the assumption that there is more than one type of problem to solve in the game.

  62 Responses to “Classes and balance”

  1. This is what we mean when we say a game is soloable.

    This one is what we mean by “balanced for groups.”

    It strikes me that a design team who changes fundamental
    gameplay from primarily group oriented to primarily solo
    oriented has created a tremendous amount of work for
    themselves, and is likely to evoke hostility and
    dissatisfaction from the customer base.

    That happened to my favorite MMORPG within the last year,
    and the designers/implementers still haven’t gotten the
    product fixed.

    I don’t play my combat types anymore, their skillsets and
    effectiveness are entirely too volitile. It’s a shame, too,
    because they used to be fun to play.

    There is a space component to the game, which
    has remained largly unaltered, and I still find that enjoyable.

    We all like surprises on our birthdays and at Christmastime.
    Few like surprises in their subscription products.

    Balance, whatever that may be, is best done early in the
    design phase, not after product launch. Don’t surprise the
    customers, lest they become someone else’s customers.

  2. […] Comments […]

  3. Interesting once again. I think I agree with you, but there’s A LOT to this problem.

    With regards to the guitarist/drummer analogy, I always thought of it more like this.

    Say I enjoy playing Tetris, but my friend Bob enjoys playing Super Mario Bros. One day we run into a game that lets us play competitively by allowing me to play Tetris and Bob to play Super Mario and rating our performance in end. However, the game lacks balance.

    Bob always wins in the ratings, even though my skill level at Tetris is at least the same.

    Now if we just say that Tetris is healing and Super Mario Bros. is dealing damage. It turns out something like this.

    “Say I enjoy healing, but my friend Bob enjoys dealing damage. One day we run into a game that lets us play competitively by allowing me to heal and Bob to deal damage and rating our performance in the end. However, the game lacks balance. Bob always wins in the ratings, even though my skill level at healing is at least the same.

    If you read this and it seems a little strange, it’s because essentially the problem of balance breaks down into how the MMOG “rates” players.

    Example:
    PvE Environments usually “rate” healers very highly, and damage dealers more lowly (Healers are usually very important, while damage dealers aren’t so much.)

    PvP Environments usually “rate” damage dealers very highly, and healers more lowly (Healers usually don’t do well in PvP while damage dealers do very well.)

    To me, class balance seems to be a big problem of getting the proper proportion of positive and negative feedback from the system and seeing different feedback for different classes. If a class never gets positive feedback for what it is doing while it watches other classes get positive feedback for doing the same thing, it will scream “class balance!” However, if a class sees a different class receive negative feedback from the system while it receives positive feedback, it will notice.

    Back to the original analogy: If I never get positive feedback for what I think is about equally well in Tetris compared to Super Mario, I will scream “balance!”

    Essentially it’s probably the same stuff you said, although I like to think that so much of class balance is more psychological than it is numerical. Class balance problems only matter when players bring them up and have good arguments for them, otherwise the world trots on oblivious to its own injustice.

  4. Class jealousy arises because everyone is a fighter underneath.

    YES! the majority of MMOs feature one game. Combat.
    some have half-baked mini-games.
    how lame. who want’s to play a poorly developed game which has no impact on anyone else in the shared space?

    Instead, what we really have is different kinds of fighter. In other words, the reason why balance comes up because the classes aren’t actually very different at all. They all have the same goal. If they had different goals, then they’d have fundamentally different games to play. The healer would play to heal, not to kill things. (This right here was one of the core, fundamental differences between SWG and other MMORPGs).

    /guffaw…
    wait a second, Raph.
    SWG did have a fairly well developed crafting game. at least it was better developed than what i’ve seen or read about in most other MMOs. still, you had to be a number crunching, math wiz with A LOT of free time on your hands to feel like you were succeeding in SWG’s crafting game.
    it was pretty exclusionary to be honest.

    but what else was there ever to do besides that and fighting?

    – the healing game? there really wasn’t much of one. half-baked at best. it’s not like my character had to go to the med-center for surgery. i just sat down and waited for a grinding medic to heal my wounds or whatever. and the grinding medic would just spam an ability. that’s not much of a game.
    – the entertainer game? didn’t really seem so much like a game as it did an awkwardly shoe-horned way of getting socializers to associate with the rest of the population.
    yes, dancers and musicians could coordinate themselves to perform the same dance/song. and they could “create” their own dances/songs using the flourishes. but that always felt very limited.
    like trying to draw a rainbow with three red crayons.
    – the Bounty Hunting game? combat redressed.
    – the Smuggling game? *long, uncomfortable silence*
    – the Creature Handling game? pokemon wars.
    – the Squad Leading game? combat.

    really. SWG was very combat focused. i don’t see how you could say it wasn’t. it might have attempted to break that mold. but it didn’t go far enough in my opinion.

    one thing i never understood about the way “professions” were broken up was that all the various combat disciplines were counted as their own “profession”.
    to me a profession is what you “do for a living”.
    a Smuggler, for instance, performs the act of bringing items across political boundaries without adherance to the laws of the governments in question.
    an Architect designs and sometimes oversees the construction of buildings.
    a Dancer dances.

    but how does one Pistol? or Rifle for a living?
    a person who uses firearms may fall under the profession of Mercinary. but i hardly think the use of pistols in and of itself should be treated the same as a profession which may or may not make use of pistols.
    SWG (in it’s original form) did have the freedom to allow players to create all sorts of combinations of skills. something i view as a HUGE step forward in the growth of the MMO genre.
    one character could be a Bounty Hunter who uses rifles. another could be a Bounty Hunter who uses pikes. cool!
    but what about the guy who’s a Bounty Hunter who bakes food?
    since he knows how to bake food, it somehow excludes him from knowing how to handle a pistol?

    i know, you may be thinking “well it’s a choice to sacrifice pistol skills for baking skills! good MMOs are all about a choices!”. well, yes.
    but it doesn’t seem like the right kind of choice to me.

    i always thought that the combat disciplines should’ve existed separately from the true professions.

    “So you want to be a Bounty Hunter? great! there’s a whole Bounty Hunting game waiting for you. you’ll learn how to: network informants, compile behavioral patterns, aquire legal bounty permits, contact illegal bounty clients, use surveillance equipment, apprehend & process “merchandise”, ect.
    you may want to consider arming yourself, as Bounty Hunting can be a pretty dangerous profession. there are many types of weapons out there. many of them can be used effectively in the Bounty Hunting profession.”

    hmm… that’s kinda how SWG works now, isn’t it? you pick a profession (class), and then you specialize in a type of combat discipline. except for the part about the robust, well-developed Games for each profession. that’s still not in there.
    it’s basically still all combat, with crafting now somewhat more marginalized by loot.
    apparently Smugglers will soon get the loooooooooooooooo[insert three years worth of O’s]ng awaited Smuggling game. but it’s more than likely to be yet another redressing of the combat game.

    boy this was long, and somewhat scathing. i apoligize on both accounts.
    but i will end this with the statement that i believe not all classes are created equal.
    balance is an absurd myth.

  5. It’s not about making the healer game (which sometimes looks like wack-a-mole) look like the agro control game (which often is about hitting the same chain of buttons and waiting to see when it doesn’t work).

    I think really what is meant my balance is that each class is a reasonably good choice for the average player. Paladins might be a little easier to use, warlocks a little harder, but there isn’t one class that’s so much clearly better to play (more fun and levels faster and more loot and looks cooler and everyone wants one in their group) that almost everyone plays them.

    To give an example, when I was beta testing for AC2 bows were not balanced… They were so unbalanced that after a character wipe I would use the bow to level my swordsman back to where he was before. Naturally, character trained in use of bows ruled at that time.

  6. The problem comes down to players wanting equity when soloing, but having a needed role in a group.

    How about this, solo everyone is equal, each gets the ability to use a basic healing kit, armour or spells that allow them to take damage and the ability to hurt things the same amount.

    However when you start grouping a synergy effect takes place that increases the defensive fighters ability to absorb and ignore damage, the offensive fighters and mages ability to kick out damage and the healers ability to heal.

    So in a group only a healer class is good enough at healing, while you need a mage etc to deal damage. But when they go solo they can both hurt things equally and solo as effectivly as each other.

  7. I think really what is meant [by] balance is that each class is a reasonably good choice for the average player.

    Heh. In other words, they all actually suck, and you should choose the class that you think is coolest, since none of them is actually good. (The glass can be half-full or half-empty. Like a 32% approval rating.) So… what to do? Oh, I know: scale down the mobs. Or not. Ooh! Require 39 units of cannon fodder. Much better. Builds community and team spirit, because it could never happen without help. </rant>

    From RPG Design Patterns, 9/25/2005 draft (link, zip):

    Games whose primary characters tend to have many similar aspects are more suited to the Class pattern than games whose characters naturally vary widely. This is because games having characters with a large number of commonalities need to put special emphasis (and niche protection) on the characteristics that distinguish one character type from another.

    Cynical interpretation: if your game is too simple, add classes to make it interesting for RP again.

    I like to think that so much of class balance is more psychological than it is numerical

    That pretty much sums it up.

    Funny thing about all this. First people talk as if there was only one game. We already know that’s false. Then they talk about different games. What I wonder is whether or not anyone who talks about balance acknowledges this: it’s supposed to be an RPG.

    How many classes are balanced for roleplayability? One of these days, an MMORPG needs to come out with a class called Underdog, with the special ability of being weaker than everyone else. To emphasize that, they’d have a subclass you’re required to take that corresponds to other classes, and then they’d nerf it. BUT it’d be balanced for roleplay.

  8. The really is no way to balance the solo game to the group game to the pvp game.

    Swg did give a solid attempt at giving the socializers a non combat game, and the economists a crafting system that actually had depth.

    TKM/Fencer was an incredible class for small groups, and pvp – but one headshot, and we were toast. is that balanced? Basically.

    In a well formed group, everyone had a role to play, and someone who could back em up. Knowing your role is the key.

    unfortunately, swg was a hot bed for the fotm swappers, and the omg, i cant believe he solo’d that, nerf him crowd.

    But overall, I think it had one of the best overall class design systems in any game so far. If the initial balance, and pros and cons of each class had been more definitive in the beginning, and the devs hadn’t kept trying to rebalance month after month, maybe things would have happened a bit differently.

  9. […] The topic of “Class vs Skill Systems” is a very very very very very very very very very very very popular topic right now. […]

  10. What tends to be common in many mmo’s is the classic holy trinity –

    You need Tank, Dps, and Healer. Thats it. Thats all thats really key to success.

    But that leaves the player base kinda limited, and shows a lack of variety.

    So we get the hybrid classes (figure 66% effective at primary role,33% at secondary)- Tank/dps , dps/tank, healer/tank, tank/healer, dps/healer, healer/hps.

    While the pure tank will be less effective than the tank/dps, or tank/healer in a solo game, in the group game he shines, as do the pure healer, and pure dps class. The hybrids are much more effective in small group situations than the pure roles.

    Thats 9 classes so far… and if the ratios stay balanced, that leaves you with a good flexible number of player classes to choose from for a group –

    Throw in the buffer and debuffer types, or ‘support’ classes, and you start getting imbalanced in a much more noticeable way, since those skills are often intangeables. Sure, you know you’re more effective when your attack skills are buffed, or your mobs are debuffed, but how much?

    How effective are those debuffers/support classes in a solo game? Generally not at all.

    While they are crucial for the end game/raid type content, no one wants to play them…

    Now…if you the have 11 classes (9 of which are balanced on fixed damage dealing/heal/damage soaking ratios) and 2 who are buff/debuff- how do the devs really calculate group strength to balance the mobs to?

    Do you allow 11 player groups? do you force parties to 1 of each class only? None of that really makes sense…

    And what it comes down to, is that if the hybrid classes are calculated into the balance, the players will figure out that they can do more with less, especially if they are limited to a 6 person party.

    thus you get parties of tank, healer, buffer or debuffer, dps, dps, dps. Mobs die quicker, healers dont have to work as hard, etc.

    And the hybrids sit around with their lfg tags up for hours and hours, complaining about not being able to get a party.

    yet, its the pure classes who are the ones complaining about how well the hybrids do in a non traditional group/solo setting, because they are more effective in those situation.

    Either way… you’ve got both sides of the arguement heading to the forums to post their gripes, and complaining about class balance.

  11. @Michael Chui: You are so right it’s not funny.

    My experience? Almost nobody (maybe 10% tops) roleplays either their character’s race, gender, class or, in the end… character. Why? Because the game isn’t a roleplaying game. It’s a gang 3rd person shooter with D&D dressing.

    I tried, with a hearty few, to roleplay on an RP server in WoW. Very discouraging, very. The story itself imposes lots of requirements… but a group of about 12 of us really tried to come up with backstory, history, characters, motives, etc. that would fit within the larger arc of what was going on. Just not gonna happen on WoW for a vasty number of reasons. Oh well…

    As far as classes go… it’s more dressing, for the most part. You’re all fighters in almost every system I’ve every played. Next time you play a magic user vs. a rogue/archer, just imagine that the fireballs are arrows and that your purple/black cape is green/grey, and that your invisibility spells are stealth skills. Same same.

    We’re making some progress on the tech, and the fast Internet connections are nice. Give us another 10 years to get to the point where regular people (non programmers) can create content-on-the-fly and we’ll have real RP in-game. When people like me and my buddy Ed (Hi, Ed!) who have GM’d thousands of hours can do so online for small (or huge?) groups all over the world, using pre-rendered assets or ones we mod with little or no technical effort… that’ll be pretty cool.

    Until then… we can pretend to be pretending.

  12. […] Class War – Again Raph’s talking about balance on his blog, Ubiq restarted this round, Lum commented but wisely did not invite responses.  I am less wise.In his latest post, Raph states that balance is slightly stupid.I don’t know he didn’t just come out and say it all, but balance is pretty stupid.  Anyway.  Here’s how i see it.There is no balance in exactly the same way that MMOs and CRPGs are not RPGs.  Balance, in gaming, does not exist.We can lie to ourselves all we like, but we should probably admit that we’re lying.Look at it this way.  If we take a game where everyone has exactly the same abilities and powers (Shinobi, maybe, or Tetris), you might still be better than me.  Just as you might at Half-Life or at Project Gotham Racing.  That won’t ever change.Levels, classes, specials, abstractions, grinding, timesinks….All of them exist to prevent the guy with the better reflexes and lower network latency from winning every time.And none of them work.The more you tweak the program so that people with no reflexes and no brain can still compete, the more you inbalance the system.  Healing 10K/shot?  Makes you unkillable, effectively, so however retarded you are, you can still win.  Hooray!  But of course, if you don’t mash that button fast enough, you lose.  And everyone else, without that 10K/shot heal, they’re now second-class citizens by design.  Did you balance the system?  No, because what happens when someone non-retarded takes the class with the 10K heal?  They win.  And everyone else has to take that class just to compete at all.So you rebalance, change things.  And you create a different class, maybe this one hits superhard.  So everyone takes that one, after a whole load of bitching on your forums about how unbalanced it is.  And eventually, the retards still lose and the gifted still win.This cannot be changed.  It cannot be altered.  It cannot be tweaked.Balance is not a natural state and nature abhors it.So what can you do?The only thing you can do is pay as much attention to every game in your world as you do to combat.  You have to give those with slower reflexes something to excel at which is satisfying in and of itself.  But don’t aim for the lowest common denominator because then, you create a game for morons.  And morons in general don’t have a great deal of money but they do have time.So they’ll soak your servers forever and make running your MMO a barely cost-efficient excercise.Want an example?  Look around you. Published Sunday, September 03, 2006 3:25 PM by Cael Filed Under: Design […]

  13. If we want to include multiple “games” within an MMORPG to get away from the balance, then what we really need to do is insert multiple, interrelated but separate methods of gameplay. That gets hard the more you try to do. Most games try to do it with only two – crafting and combat.

    Imagine a game like this:

    – Your soldiers go out and fight to secure resources, protect your city’s trade routes, and expand its territory.
    – Your gatherers go out and get said resources.
    – Your crafters take the resources the miners bring in and make trade goods, structures, and items from them.
    – Your politicians manage the growth of the city by placing civic structures. They also engage in diplomacy with other cities.
    – Your merchants take the goods from your city and transport them to other cities for sale in trade caravans. They buy goods that are in demand in your city and bring them back.

    There’s depth in every profession. A politician might be more of a city planner than a diplomat. A gatherer might focus on farming or ranching. A soldier could be a medic, a swordsman, or an archer. Merchants might specialize in running shops in town or in managing caravans. And so on.

    They all work together and help each other, but each one has a very different game to play. Without one of them, the others won’t do nearly so well, but it’s in an indirect way. A soldier might not ever directly interface with a politician, but the decisions tha politician makes definitely affect the soldier (especially if the politician goes and starts a war with another city).

  14. Above was me. I forgot to update the name on this PC….

  15. Now that you have created sixteen flavors of damage-dealer with different extra features (damage mitigation, damage multipliers, distance attacks, increased defense, damage over time, healing, etc etc etc), you can basically tune them so that the overall ratio of (DPS/damage taken) for a given fight is the same. In groups, these folks will act as damage multipliers; individuals in the group may be off the ideal ratio, but they can pump up the ratio of a tank to heights that result in winning the fight.

    Surely you should be making the ratio of exp/time equal for all classes?
    How easy it is for designers to jump to the endgame when you don’t have to play the first part 🙂

    I play Eve, so no malice intended. I just thought I’d make the omission explicit, as it is fairly important. You effectively have to balance two constraints at once.

  16. Give us another 10 years to get to the point where regular people (non programmers) can create content-on-the-fly and we’ll have real RP in-game.

    That’s actually rather encouraging; I hadn’t thought of giving world creation to the masses. It feels very Henry Jenkins with the whole transmedia worldbuilding goodness. And then intersect that with complex adaptive systems… That’s the kind of thing I’d want to build if I had the support and incentive to make it happen. I’m terrible at making things happen. =D

    we want to include multiple “games” within an MMORPG to get away from the balance

    Multiple games aren’t actually the solution to the balancing problem; the reason it seems like a solution is because designers who interlace multiple games are less likely to fall into creating a balancing problem. Multiple games are a good idea for an entirely unrelated reason: different people like to play different games. Ergo, a “supergame” attracts a larger audience by diversifying.

    Because the balancing problem rests upon an unstated assumption: there is something to balance. In a sporting game, like football, there is: the ability for each side to score a point. But the sides are in competition with one another. If one team is trying to increase their points, and the other is trying to get rid of theirs, there would be no need to balance it, except at the point of conflict: control of the ball. Why? Because the problem of the game is to take control of the ball so that you can achieve victory with it.

    In MMORPGs, the point of conflict is the ability to damage. Conflict arises from conflicting capabilities to deal damage in different scenarios, and it is considered imbalanced when different capabilities cannot deal somewhat equal amounts in the same scenario. This is what I think Raph means when he points out that classes are trying to be “sixteen ways of solving the same problem”. Of course, that’s kind of what a game is: find a couple points of conflict in life and set up rules for play that prevent other points of conflict.

    A good implementation of classes would be sixteen ways of solving sixteen different problems. But is that one game, or sixteen games? Multiple games solve the balancing problem by making it irrelevant, a technique that has a well-documented history of being very successful. And if you have sixteen games that are as mutually interactive as you describe… I do believe you have a virtual world. 🙂

  17. If they had different goals, then they’d have fundamentally different games to play. The healer would play to heal, not to kill things. (This right here was one of the core, fundamental differences between SWG and other MMORPGs).

    /guffaw…
    wait a second, Raph.
    SWG did have a fairly well developed crafting game. at least it was better developed than what i’ve seen or read about in most other MMOs. still, you had to be a number crunching, math wiz with A LOT of free time on your hands to feel like you were succeeding in SWG’s crafting game.
    it was pretty exclusionary to be honest.

    but what else was there ever to do besides that and fighting?

    Ah, the question is not whether the other games were good (most of them were incomplete). The question is whether they were even measured on the same scale. You earned XP in a distinct manner for each; there was no comparison to be made. Healing XP versus combat XP; separate games. Technically, there’s a different “game” for every type of XP in a multiple-XP system, because each type of XP sets up a different goal.

    I think really what is meant my balance is that each class is a reasonably good choice for the average player. Paladins might be a little easier to use, warlocks a little harder, but there isn’t one class that’s so much clearly better to play (more fun and levels faster and more loot and looks cooler and everyone wants one in their group) that almost everyone plays them.

    This may be what is meant, but it’s also silly; entertainers in SWG demonstrate that. There is no mythical “average player.” The fun in a given game varies hugely based on the individual.

    Surely you should be making the ratio of exp/time equal for all classes?

    Often you can’t, if you assign XP based purely on damage as some systems do. Many of the DPS/(damage taken) modifiers do not actually enhance the damage done, so the classes advance at different rates. In that case, you make the ratio of XP-as-a-fraction-of-level/time be equal. This is why different classes tend to have different XP requirements to level.

    Or you can do always-equivalent splits in groups, but then you’ll still have problems in soloing.

    But yeah, it’s an additional constraint.

  18. Ah, the question is not whether the other games were good (most of them were incomplete). The question is whether they were even measured on the same scale. You earned XP in a distinct manner for each; there was no comparison to be made. Healing XP versus combat XP; separate games. Technically, there’s a different “game” for every type of XP in a multiple-XP system, because each type of XP sets up a different goal.

    your question may be whether they were measured on the same scale, but i think that the majority of people (at least those who weren’t already steeped in traditional MMO systems) were asking a different question.

    why were there only two things to do, along with assorted half-things?
    why should i, a potential player of these games want to partake in them?

    i myself ground out the slicing branch in the Smuggler tree. what i imagined slicing would be, and what the reality of it was, were vastly different.
    the same goes for most other games featured in SWG. almost none of them worked in ways that made them seem self-rewarding or enjoyable.

    yeah, i realize the problem of most of the games being incomplete upon launch.
    that’s unfortunate. but an incomplete game can not be counted as a “Game” in my opinion, whether it features a separate type of XP or not. XP is not what passes for a reward. the experience should be the reward. and the experience offered by an incomplete game is not an enjoyable one.

    no one goes to the theater to watch half of the scenes from a movie.
    it may be a wonderful, poigniant period piece.
    but it still won’t be as enjoyable as the explosion-fest blockbuster which is fully completed.

    that’s how SWG felt to me. there were two completed games, Combat and Crafting.
    Combat was like a summer blockbuster at a discount theater. Crafting was like an Opera running one night only.
    everything else was like watching half the scenes from interesting looking movies, or sequels of the summer blockbuster 😉

    i’ll give you and the team you were working with the benefit of the doubt that given more time, you would’ve completed those other “interesting movies”, and maybe fleshed out those sequels.
    but, bygones have all gone by.

    hopefully the future will hold MMOs with many, many completed (and therefore enjoyable, to at least someone) games contained within their contextual shared space.

  19. … the experience offered by an incomplete game is not an enjoyable one.

    I don’t know about that, players finding a work-around for design flaws (like the Sturdy Iron Key in AC1 being used as a gold standard) can be very enjoyable.

  20. I discount WOW from this posting because it does not class as a “persistant world” in the same terms as SWG, UO, EVE, etc.

    The main difficulty in balancing gameplay in a class based system is that the goals for the “risk/reward” scenario remain the same for all players. The usual goal, a piece of high stat armour or weapon, discounts any class which could be considered as non-combat. Let’s imagine an average SWG group before high powered buffs wrought their havoc on the grouping system.

    We have a rifleman for DPS, a TKM to tank, a creature handler to off-tank, a medic/doctor to heal, and an entertainer to deal with the battle damage of the other players. Each gets their own XP and everyone is happy.

    Now we take the same group off to some dangerous dungeon or instance. The aim is to get some loot for one of the players. Suddenly, the creature handler, doctor and entertainer lose out.

    What SWG really, really got right (IMHO) was instituting the badges system. Admittedly, a dancer would only get the “….has defeated Axkva Minh” badge if they damaged the mob in some way, but regardless of that fact, the entertainer gained a small piece of the game as a reward, plus a few stories to tell down at Mos Eisley cantina…..

    Games have few such great rewards for anyone who plays a non combat character, but by assessing each class as it’s own game within itself, then designing even limited content which encompasses the needs that class has in the endgame…then yes, we will be on the way to a fully fucntioning game society.

  21. Raph wrote:

    Thus, what we usually mean with “balance” is a very specific set of questions.

    When people refer to balance, I think they’re usually referring to equal opportunity to gain or lose, not equality. They may also be decrying the degree of difficulty. In my opinion, two more appropriate questions would be:

    1. At a particular state of play, are there choices presented to players that allow gain or loss?

    2. At a particular state of play, are challenges presented to players that are difficult in accordance with the flow of play?

    Of course, these questions are probably more appropriate for a performance-driven environment in which the actions of a player determines whether they can acquire and hold an advantageous position.

    Kohs wrote:

    and the experience offered by an incomplete game is not an enjoyable one.

    Rik wrote:

    I don’t know about that, players finding a work-around for design flaws (like the Sturdy Iron Key in AC1 being used as a gold standard) can be very enjoyable.

    Ask any tester if they enjoyed the games they tested. Playing broken games is not an enjoyable experience. I also think there’s a difference between “incomplete” games and “broken” games.

  22. I can see how many points apply to designing for the broad population as a whole…

    However I’m going to come at this as a power-gaming soloer who tires to optimize my avatar for PVP and as a person who sees grinding to level abhorrent. Also as a member of a large guild who contributes to the success of the group as required. However this guilds main goal is always to optimize itself in any game to dominate PVP, therefore PVE (and economic domination) is just a means to an end for this gang of ruffians…:)

    “at a given challenge level, do all the classes contribute approximately the same amount to success?”

    Or rather how can I maxamize experiance gain, in and out of a group, more importantly can I maximize experiance more rapidly outside a group (“lfg” should not apply).

    at a given challenge level, can a single class perform the challenge as well any other given single class?

    What class performs better, according to my playstyle. Thats the one I’m playing….

    in a head-to-head match-up, will one class beat another?

    I will always choose the class that I can WTFPHWN with….

    If there are no differentiators between classes, along the lines of playstyle, and power differentials then I will not play that game.

    How effective are those debuffers/support classes in a solo game? Generally not at all.

    How good is the NPC AI in PVE? (ie do those orcs self-buff?, do those troopers self heal? will they heal and buff eachother? if yes then your statement does not apply)

    I like to think that so much of class balance is more psychological than it is numerical

    That pretty much sums it up.

    However you may cry fould when you experiance one person killing your entire group of 8 in a PVP engagement…..EQ to WOW, there is always a class that if well played will dominate in PVP. For hardcore MMO PVP’ers its not a matter of leveling, nor itemization, its a matter of finding that class and time in aquisition.

    I’ve played a tricked out Wizard in EQ, a Hunter with the best gear possible in DAOC, fully templated pre-pub 9 jedi in SWG, and a Enh. Shaman with HOR and all the optimal enhance gear available in WOW. (in other words all end game PVP classes)

    Surely you should be making the ratio of exp/time equal for all classes?

    Often you can’t, if you assign XP based purely on damage as some systems do. Many of the DPS/(damage taken) modifiers do not actually enhance the damage done, so the classes advance at different rates. In that case, you make the ratio of XP-as-a-fraction-of-level/time be equal. This is why different classes tend to have different XP requirements to level.

    This is why Alpha class Jedi leveled off of combat experiance rather than normal experiance I’m guessing. What was not anticipated perhaps were that those people shooting for Jedi early on were the types willing to spend 15 hours a day to level.

    but an incomplete game can not be counted as a “Game” in my opinion,

    The socratic method of teaching is premised on “hiding the ball” as it were to learn (yourself and others). What students often do not find out until much later is that there “is no ball”. Questions are asked for the sake of learning and enjoyment.

    What I mean here is if a game does not inhibit your ability to advance, and does not give you a cookie as a reward is it not a game? Most will answer yes,there are some who will answer no. These are people who like sandboxes. I dont want to be given plans for the sandcastle I want to build in my sandbox, and a badge for doing so, I want to build it on my own and sell the plans to other players. A game should encompass both though, however it should penalize the lazy and reward the productive, at least those are the games I enjoy as a player.

    Let’s imagine an average SWG group before high powered buffs wrought their havoc on the grouping system.

    Lets not, I liked those high powered buffs, (and food, and armor, and stat enhanced clothes) they kept me from getting killed by bugs and groups of people who thought it would be funny to kill a Jedi leveling peacfully on his own in the middle of Endor….

    One guys game ruining experiance is another’s enhancement.

    When people refer to balance, I think they’re usually referring to equal opportunity to gain or lose, not equality. They may also be decrying the degree of difficulty.

    YAY for you Morgan!

    All players should have an equal opprotunity to optimize as they see fit. enabling lazyness should not be part of the game, nor should having to organize a 40 man raid in dungeon X, access to which is premised on ensuring you have all the gear from dungeon W (That is exclusionary to casuals).

    Balance isnt stupid, but it shouldnt be focused on limiting player choice in playstlye, class, skill selection, or gear aquisition as power differentiators.

    Balance should be focused on supplying equal opprotunity (and maybe even luck!) in peoples various choices for their time playing to maximize the enjoyment they’re paying for! That way its “fair” to casual groups and powergaming soloer’s alike.

  23. […] Classes and balance on Raph Koster Classes and balance on Raph Koster One of the big points that people are making regarding class systems versus skill-based systems is that “skill-based systems are harder to balance.” Balance is slightly stupid. As an overall concept when applied to co-op game systems, anyway. If class systems are dependent on division of labor, then by definition, the classes must have different strengths. Even […] via Raph Koster […]

  24. All players should have an equal opprotunity to optimize as they see fit.

    That just begs the question: why have classes at all?

  25. This may be what is meant, but it’s also silly; entertainers in SWG demonstrate that. There is no mythical “average player.” The fun in a given game varies hugely based on the individual.

    Well, trying to balance Entertainers as a class would look like this:
    If someone was seeking to be entertained, do they have a reasonable chance to find an Entertainer? If some was looking to entertain, do they have a reasonable chance to find someone needing entertained? It’s not about getting the ratio exactly right, so that every player can just walk into a bar and get what they want. But tweeking the rewards for being Entertained and the rewards for Entertaining might encourage more people to play this class, or might allow fewer people to entertain a wider number of customers.

  26. Haven’t read through everything to comment yet, but am trying to call all tags.

  27. Well, trying to balance Entertainers as a class would look like this

    That’s not balancing. Balancing occurs between two classes toward the same objective. You’re talking about reasonable compensation for an activity; reasonable compensation for the effort undertaken to locate entertainment, and reasonable compensation for the effort undertaken to gain an audience.

    And, while I never played SWG or even researched it, I get the sense that the Entertainer class was not meant to be rewarded by anything but themselves and their audience for their performance. I have a hard time conceiving them as buffs. Or did you mean something else by “reward”?

    Entertainers would have to balanced against other entertainers. Is it more rewarding to be a guitarist or a drummer? (And seriously… think about that question.)

  28. Balancing does occur with repsect to a specific objective. However, often, that objective is not to “kill things” but it is “to impact the world” or “to earn virtual money” or somesuch.

    And when balance is occurring against such a broad objective it doesn’t matter if the intermediate goals are more disparate. The healer and the rogue are going to have very different intermediate goals although eventually they will have the same overall objective of keeping the group alive and maximizing damage over time. Similarly while the intermediate goals of the crafter and the fighter are very different, in the long haul they focus on the same things: can I help my friends, can I turn a profit, can I earn things that measure my success.

    And SWG showed just how poorly crafting and fighting classes could be balanced. Artisans and Droid Engineers tried vainly to do anything at all, whatsoever, to affect the world. Meanwhile, armrorsmiths were known to be the richest people in the galaxy but only if they were one of the few people with enough time to collect the uber resources in insane supply, enough spreadsheet skills, enough understanding of the underlying math, etc., to craft the best armor (in other words, AS’s became rich because they had a useful product and it was the hardest thing in the game to create). Weaponsmiths (especially melee smiths) found their items so cheap to manufacture, their resources so easy to hoard, and their weapon’s attributes so easy to max that their markets dropped out and it was hard for a server to support more than one weaponsmith making anything like the amount of profits possible to a combat character.

    Meanwhile, top-end combat characters could easily make a 1-2 million credits an hour on missions. You better bet that it matters to the struggling master weaponsmith that the sales he might garner in a week amount to a sum of money that a combat player (the same combat player buying his weapons) could earn in a couple hours of fairly straightforward play.

    In other words, introducing different objectives does greatly complicate balance. It doesn’t really “help” you at at all — assuming your goal is ease of completing the system. It often complicates other systems balance (as it is obvious that the products of various crafters had huge impacts on the balance of the combat game in SWG), etc.

    It is also very important for making a game “fun” for a lot of us. I don’t want to play a game where I can’t customize my character in a sense that means that I play differently or achieve results on the world differently than others. And most “class” or “skill” systems allow this in some way or another. I prefer skill systems because they allow a lot more granualarity for defining a character but, without a doubt, the skill-based systems are always the games that have the most balance issues.

  29. StGabe wrote:

    … without a doubt, the skill-based systems are always the games that have the most balance issues.

    Performance-driven environments are balanced by the players in population. As long as players are provided equal opportunities to gain and lose at appropriate states of play, there are no "balance issues".

    Class systems are balanced by the developers because class systems use a core class (e.g., fighter) whose variations are required to produce the equal levels of output to ensure that players of every class are provided equal opportunities to gain and lose.

    Michael Chui wrote:

    That’s not balancing. Balancing occurs between two classes toward the same objective. You’re talking about reasonable compensation for an activity; reasonable compensation for the effort undertaken to locate entertainment, and reasonable compensation for the effort undertaken to gain an audience.

    Rik is talking about balance. Balance concerns equal opportunity for gain or loss at appropriate states of play. The classes need not be equal or similar if the objective is shared by the players. The objective shared by players is the achievement of advantage while experiencing a fun environment that cultivates competition.

  30. Michael-

    Im not a huge supporter of class systems, but I’ll work within the bounds of a class based game only insofar as the game supports other game mechanics: crafting, economy, non-combat professions etc. I dont think I’m alone in this, the issue for me as a player and many other so called veteran players is that often the design stops at “eh ok our classes are in, we got rock paper scissors, lets spend a bit of time on this “other” stuff (social, profession, economy, crafting) but the time spent is not enough to ensure its polished or robust enough to ensure long term player satisfaction. Long term satisfaction = longevity, a recurring subscriber base, long after the 12 month subscribers have taken off for the next new “shiney”. The curious thing to me is that game companies would forgo long term profits by attempting to capture a crowd thats going to “churn” through thier game in 1-2 years. Is this a function of the business model used and financing? I have no idea. ROI must be a factor but as a gamer I’d rather wait 4-5 years for a game I’ll play (and pay for) for 5-6 years than buy a game developed and released in 2-3 years that I’ll play for 1 year and so would the other 160 people I play games with.

  31. My noob questions of the day:

    Why does it have to be either/or class or skill rather than a combination?

    Instead of trying to balance, why not concentrate on the individual classes/skills and send them along different profession paths and storylines in addition to the main story arc? (Yes! Oblivion rears its glorious head!)

    And…since pvp is always the big ball of *stuff*, why not have different skills that are only useable in pvp settings and encounters that players can use or not? Then you only need to tweak those skills to keep up with the FOTM monsters instead of ripping up an entire class/dungeon/game?

  32. Performance-driven environments are balanced by the players in population. As long as players are provided equal opportunities to gain and lose at appropriate states of play, there are no “balance issues”.

    Hmm, I’m not sure what you are saying here or what it has to say about what I said. It sounds like maybe you are trying to redefine the problem away? In general I disagree with your characterization. With regard to solo play, balance has nothing to do with opportunities and everything to do with whether challenges are appropriate. In a 1v1 situation, balance has to do with whether a player can, with enough skill in playing their class, have a good shot at defeating another player with an equivalent, different-classed character and similar skill levels.

    In an economy it has to do with earning power and ability to impact the economy. The economy is a huge part of the play-experience of a crafter character. If a player invests time in a given crafter class only to find out that they cannot generate an income that is competitive with players that aren’t even crafters then their play experience is undermined.

    Another example of this is “rare loot”. Rare loot obviously has a rather large impact on the game world, especially in the perceptions of players. If the only way to generate “rare loot” is to engage in combat then their is an imbalance here. Even if combat players are fighting and crafting players are crafting. Because at the end of the day, achieving something rare and significant is what really matters to a lot of players.

    (this was another significant crafter/combatant balance issue in SWG — crafters could make crafted items with rare items, but were forced to buy them from combat players who were the ones who ultimately obtained the things in the first place and the result was that crafters had even less worldly impact)

  33. Morgan pretty well summed it up r/t balance and class and opprotunity. Actually in SWG I never saw an issue in balancing the crafting vs. combat vs socialization aspects. One could often have thier the Bounty Hunter Chef with mad (soup nazi? Sorry couldnt help myself..)soup making and pistol skills, that maybe even did a little dancing. The trade off for versatility was lack of mastery of the highest end game skills set for either, however the opprotunity to advance was never foreclosed. I dont think the player population that this game attracted early on minded this one bit

    What irked some on the crafting side was that the barrier to entry got higher (not impossible as some forum trolls would have it) for late arrivals to the game. But crafting was all about nichifacation, the expert pistol maker, the specialized melee weapon maker, the bothan that made the best wookie armor etc. This nichifacation ADDED value to the game, it made a community, it even drove an apprentice system of sorts among older crafters and newer crafters, diverse and unique on a server by server basis. The issue some had with the system was that it was so foreign, because it was open ended, *gasp* an open economy where fortunes are made or lost based upon effort?

    The system was a lot of work sometimes, but no one was forced to do it, and you werent locked into it forever (tired of making armor? Go kill womp rats!) and it was a good system, but best of all ANYONE could participate to a greator or lessor extent, or not.

    It should be duplicated in games going forward, because some people just like the outlet of being able to make things in a virtual world that people enjoy AND having a place in it AND making a name for themselves (See Second Life, EvE Online for details,).

    Im not a designer, and doing it is probably a pain in the rear, and costs money, and its likely terribly complicated to “balance” because it has to be fair (and it does) and people might be after just killing 15 orcs to level, so they can kill 20 Boars on the road to the next town and deliver a message to Dr “Stay Away from the VooDoo” but those people are not loyal, and after many years of THAT type of game these loyal gamers are are board as hell, more importantly to the bottom line, people who like this type of complexity in thier game can AFFORD to be loyal over the long term.

    Fundamentally why classes suck is because they are easy for designers to balance and boring for gamers to play, period. By this time in the MMO genre’s development designers cannot iterate anything new about Paladins, Shamans, Warriors, Mages, and Priests (unless they are doing so for new gamers). I’m sorry, there are skilled designers out there, I respect them for thier creativity and hard work making these worlds, but the fact is if I’m playing a new game and the character slection screen says “Mage” or “Paladin” I know what to expect, there are no suprises, and it dosnt matter how cool the new skill sets you’ve designed are…

    Its like making me eat the same oatmeal with a different topping every day, the differance between honey and brown sugar does not change the fact that its oatmeal. After awhile I’m just going to “pass” and wait for something I like, worse for you if I start hating oatmeal all together no?

    People want to drool over the 6 and possible 12 million users WOW has, and how to match that success, how to capture that audiance? We can look at things like IP, title, design, market timing, money spent on development…..

    Thats missing some things moving forward IMO. Much of them are new players, no one wants to mention that this demographic will have less patience for iterations of the same world, because they did not see this genre evolve, thier points of refferance dont go as far back, and they have less vested interest in its success or possibilities. They will discard any iteration or copycat and move on without mercy for someones 60-80 million dollar 5 year development budget, and effort to copycat a game they’ve already played when they finally realize classes suck and want to try something different……

    The question should not be how can one duplicate WOW by providing the same oatmeal with a different topping that by now everyones getting pretty well sick of, or will soon. But who’s going to be left holding the huge bill from trying….

    The posts about the WOW numbers, interviews and etc, its hard to reconcile with people I know IRL, and in various large and small guilds online leaving WOW. True most of these are gamers who’ve played at least 3 and usually 5 games over the last 5-10 years, these are veteran gamers leaving…..tired of oatmeal…..

  34. Edit:

    (not impossible as some forum trolls would have it)

    I meant the SWG Forums not this blog….sorry didnt want any confusion

  35. Why does it have to be either/or class or skill rather than a combination?

    Most online RPGs are.

    Why not have different skills that are only useable in pvp settings and encounters that players can use or not?

    It should be done; I’m surprised it hasn’t been. I think it’s a good idea. But I would also never do it for something I make, because I build worlds, not games, and it would be a serious immersion breaker.

    Instead of trying to balance, why not concentrate on the individual classes/skills and send them along different profession paths and storylines in addition to the main story arc?

    Check out Dragonrealms. Ten classes, about 80 skills, class-based skill-learn rates, about 10 class-restricted skills, class-based advancement lines. I’m sure there are a good number of other games that achieve this just fine. DR has its own big mess of problems, not the least being a steep learning curve.

    The classes need not be equal or similar if the objective is shared by the players. The objective shared by players is the achievement of advantage while experiencing a fun environment that cultivates competition.

    I agree. What does that have to do with balancing Entertainers and the system rewarding their audience?

    If you want to balance players, we might as well go back to the Fairness debate, since that’s what that is.

  36. I think the reason MMORPG’s are stuck on “Blance” is because they have not evolved their combat systems. A cleric should not be a set of skills, a ninja should not be a set of skills, a Knight should not be a set of skills, and a Bounty Hunter should not be a set of skills.

    A Cleric should be the priest/priestest of a god, and that relationship should define him/her.

    A Knight should be the servant of some lord.

    A Ninja a member of some clan.

    A BH, someone who hunts bounties, ect.

    When you create set classes you have balance issues. What you need, to have variety and balance, is to have purely skill-based combat (maybe also crafting, social, ect). Maybe you have 3-4 diffrent styles of sets of skills that involve 2-H swords; same with all the other basic weapon types. Then each of these styles have strength’s and weaknesses that can exploit/be exploited by another style. Or maybe (if you have 4 diffrent styles), have 3 sets of skills in each style, each set of skills exploited by another set of skills in another style.

    Now ontop of this skill system you add the class system, but the class system will only offer other Non-Combat mechanics that enhance gameplay. Like Clerics could be searching for converts, Knights could be despensing the Lord’s law, Ninja could be despensing the clan’s will, and BH’s of course would be hunting bounties…

    If you redefine combat so that classes have purely social meanings, maybe you can get rid of imbalance… And probably open a whole new can of worms.

    (BTW this was about classes and balance, not skills and balance. So I did’nt cover it.)

  37. StGabe wrote:

    In a 1v1 situation, balance has to do with whether a player can, with enough skill in playing their class, have a good shot at defeating another player with an equivalent, different-classed character and similar skill levels.

    Character classes are irrelevant to balance unless balance is sought within a class system. Except for that issue, I don’t disagree with you on the point quoted, so I don’t understand why you claim to disagree with my characterization. We’re saying the same thing, only in different words.

    That which I disagreed with was your claim that skill systems (performance-driven environments) are more imbalanced than class systems… a claim that simply isn’t true.

    Balance is the act and result of providing players sufficient decision points (choices) that can lead players to a gain or loss within the competitive environment. In a performance-driven environment, choices are generated by players depending on their individual performances.

    As an example, let’s use first-person shooters, which are normally characterized as performance-driven environments. Every player is provided an equal opportunity to compete; however, the design of the environment from the arrangement of weapons and powerups to the lighting of a narrow ravine and the position of players determines the states of play. These variables can be manipulated by developers or players to effect the states of play.

    Every state of play provides every player an opportunity to a gain or loss ultimately depending on the performance of the individual players. The frequency of opportunities to compete is thus determined by the performance of the individual players; therefore, a performance-driven environment is automatically balanced by the players in population, which is not to infer that this automatic balance is perfect.

    In a competitive environment where the performances of players vary, a natural imbalance of power exists; however, this imbalance of power is more formally referred to as difficulty. Issues of difficulty are not usually issues of balance. When difficulty is presented at an appropriate state of play, most “balance issues” are typically not related to problems with the system; instead, these “balance issues” are related to an individual player’s ingenuity — the player’s ability to adapt, interact, and solve problems.

    That said, unlike Raph I’m not a master game designer, so what I’ve described could be wrong.

  38. Allen Sligar wrote: Edit:

    (not impossible as some forum trolls would have it)

    I meant the SWG Forums not this blog….sorry didnt want any confusion

    That’s troll-ette, if you don’t mind. 😀

  39. That which I disagreed with was your claim that skill systems (performance-driven environments) are more imbalanced than class systems… a claim that simply isn’t true.

    Ahh now I understand where you are coming from what “performance-driven” means to you.

    However I think you are misreading the discussion. I think, and others may correct me if necessary, that as we talk about “skill-based” in this thread we are talking about systems where players chose individual skills throughout play instead of choosing a package of skills, i.e. a class. SWG was a skill-based game, not in the sense that it was like an FPS but in the sense that players developed their characters by freely choosing skill blocks from various skill trees as opposed to chosing an initial class and having all of their skills selected for them.

  40. StGabe wrote:

    I think, and others may correct me if necessary, that as we talk about “skill-based” in this thread we are talking about systems where players chose individual skills …

    In every skills-classes discussion in which I’ve been involved, the term skills referred to the performance of the player while the term spells referred to weapons, powerups, magic, items, and other interactive objects that the player. The relation of performance and spells to the player differ from system to system. Both performance and spells effect progression, and performance may support spells or spells may support performance depending on which system is dominant. I’m not saying that this is the correct referential treatment of the subject, but at least now you know what I’m talking about! 🙂

  41. Edit: Strip out “that the player” in the first sentence of my post above.

  42. What irked some on the crafting side was that the barrier to entry got higher (not impossible as some forum trolls would have it) for late arrivals to the game. But crafting was all about nichifacation, the expert pistol maker, the specialized melee weapon maker, the bothan that made the best wookie armor etc. This nichifacation ADDED value to the game, it made a community, it even drove an apprentice system of sorts among older crafters and newer crafters, diverse and unique on a server by server basis. The issue some had with the system was that it was so foreign, because it was open ended, *gasp* an open economy where fortunes are made or lost based upon effort?

    the crafting system was not open ended.
    the economy was partially open ended. but did not go far enough in that regard.

    like i said, if Combat was like a summer blockbuster running all year at a discount theater, then Crafting was like an Opera running one night only at the fanciest “thee-ay-ter” in town.

    the MAIN problem with the crafting system was that only those who were at the Master level could craft anything worth a damn.
    it made it so you couldn’t have apprentices who would craft components, and have the master craft the completed products.

    any component made by someone who was not a master would be GREATLY inferior to a component made by someone who was a master.
    why would a master crafter, who wanted to make as much money as possible, settle for inferior components?

    so you basically had to grind your way to master before you could even consider tossing your hat into the ring of the “Economy game”.
    and if you were a latecomer, you could pretty much forget about it altogether, unless the well known master in your crafting profession suddenly quit the game.

    i believe it was genuinely concieved to be “fun”, it was a poorly designed game, and detracted from the fun. that kind of entry barrier is a fun-killer for all but a select few.

    i’m not saying that the Crafting-economy game should be one where “everybody wins!”. but it must be designed so that the entry barrier is low, and players must use their brains to get ahead.
    SWG’s Crafting game, while “completed”, failed to meet that requirement.

    so once again, we’re left with Combat as the only game for the vast majority of players.
    and we will continue to be left with Combat as the only game until someone “gets it right”.
    so far, EVE has come the closest.

  43. – Athela

    I thought female trolls were called trollops 🙂

    – Kohs

    As far as barriers to entry go that is definitely the fundamental flaw in SWG’s crafting design. The other major one is the experience gain mechanism (which is based on resources used). The problem is that resource utilization doesn’t necessarily scale up with more advanced items.

    Of course, in the original crafting system, every profession had their own experience type – but I still remember that 17k of industrialist experience on my character sheet until the NGE happened that I could do nothing with.

    Anyway, I’m sure you’ve both seen this if you’ve been on those forums lately, but gratuitous link:

    http://soe.lithium.com/swg/board/message?board.id=swggpdiscussion&message.id=1047816#M1047816

    As far as EVE online goes, I like the flexibility their system offers – where you can be a combat pilot, a merchant, a craftsman, a miner, or etc. But I think it’s important to note that their system is fairly unique and comes with its own problems and requirements. It’s not what a lot of people would call an “adventure game”, and requires a bit more cerebral processing than say, the average EQ or WOW. It’s complexity, while a strength in my book, is also a turn off for people. Something to consider. But yeah, I spent half of sunday outfitting a new cruiser there, so I can’t say much bad about the game.

  44. Hopefully fixing the gigantic quote box 🙂

  45. There. Got it fixed. Looks like some folks above forgot to close their tags.

  46. David- Since it origonated in my post I think it was my fualt 🙂

    Anyway, I’m sure you’ve both seen this if you’ve been on those forums lately, but gratuitous link:

    Thanks for the link, my thoughts on reading that: sorry to little to late…

    Athela-
    Sorry forgive my troll gender discrimination, Im working on it 🙂

    Kohs-

    the MAIN problem with the crafting system was that only those who were at the Master level could craft anything worth a damn.

    Im sorry but thats the trade off you had to make if you wanted to be a bounty hunter chef (or pick your flavor of combinations) a Master Commando should not make the same quality chairs as a master architect is hes only got 3 boxes in the furniture line….

    As far as sub-components parts thats not true at all across the board, there were a significant number of sub comps that non masters could make that didnt effect quality of the final product, they could skill up on these items….

    Im also not sure you can get a much more open cometition economy than existed, you had trade among people in town, bazaars, and player run merchants. Unless your reffering to an open economy being one in which everyone can compete equally, which is well….um not an open economy at all. Yes barriers to entry were higher as the economies matured, thats the nature of economies, they dont get easier they get more complex, but even you cited examples where there was a fluctuation and opprotunity became available: a well known crafter leaving the game, or retiring or deciding to kill womp rats rather than grind armor layers.

    The economy and crafting had issues, but it allowed for participation by all to a greator or lessor extent (even scouts harvesting hides for chefs, or fishing, or rangers getting milk) depending on play style.

    I’ll take a chance to fail with a chance to succeed, over garunteed success and no opprotunity to excel and day 🙂

  47. Too little too late? Perhaps. From what I’ve seen there’s still a huge percentage of people out there who would start coming back to SWG if even parts of that post started to get implemented. There’s tons of other ideas floating around from other players too.

    We’ll see how it goes. The “trader revamp” they’re working on now is going to be the decision point for a lot of people still playing, and a lot of people sitting on the fence. If it goes well, there will be a resurgence to some degree. If it goes poorly…well, I know that many people I know will stop playing.

  48. oh, i agree that EVE has it’s own problems. but i think it serves as a glimpse of the potential of the MMO genre.

    incidentally, the most fun “Games” i ever played in SWG were not truely designed into the mechanics.

    i ran a large “Power company”. basically, i coordinated about a dozen players i was friendly with on my server. i provided them with power generators (harvesters which gathered radioactive power type resources), along with e-mails containing waypoints to good spots on various planets to put the harvesters down.
    each time resource spawns would shift, i went out and surveyed for new good spots. then send the new waypoints to my employees. they would gather up the power which their harvesters pulled up, then move the harvesters to the new spots i sent them. then they would go to my NPC vendor and offer the power resource containers to him for a pre-determined price.
    i would go to my NPC vendor and buy up all the offered power, and then turn around and sell it on the open market through various vendors scattered around the galaxy.

    the other “Game” i played was that of a gambler.
    i created 4 different, and quite original, gambling games which my character would travel around (in an RP setting) and play.
    i used not only the provided mechanic of Dice and Chance Cubes, but also created one “Card game”, which i used cheap custom-named armor-segments to serve as cards.

    although some might say that SWG’s mechanics did allow for those games to be played. still, they weren’t designed specifically that way, and in fact, the mechanics often hindered the enjoyment of those “Games”. but i played those games despite the many hurdles the mechanics provided, because they weren’t combat, and because they were actually fun.

    i didn’t make the best of what SWG had to offer. i made better.

  49. Im sorry but thats the trade off you had to make if you wanted to be a bounty hunter chef (or pick your flavor of combinations) a Master Commando should not make the same quality chairs as a master architect is hes only got 3 boxes in the furniture line….

    unfortunately, the same applied to the new character who wasn’t a Master Commando or BH.
    Architect is a bad example, as the quality of the final products were homogeneous. a Weaponsmith or Armorsmith would be a better example of the shortcomings of the Crafting game.
    the player just coming into the game had almost no way to contribute to, or find a niche in the economy.

    no Master Weaponsmith in their right mind would have an apprentice crafting components, whether they effected the quality of the final product or not. because some components did matter, so they might as well make all the components themselves while they’re at it.
    and since the mechanics made it so easy to do that, the businesses of Master crafters were almost always a one-man do-it-all operation.

    I’ll take a chance to fail with a chance to succeed, over garunteed success and no opprotunity to excel and day

    no one’s talking about guarunteed success. i don’t think anyone should’ve had guarunteed success, not even Master crafters.
    just a lower entry barrier.
    if it was designed so that as you progressed along a Crafting profession, you learned how to make a wider variety of components and final products, but once you learned how to make them, you were able to make them as good as anyone else (so long as you knew how to number-crunch the resource system), then it would’ve allowed players who were new to the crafting game to feel like they had a chance to compete, or at least allowed players who didn’t want to devote all their skillpoints to Master a crafting profession to fill a niche as a component crafter.

    but instead you had to be a Master in order to squeeze the most quality out of your products.

    ugh. anyway, i’m tired of bashing SWG’s crafting system 😛 i just can’t stand it when people hold it up on a shiney pedestal as some sort of example of an MMO with more than one “Game”. because while it may be another “Game” besides Combat, it was nowhere nearly as accessable, or enjoyable, and became much less so as time went on. not due to the natural progression of economies, but instead due to the actual design of the “Game” and the MMO which contained it.

  50. I’m way off topic, now, because I’ve said everything I think I will say, but.

    It’s not what a lot of people would call an “adventure game”, and requires a bit more cerebral processing than say, the average EQ or WOW. It’s complexity, while a strength in my book, is also a turn off for people.

    I think that complexity-as-a-turn-off can be mitigated with good design. I don’t presume to have the slightest clue (okay, some; but I’ve been reading a lot of presentation design and pitch delivery stuff lately; say… *invokes Edward Tufte*) how to do it, but I’m fairly convinced that even the most complex system can be implemented with equal friendliness and usefulness to newbies and experienced aficionados.

    But generally speaking:

    For newbies, it should always be straight-forward, with pointers and hints towards how to explore the potential complexity of the system. NPC trainers, or even better, player cultures should be set up to initiate them into the Esoteric Mystery Cult of Amazing Coolness. Explanations of the system and such.

    For experienced players, you just have to have something a layer or two underneath the polish that’s nitty gritty. This level is where people who are interested in the hard stuff go. It should be discovered, posted onto a website, and easy for people who spend a decent chunk of time understanding the pathfinders’ explanations. If the results of this entire system is marketable, these should fetch a good price consistently.

    And then you want one last level of complexity, where you can’t achieve without cerebral effort. And to echo the last sentence of the previous paragraph, these should be rare, and provide a place for people to carve a niche for themselves with brand names. (Mushashi-forged scimitar or something.)

    I actually designed something like this for the combat system I was working on; abstracting all the way back to the KILL verb, and then detailing it down to individual actions like the IRE and DR combat systems, and then taking it a few steps further down… quite fascinating, if I do say so myself.

  51. Scaling Expanding Complexity? That’s an interesting thought. The hard part would be to make it so that getting down into the very gory details had a benefit, but not so much of one that players couldn’t stay above that level and still be effective/competitive.

    Two words for people who play EVE: Transversal velocity.

  52. Endless variation, perhaps. Note that this is for a very small subset of your players. It’s an Explorer activity, primarily, and rewarding them for it. Achievers won’t go in there; an Explorer gives them the fruits of their labor.

    For instance, in a magic-existant world, you might have a complex magic system in which the Explorer figures out a way to tweak his spell based on the current circumstances in order to maximize effectiveness. He might enspell this variability into a magic wand that he could sell. Not a very good example. A better market value would be hiring the wizard himself. Products ought to be one-of-a-kind, or small sets, like matched blades. Copyable, but not duplicable (though there’s a chance it could be).

    Also, it can’t really be planned for, because anything you can design, the players can memorize. You need to ensure that it’s possible, but not be aware yourself exactly how to do it (until you play yourself and figure it out; so the only way that you understand your own monster is to participate =P).

    Crap. Talking about complex design is making me work out the design for that combat system further…

  53. A real class system might say “sorry, healers don’t really do damage at all.”

    DAOC had this class. The Midgard Healer class could do nothing but healing, buffing, and crowd control. That’s it. They could carry a hammer around, but they couldn’t gain any skill in it, so it was largely a decoration. They soloed like a bug against a windshield. But oh man, if you could level one up, you struck fear into the hearts of all enemies, out in the frontiers.

  54. One problem is the idea that you have a group game with no group positive feedback.
    Take the current WoW and place all of the players in one of three different kingdoms, all of which are fighting/competing with each other for teritory, magic items and gold.
    Now, you are no longer a single player who groups up for your own benifit and no other reason, but you are a part of a large group who teams up, or not, for the benifit of your kingdom.
    There would have to be very real benifits to working towards the benifit of your kingdom and very real consequences when you act for your own good at the cost of your kingdom.

  55. Kohs-
    I think we’re saying basically the same thing slightly differently, anyhow Im not going to disagree with a fellow former radioactive power broker from SWG (26 BER FIG’s 4tw! *wink*).

    Chui-

    Have you been able to see Tufte at one of his seminars? If not try to sometime, pretty amazing stuff and you get all his books for free! Tufte is to data, presentation and design people, what game gods are to gamers….

    Tess-

    Midgard Healer = death by a thousand cuts! (I played a cave shaman! 🙂

  56. […] skill-based stuff is harder to balance tho? i’m glad i’m not the only one who’s been scratching his head at the notion of “why on earth is it any harder to balance skill-based games vs. class-based games?” […]

  57. So basically there needs to be balance in activities not in the classes. Unfortunately this is something SWG proved correct. So everyone trying to make better examples are barking up the wrong trees.

    People love to kill things and there is a reason pure healing classes become “heal bitches” (when a player actually plays them) or a “bot” (when you automate the process). I never thought that trying to make healing vs damage a 50/50 split would work. If there is combat in your MMORPG it is going to draw the biggest % of players which is invariably going to be greater than 50%. At least all of this is in my experience.

    SWG tried to prove that wrong by offering the ability to do anything you want in the Star Wars universe, but the classes were still tilted to the combat side of things. Raph has stated many times that SWG never developed the content that was needed for the non-combat classes. Sure crafters had a pretty good game, but doctors, entertainers, etc. had a job best left to automated bots.

    Coming full circle the entire game needs to be on a balanced scale. Content needs to match classes/skills. If you have a Miner class there needs to be an equal number of content available for that Miner compared to the Figher who usually has 95% of the world dedicated to his profesion.

    This is where skill based games shine IMHO. Instead of setting a player within the confines of his class you can offer them a variety of things to do as long as you provide the content for the skill. You can have 80% of your game dedicated to combat as long as that last 20% provides enough for the non-combat gameplay.

  58. doctors, entertainers, etc. had a job best left to automated bots.

    Exactly my point. Any class that players think they need more of so badly that they set up an automated bot to do it is unbalanced.

  59. Any class that players think they need more of so badly that they set up an automated bot to do it is unbalanced.

    Any activity that a bot can be set up for should be botted by design. If it can’t be, fix your design by either allowing botting or redesigning the activity.

    http://raccaldin36.livejournal.com/850058.html

  60. […] Count Dooku: It’s silly. Wat Tambor: It’s very silly. Darth Vader: It’s impossible! Obi-Wan: Is not! Han Solo: Fight Fight! (P.S. Is not!) Darth Vader: Uh huh! Is too! Princess Leia: Look, this is how you do it. Jek Porkins: But what about … [explosion] […]

  61. […] So your class won’t preclude you to take an offensive, or defensive, or support role (see Raph’s analogies). You would be able to switch between those depending on the group’s needs, while also requiring them to be “leveled” separatedly (which broadens the character progression without the negative effects of the “stacking”). You could ideally switch from “battle” to “mage”, but without the overpowered “battlemage” option. […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.