Educational Feature: The Fine Art of Balance

Sister game dev education web site has a new feature on balance in game design. The article introduces new developers, game dev students, and entry-level design, Gamasutra’s sister site for game development education, has a new feature article on balance in game design. Author James Portnow introduces some key principles of balance, pulling examples from Oblivion, World of Warcraft, and other eminent games. Though the article is intended for game development students and entry-level designers, it’s also fitting for more seasoned developers who have been looking at how balance in game design has affected recent games. In this excerpt, Portnow uncovers a few games that have imbalances and discusses how they affect the player: “Once a player gets Quadra Magic [in Final Fantasy VII], all the choice is taken out of fights. The only question one has to ask oneself when fighting becomes, “Do I really want to sit through 10 minutes of Knights of the Round?” This doesn’t make the game too easy or too hard, but it leaves it out of balance. Now let’s look at World of Warcraft. Grey items in Warcraft can be considered out of balance. Why? Because no meaningful choice surrounds them; they are always sold to a vendor. If you think of them as “equipment” rather than cash, they are completely out of balance with everything else in the game. (Yes, they serve to intensify the jackpot feeling you get when you find a magic item, but looking at them simply as items they are unbalanced.) Why is balance so often associated with fairness? When things are seriously out of balance one of two things occur: 1. None of the player’s choices have meaning because all of her choices lose. 2. None of the player’s choices have meaning because all of her choices win. In case 1, the game feels too hard. In case 2, the game feels too easy. This doesn’t mean we can’t make balanced games that are very hard, like Ninja Gaiden, or fundamentally easy, like Pokemon. It just means that we have to be careful about how we go about it.” Read the full article on

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