When it comes to games, the term “balance” is thrown around a lot. It may be used to praise a “well-balanced gameplay” or yell in frustration about a totally imbalanced rifle you’ve just been shot with. When it comes to mobile game design, balance is a valuable asset essential for a successful product. Thus, trying to follow the latest game development trends, do not forget to follow this basic principle of creating a truly popular game.
What’s the Big Deal With Game Balancing?
The purpose of games is to entertain. Some do it by empowering the player to do cool things, others – by creating challenges and testing the player’s ability to overcome them. In the first scenario, giving the player too much power will actually sap the satisfaction from the process. In the latter case, making the challenge too hard will push the users to leave the game and never come back. In other words, balance serves to make sure that the game fulfills its promise.
Even when the balance is not game-breaking, it is essential to the overall usability of the product. Let’s say you are working on an RPG. In it, you can complete the quest by
- Smart talk
- Slaying everyone in your way
As long as one of the methods has a clear advantage over the others (e.g. you don’t get experience and/or loot from talking), players will simply ignore them completely. Now you have a good chunk of budget spent on content development essentially washed down the drain. So game balancing not only adds to the quality of the game but also helps to realize its full potential.
Types of Balance
Balance is a broad concept, even in the game development domain. Because of this, you will hear it applied to a number of distinct aspects. Moreover, different game genres and modes will require different forms of game balancing. Here are the most common ones:
- Single-player games: Usually refers to the overall difficulty level, e.g. “This is only the second stage and I cannot survive for more than five minutes. So unbalanced!”
- Multiplayer games: Describes the fairness of players’ conditions, i.e. whether any one of them has unfair odds of winning.
- Winning strategies: In games with several mechanics available to players, it refers to ones that have fewer advantages (e.g. “The stealth here is unbalanced”)
- In-game objects: Describes weapons, items, units, or buffs that are either overpowered to the point of breaking the game or nerfed down to being unusable.
Depending on the scope of your game, you might have to deal with one or several of these balancing issues.
Game Balancing Challenges
Striking a balance is never easy. If that’s not enough, the field of game design has its own set of challenges, some rooted in the development process, others created by players themselves. Below is a shortlist of the most important ones.
Game Systems Complexity
This is perhaps the most apparent aspect, yet developers keep falling for it. The more content you add to the game, the more difficult it is to make it work harmoniously. Of course, this shouldn’t be seen as a reason to strip the game of features – rather, it is a thing to factor in when drafting a design document and estimating the budget. Remember that every new mechanic will add to development time and consider whether it is worth it.
Misunderstanding the Audience
Sometimes, the game is perfectly balanced, just not for the kind of player that ends up downloading it. For instance, you can have a hardcore roguelike with cutesy graphics that ends up confusing younger players and being ignored by adults. Appealing to the target audience ensures your game balancing efforts pay off.
Messing with the Wrong Player
Some players seek game-breaking imbalances just for thrills. The most recent example is the Pokemon Go app, in which players either spoofed their location or redrew the actual map to get access to rare Pokemon. While it feels like a nuisance, this aspect can actually be used to your advantage (more on that later).
Communication Is Key
There is no single way to achieve perfect balance. Each product will probably require a unique set of measures. Nevertheless, there are general principles that will work for most cases. Perhaps the most feasible one is communication. By listening to your players, you will not only catch the game-breaking issues early but also get a better idea about the direction in which you should steer your project. Be sure to establish communication channels and leave some space for redesigning the game so that it doesn’t throw the development process off the rails.
Balance may represent different things, from item stats to fair multiplayer matches. However, in the end, it is one of the key factors determining the quality of the game. So, while achieving it is often challenging, lengthy, and expensive, it is an asset well worth the investment.