Monday, July 7, 2008

Don't nerf me, please...

I’m starting to doubt another one of the infallible MMO doctrines: Class Balancing. While I think balance is a worthy goal, sometimes I think we get a little bit too caught up in the idea of fairness. Eric at Elder Game has the right of it I think:

“what’s important is that your game is fun, and you need to make that the primary goal of everything you do. If you have to nerf something, nerf the particular scenario, not the underlying system. Over-nerfing is the easy road, but not the road to fun.”

This is particularly true in Blizzard’s case where they are trying to class balance two completely different games in Arena and PvE Raiding. It’s hard enough trying to maintain some type of balance so that all classes are desirable in a Raid, let alone that they are “equal” in some kind of PvP scenario. In the Arena game by contrast, you have a bunch of classes that are rocks to your scissors. So while paper is just fine the way it is, you definitely think that rocks should be nerfed.

So of course, when YOU get the nerf because you are someone else’s rock than that just seems, well, damn unfair. And you know what, it IS unfair. You didn’t do anything to deserve that nerf. You are just having fun playing your character. The worst nerfs are the sweeping ones that impact some guy who wasn’t even overpowered in the first place because some tweaked out PvP god posted his 10K crit on YouTube.

Then you have the nerfs that happen because someone feels their PvE role is threatened. My favorite one here is the Feral Druid nerfs that followed the 2.0 patch. You had bunches and bunches of warriors in angst over their inability to “multi-tank” more than a handful of mobs. The “solution” was to make Druids a bit less useful at tanking and end-game itemization seemed to follow this trend in favor of Warriors.

The problem with nerfs is that it is fun for no one and is particularly UN-fun to the guy getting the nerf. Isn’t it ironic that in a game like WoW that every single class has been nerfed several times? It seems to me that if they had just left things alone and addressed specific scenarios or buffed up other classes to compete, that they would have achieved a form of balance without causing heartbreak via the nerfs.

I also can’t help but feel that all this “balancing” comes at the cost of them not spending more time working on actual NEW content. After all, if you are constantly fixing that which can never be completely fixed, then aren’t you just running in place? It seems to me that gets you nowhere near your actual destination.

The REAL irony to me is that the player community is not just some static ball but a living breathing thing that ADAPTS to the current environment. If there is an unbalance, people get used to it and worked around or with the imbalance. I’m not saying this is perfect, but what I am saying is that not every problem needs to be addressed immediately and with a nerf stick. In fact, quite the contrary, I would like to see imbalances addressed more often with POSITIVE additions.

The Druid story is a good one because a very significant portion of the Warrior population was very vocal about saying: Don’t Nerf Druids, Buff Warriors. The problem wasn’t that Druids were Overpowered in the eyes of Warriors, but that they were Underpowered. Nerfing the Druids didn’t actually solve the underlying issue and it eventually took positive changes to the Warrior talents to get the effect that Warriors wanted.


Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I played with designing an RPG. It tended to bias my thinking a little bit.

As an example, I've always been bothered by the arbitrary bar on armor. And on learning various skills. I tried to make underlying principles that would affect the whole. And then - require these rules affect everyone, player and npc.

Now, I can understand why NPCs in online games get to 'cheat', so I'll set that aside. But the rock-paper-scissors balance turns out to be much easier to maintain when the artificial constraints go away.

As long as a "feel" is wanted, and we declare that two people with the same skill in the same dagger are going to be woefully different because one is of a particular profession (class), balance will always be nigh-impossible to attain. No, that's unfair. Add the subjectiveness of "balance" you already noted, and NOW it's impossible to attain.

As to the "positive" balancing technique, the problem with that is the attempt to balance against PVE. You add a point here for everyone facing warlocks, and then a point there for everyone facing warriors, and in the not so distant future people are seeing if they can solo Black Temple - and coming close to success.

by the way, back to that "if I was doing" thing... If'n I could, I'd do something "wild" with at least some of the bosses. That is, at least some of the time the boss would be run by a human. Staff, mostly. But users of a certain skill - demonstrated by quest satisfaction as well as level - could, as a reward, be offered the opportunity to run that boss. "Hi, Sid. An opposite faction is running Kara. You are being offered the opportunity to play one of: Attumen or Moroes. They must stay in their area, and cannot begin till called, but otherwise that boss will be under your control. Do you wish to play? (Your character will be made immobile and invulnerable while playing the boss if you accept.)"


sid67 said...

As to the "positive" balancing technique, the problem with that is the attempt to balance against PVE.

Actually, I think PvE is the easier fix because you address the scenario. In other words, if top-end raiders are having an easier time of Boss X and Y when a Warlock is in the group, then give Boss X or Y some buff or immunity against Warlocks. Don't just nerf all Warlocks because of a problem caused by a handful of specific scenarios.

Hi, Sid. An opposite faction is running Kara. You are being offered the opportunity to play one of: Attumen or Moroes.

I have no words for how awesome that would be to play. It's too bad that such a thing would be open for abuse in the same fashion that win trading is conducted in arenas.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's fairly easy to reduce the 'trading wins' issue. 1) only available after a raid has entered; 2) does not have to be the current server; 3) spotchecking (simple log pull using the watcher - if you don't do at least xxx damage to the group, you lose the privilege).

I was always proud of the other stuff, too. Such things as: the heavier the armor, the more it interfered with magic. Interfered at easiest is increase the opponent's resist. Interfered in my book was adding a chance of reflected spell (Yep, cast it on yourself instead of target, or target instead of self, as appropriate). For an added layer of complexity that takes advantage of the server, add a table of values for differing armor vs differing schools of magic - so leather innately had less interruption of nature magic, for example.

You get stats? actually, you get numbers and you stick them in the stats you want. Except there are some range limiters - no "everything in STA" for example.

Also, and something that annoys the crap out of me about WoW, is that all stats are contributive to everyone in a roughly equal level. I despised SPI's role the way it was done. Yeah, we've had that discussion before - the one about how unlike every other stat, food/water made SPI before 2.4 functionally worthless for everyone but priests and healing druids. Add a resist function, at least.

Ah well.