So here we are, back on Balance in DDO. You didn’t really think you were going to get away with just one article on the subject, did you? Quite the contrary, this is the topic that just keeps on giving. From the forums (where the balance thread is now 1398 posts long) to twitch streams to the chat channel, everyone is talking about balance.
Game balance. Character balance. Balancing the balance.
Both of you who regularly read this space will already know my stance on this: balance is impossible. Make every class fun to play on it’s own, and call that balanced enough. Meanwhile, developers, go back to the code factory and churn out more fun.
But no, we must have balance. We must! Mystified, I asked Turbine (in the form of Jerry Snook, a.k.a. Cordovan, Turbine’s most excellent Community Manager) six muted but pointed questions about balance. I did not get my questions answered, but I did get this:
We are not interested in providing this level of detail, sorry. I would say that the idea of “perfect balance” does not reflect our goal. When we discuss balance, it is about making necessary changes to the game to encourage build diversity and fun. Making the “wrong” build choice because you aren’t playing class X or multiclass Y combination is generally not considered fun, nor is running behind a class, for example, that lays waste to everything in its path while you sit behind unable to do much of anything. So, when we discuss “balance”, the goal isn’t to find a perfectly level playing field for all possible combinations, but rather to encourage diverse and exciting gameplay. When we make changes that cause a particular thing to become dominant to the point that it diminishes the gameplay experience, or provides an onerous challenge to do things like monster and difficulty statting, sometimes additional changes need to be made. I would encourage you to not overly weigh the verbiage of “balance” in terms of some kind of specific, granular goal, but rather to see it as an attempt to provide an exciting and diverse landscape.
Fair enough, Turbine believes that enhancing balance adds to the fun of DDO. I don’t, but that is me, and I am not a developer. They do. As to how they are going about it, DDO Executive Producer Severlin explains – many times – that they are trying to provide balance without “ruining” anyone’s build, but rather by bringing various builds into closer performance with everyone. One could argue that indeed this is ruining builds (some people want to dominate) but regardless, Here is one example of Severlin explaining the approach:
We want these changes to be done such that your current great builds still are great – maybe they just aren’t so far ahead of the content and other builds that the overall game is unbalanced.
We’d rather players engage us about balance rather than just change out of builds.
Balance everywhere. We just can’t seem to get away from it.
Turbine is not just forging ahead and doing all this arbitrarily. They seem to be committed to a plan of announcing what they are doing, and why, and wait for feedback. Then adjust. Then repeat. They’ve already modified their intended changes to the Paladin spell Holy Sword specifically due to player input, and now they are going to adjust critical threat ranges for named weapons too.
The developers are listening, regardless of whatever mindless hatred you may read on other forums. You may not agree with their changes, but it seems disingenuous to claim that this is all being done in a vacuum. They are listening.
Apparently there will also be Lesser Hearts of Wood. Not very many, and not very good ones, but still, everyone will get a couple of +5 Lesser Hearts of Wood.
Our current plan is to offer a coupon that can be redeemed by each account for two +5 Hearts of Wood.
While we understand that players will want to play with some redesigns after that changes, we have tried to keep weapons and builds intact enough to avoid requiring full class respecs.
(This is the reason we added ranged weapons back to Holy Sword.)
The last time there were significant changes we were all given +20 hearts, one per character, but I guess Turbine feels these changes aren’t as game-altering. One should recall that the previous event was a total rework of the enhancement system (Update 19); while these new balancing changes matter, they are not on the same scale.
Meanwhile, I remain … not exactly bored, but not fascinated either. Not concerned. Not worried. Just … monitoring. Because. Balance is coming regardless of how I feel about it. Yes, I’d rather be hearing about Gnomes. Or Update 29. Or the Level cap raise to 30. Or new content. Or … almost anything.
But balance keeps sucking all the air out of the room, and apparently will continue to do so until they just get it done. So come on guys, get it done. Please. So we can all move on to things that are actually fun.
Actual fun. This is a much better goal.
🙂 😀 🙂
p.s. In case you are curious, here are the six questions that I tried – but failed – to get passed on to developers:
- Do your analytics let you see how many character levels of each character class exist? If yes, can we see too? Please? I know the numbers are sensitive, so a bar graph would be enough, just a visualization. For example, (total existing character levels of paladin) / (total number of existing characters) Except one result for each class.
- Same question, except instead of just existing character levels, limited to those that have logged into the game in the last 30 or 60 days? Still don’t want any numbers, this isn’t a sneaky way to try and find out how many players there are. (total character levels of paladin being played) / (total number of characters being played). I am trying to get quantifiable visualization on just how prevalant certain character classes really are, and how much of a difference there is (if any) between the total that exist versus those that are actually being played.
- The developers have put a lot of effort into explaining why they are making these class passes and especially, the “balance pass”. Except everything said boils down to two reasons: lag reduction, and “balance”. Reducing lag is inarguably a good thing. But why is “balance” a good thing? How does that help make the game more fun or more playable or more likely to last longer and make more income? Balance is clearly a design goal. But why?
- What would a perfectly balanced game look like? Would all of the character classes have roughly the same DPS? How would 14 classes (and innumerable enhancement trees) remain different and yet be perfectly balanced?
- Is balance an actual, attainable goal? Are there people at Turbine who believe that someday, if everyone stays on target, someday perfect balance will actually happen? Or is it more of a unicorn thing that everyone attempts but no one expects to achieve?
- Is the game more fun (or more likely to last longer) if character builds are always in flux? Other games have regular updates where one class or another rises to ascendancy (the flavor of the month build). DDO has this too, not as often as other games but when the pendulum eventually does swing, it does so quite violently. Is this on purpose? Is it an MMO tenet that churning character design enhances longevity? Is it a design goal?