Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
WAR population imbalances

The Greenskin reports that a poll of 3,000 future Warhammer Online players revealed that 60% of them want to play Destruction, and only 40% want to play Order. And up to now EA Mythic's stance on possible population imbalances is that they are aware of the problem, but haven't come up with a brilliant solution yet.

Population imbalances like that exist in World of Warcraft, where Alliance outnumbers Horde in a similar ratio. But the worst effect of that is that the under populated side has a harder time to find groups, and rarely gets overland PvP objectives like Halaa done. And to balance that the over populated side stands longer in the battleground queues. But the really important PvP in WoW takes place in arenas and battlegrounds, and there the numbers are evened out.

In a Realm vs. Realm® game population imbalances can have a much worse effect. As far as we know from the various video podcasts, everything you do in WAR can add to the control of your side in the zone that you are in. Not only PvP, but doing things like public quests or even normal quests apparently add to who controls each zone. If these poll numbers came through in the released WAR, Destruction would always win RvR just by being more numerous, by simply doing more quests and other control-gaining activities. And of course whatever open battles there are will be most likely be won by numerical superiority as well.

The Greenskin suggests that reasons for the imbalance are that Paul and Josh openly favor Destruction in their marketing, and that the Destruction classes have cooler abilities compared to the bland standard fare of Order classes. But as he also correctly remarks, most of the people who voted haven't even played the beta yet, so the numbers in the release version of WAR could look very different. People who visit a WAR fansite before the game is even released are not a representative sample of the population. Early fans tend to be more hardcore than the average player after release, and maybe the hardcore favor Destruction. It was always said that casual players in WoW favored the "good" side with the "pretty" characters, and that could still happen in WAR. We can only hope that this balances things out, instead of just creating another imbalance in the other direction.

What could EA Mythic do to fix population imbalances? RvR is not going to be a whole lot of fun if the same side always wins. There might even be an effect that people quit the losing side and reroll on the winning side, making matters even worse. I don't think much can be done to change the outcome of big PvP battles where one side is more numerous than the other. But the control points gained by questing could be effectively neutralized by "normalizing" them, that is dividing the points by the numbers of players online. EA Mythic is also toying with the idea to give the losers of a war some boost in the next round. Not sure how that will work; in the end it could be perceived as giving the losers of a war a better reward than the winners, which is good for balance but counterintuitive. The best method is obviously to make both sides equally popular, but that is extremely hard to do, as nobody knows by what criteria players choose their characters. So I'm expecting to hear more about the problems of population imbalances once WAR comes out.
"and there the numbers are evened out."

not true. Due the changes to the queing system, the absolutly no balance anymore.

Blizzard doesn't care but their concept of BGs totally failed beacause if you start an BG with significant less members than the oponent (say 9 vs 15 in EoS/Arathi) or 5vs10 in Warsong you get stomped without any chance.

Beside this, the horde racials are ultra strong in the small BGs (put 3 wartomping tauren in the tunnel and there is absolutly no chance to lose warsong, use ZERG in Arathi/EoS and Alliance has no chance to win).

Blizzard PvP is PvP from idiots for idiots, there absolutly no balance in it and arena make it even more worse.

I do not believe that the current "people" working at blizzard can fix this with their clueless trial and error approach.
It is illogical to assume that 60% of all players will play destruction. The poll only indicates that 60% of the people who visit that particular website will play destruction.
I wonder how EvE will handle faction balance now that faction warfare has started. Granted, space is a big place so guerrilla tactics might be much more viable there than in a battleground.
That there are too few people entering BGs I suspect is because people are "hopping" queues. They get two BG popups at roughly the same time but choose only one. If they then stay in the other until the time runs out the people in that BG are automatically one guy less for the duration of the timer since it also blocks one other from entering. If this is done by a few people you will have exactly the situation you are mentioning. And if it's also done by multiple people in sequence it's even worse.

About the horde racials I just regret that I have to say it, L2P. Alliance has just as strong racials. Perception for humans is a very strong racial, and shadowmeld I could almost say is overpowered. Alliance could easily have a whole raid stealthed guarding a flag/tower in AB/EOTS without any way of knowing that they are there.

And when did ZERG become a horde racial btw?? I'm pretty sure that alliance can do that too. Not that zerging is really the best strategy in neither AB nor EOTS but that's another discussion.

Anyway, this post wasn't that much about WoW but more about WAR. I'm not that afraid that destruction will outnumber the order in the end. As Tobold mentioned there will most likely enter more people later on that will choose order, so having Paul and Josh talk about how cool destruction is is actually a good thing.
You cant reward the loser more than the winner. Thats crack design. However you can raise the challenge level for the winner, moving the mission objectives deeper into the challenge progressively.

I'd toy with the idea of putting the RvR challenge into a system where the objectives are harder to meet for each time your side scores a win.

This ofcourse demands the victory conditions to be somewhat orthogonal across the sides, but I think that comes naturally with the design already, at least to a large enough degree.
Magrothj has it correct. There are a couple of solutions that Blizzard could implement to fix this, and none are without their problems:

1.) Lower the acceptance window for entering a BG while keeping the prep time the same (2 mins.) If you only have 30/60 seconds to accept, then new people can be added to the BG with 90/60 seconds left before the BG starts. This would make it much more likely to actually fill the BG to capacity before it starts.

2.) Give people a deserter debuff if they leave a BG for any reason and/or if they don't choose to leave queue. This would prevent BG hopping.

3.) Only let people queue for one BG at a time. I don't like this idea, because it really becomes a crapshoot if you pick the "unpopular" BG.

4.) Automatically remove people from all other queues once they enter one BG. I am convinced that a lot of the problems are caused by people who queue for multiple BGs but after they have entered one do not unqueue for the others -- they just click "hide" when the window pops up, which leaves the game still waiting for them to accept/reject the queue! I cannot believe that this has been allowed to stay for so long.
If it turns out that all the casuals do inflate the Order numbers after launch, will that really help improve a situation where a larger proportion of the hardcore players are playing Destruction?

If we assume that your average Destruction player is more effective than your average Order player (not necessarily more skilled, but perhaps contributing more hours to the war effort, and maybe better geared because of that), then Order is going to have to outnumber Destruction to even things up.

On top of that, we are likely to see different faction breakdowns across servers. Perhaps, for the sake of argument, RP servers attract a greater proportion of Destruction players, but on normal servers Order is more popular.

What I'm getting at is that in the unlikely event that a realm has population balance, it certainly isn't going to guarantee that the war is balanced.

EA Mythic need to be thinking less about ensuring population balance, and more about how to boost a consistently losing side so that they eventually turn things around. Stronger buffs and NPC support for each consecutive sacking of Altdorf until it becomes almost inevitable that the Inevitable City gets at least one sacking.

A balance of wins and losses will be the key to keeping people engaged in RvR. No-one likes to lose all the time, and easy victories are hollow, so it's crucial that EA Mythic find a system that both consistent losers and winners can live with.

Let's say we have a scale of -10 to +10, and at launch we start at 0 where everything except population is balanced.

Destruction sacks Altdorf five times consecutively, moving us to +5. Each positive point gives Order's NPCs a slight buff until at +10 a bog standard troop is equivalent to a WoW elite mob.

At +5, Order find that they can now hold their own with the buffed NPCs to help. After a long and bloody fight they eventually sack the Inevitable City, taking us back to +4. Riding high, they push on to sack it again during the next campaign, taking us to +3.

Destruction's dominance then comes back into play, and at +3, a near-equilibrium is reached. Both sides have to battle hard to capture cities, knowing full well that the defence in the next campaign will be much tougher.

So, although in this example the strongest side are handicapped more and more the better they do, they have the consolation of bragging rights for keeping 'the score' at +3. Order get to sack the odd city, so everyone's a winner.

Also, each of the 3 battlefronts could have a different score, so if Altdorf/Inevitable City is at a stalemate, focus could move to Greenskin/Dwarfs where the score is still at 0.

With this system, we hopefully control for every kind of faction imbalance imaginable, given populations in the same order of magnitude.
The introduction of Blood Elves to the Horde faction has redressed the population balance in WoW somewhat.
The Blood elves are the most popular Horde race by far on my server.
From the screenshots and videos I've seen, the humans & elves look awful. I think the only race I would play are the Green skins.
That's the only problematic thing in Realm vs Realm format.
I do want to try WAR, but how will the devs be able to even the factions?
I hope they find a good solution to that problem.
Perhaps a boost for the losing side can be done without feeling that they get more rewards than the winning side. Or maybe the game will balance itself, making quest difficulty or the NPC level dependent on the number of players on each side. Like, if the Order faction has fewer players than Destruction, maybe the PVE quests can yield more in terms of "War Effort", and if in a given instanced battle, the less numbered side could have it's NPC's with higher stats.
Like that maybe things will even out. And i think that most of the players don't mind losing if they feel they had a chance of winning. But if one side is consistently crushed, then that side's players will just quit or re-roll on the other side.
Mythic can put in place a filter that wouldn't allow players to join a faction if the numbers of that faction are over a certain percentage vs. the other faction? For instance Destruction is 5% more populated than Order, than to join that server you have to roll Order.

Or perhaps impossing penalties for your faction if you over populated, such as a debuff "Food shortage" Your faction deals 5% less damage in PvP due to over population making food scarce?

Or buffs for the under populated faction? "Underdog", your faction deals 5% more damage after watching Rocky I-VI?

If Mythic wants to fix one of the main flaws in WoW then they will have to do something.
At first look, balance between Realm factions seems to be a good thing. However, if balance becomes stalemate, then it might not be such a good thing...

Various random events that imbalance the war might be more fun.
For example, a sudden influx of NPC mercenaries and a faction buff could lead to an attack and rout of an enemy. Then the mercenaries sack a city and head home, the attackers buff becomes a weary & lazy debuff, and the losers are granted a sudden influx of mercenaries and a revenge buff, and the pendulum swings the other way.
Rinse and repeat.

To use an analogy, I would guess that a WW2-style back-and-forth Blitzkrieg, at least occasionally, would be more fun than an endless, balanced, WW1-style trench warfare stalemate.
(And I'd guess that planned rotating imbalance would be far easier than trying to maintain perfect balance.)
polls, especially internet polls, mean very little. Look at how many exit polls have been wrong in elections lately.

With internet polls you are starting out with a self-selecting group of people. More "hardcore" gamers who are actually following the game on-line and waiting. How many of the players are actually in this group? 80%? 50%? 20%?

It would be like asking people who like pvp and fps a lot if they picked up WoW would they play Horde or Alliance, I'd bet a lot would pick Horde. But Horde is underpopulated on most servers.

Most WoW players I've met barely use the internet and don't know about the official site, let alone any other sites. I expect
the very same phenomenon for Warhammer. So an internet poll tells us nothing about the people who end up playing the game.
Just to let you all know, I wanted to get my analysis out before anyone else, which meant I rushed through it a little bit... Rushing leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to the Dark Side of the Force!

My revised analysis will appear on a popular Warhammer Online community site shortly.

To answer Tobold's last paragraph:

There are several things EA Mythic has planned to address population imbalance in WAR because they learned their lessons from DAOC. Firstly, they'll offer incentives to the lower-populated realm, which will probably include XP buffs. Getting something like 1.5x XP gain will likely entice more people to roll in that realm. Additionally, they can add things like stat buffs, renown buffs, etc. These are less desirable, so I think they'll just start with an XP buff.

Secondly, they have stated that they might enforce population server caps for each realm. E.g., You can only have 1000 of each race logged on per server (3000 per realm - Order and Destruction). The negative side effect here is server queues, but I think that's balanced by an even playing field when you do get on.

Thirdly, the losers will get boosted, but not unfairly so. It has been said in many videos that once you lose your city, it will be open to the enemy for a few hours. After a few hours, your realm will start to see an increasing amount of buffs that will allow you to take back your city. Once taken back, the buffs will disappear. If you can't take it back, the server will reset the city control for you. That breaks a lot of lore and immersion imho but I can accept it for the sake of balancing. No-one wants to lose their capital indefinitely.

I think we'll only truly know how the chips will fall once the game releases. I do see a heavy marketing slant in favour of Destruction but maybe that's intentional. Maybe, traditionally, EA Mythic knows casual fans will lean towards Order so they want to make Destruction as appealing as possible to mitigate against that.
I'm sure they wont be able to fix the imbalance, however, Antis will always rise to the challenge when it presents itself. I personally would normally lean towards Destruction, as I leaned towards Horde with WoW, as most who are into being "leet" probably do. However, if I heard that one side is overpopulated, I enjoy playing the under dog.
I'm going with history here. Every MMO, with a human side or race, has had population imbalances shift towards the human side or race. Order has empire, which are the "humans" of WAR.

What I'm more curious about is how the European servers will sift out since Warhammer is much more ingrained in their gaming heritage.

Also a few notes:

1. Mythic has already said that scenarios (the battlegrounds of WAR) will be numerically balanced with NPCs if enough players are not available.

2. Mythic has already stated that the more NPCs in a scenario or other RvR encounter, the less and less it counts towards overall zone control or campaign success. So, the over-populated realm can't just "farm" to a win, they have to actually defeat enemy players.

3. The poll was started with the comment that people were going to take the results way out of context, and sure enough it happened :)

4. Prior to WoW's launch, it was believed that PvP servers would be overrun by the Horde since all the beta PvP elites were Horde. Didn't even get close to happening.
Anyone who played Mythic's previous RvR game, Dark Age of Camelot, know that population balance was ALWAYS a problem. It was even worse there due to the three different realms. There were no balanced realms, and you just had to decide if you wanted to be on an underdog realm and get your head kicked in, or join the big bully of your server and never lose.
Mythic can put in place a filter that wouldn't allow players to join a faction if the numbers of that faction are over a certain percentage vs. the other faction? For instance Destruction is 5% more populated than Order, than to join that server you have to roll Order.

This is one of the most common solutions thought of and mentioned by regular players. I've seen it tons and tons of times. It doesn't work though, it would be a financially bad decision. What if your friends are playing on a certain server and faction which outnumbers the other faction and you want to join them? It's quite possible that you would quit the game right there and then. You can't prevent people more or less by default to roll whereever they want to. There instead has to be some sort of guide or carrot to make you want to roll on another server/faction.

I'm sure that this idea is probably the first thought that has gone through most devs minds but they've probably dismissed it for the reason stated above. There's probably many different solutions to the problem but that one is one of the worst.
I agree with unwise's concept, in that you have to accept the imbalance in the game design. The various rules and structures around RvR should have some skewing so that relatively big imbalances don't ruin the battles for everyone. There are many design methods to do this, as he suggests, as long as it is tackled as an upfront strategic problem now, not some gold-plating tacked on later to try and hack the problem.

I also like leaning servers towards balance. It doesn't have to be a hard "you can't create a Destruction character here" lock, though, since that has so many drawbacks. There are many soft methods to help balance things out. You can reward players for creating new characters on those servers with various things, like some starting cash (small imbalance) or even a lengthy +experience buff for accounts that already have a capped player. There are many ways to encourage creation of alts and alt guilds on other servers and nudge them towards one faction or another.

But it's all moot unless the game design accepts it, because those imbalances will happen over time.
They should make those dark elves uglier if this poll proves to be accurate; then I'm sure the populations will even out. Or make the Dwarf Engineer ("Represent!") ridiculously overpowered. Now that I think about it, I prefer the second option. =P
One word – SEXY. Make some of the Order chicks superhawt and you’ll solve any population imbalance issues. LOL.
Forcing people to roll a certain class wouldn't work, because then people could just make dozens of Destruction/Order characters that they never plan to play, just to block actual characters from being made on the enemy side.
essi, all the reason why population balance has to be decided based upon peak concurrent users, not a simple total population count. Really one of the biggest problems with analyzing the results of this poll.
I suspect that things will turn out much the same as wow actually and whichever side has the prettiest race with the prettiest females will win out in the end.
As someone stated above, Eve Online just released Factional Warfare yesterday. If you haven't read about it, you should. It's a system nearly identical to everything I've read about WAR's RvR. CCP simply pitted each of the 4 existing races against eachother. There's a huge imbalance of population because one of those races makes much better carebears than the other three races. I have a feeling CCP have already thought this through and have already figured out a way to make it work. The eve system has large areas between each empire that are battlegrounds, with capturable bunkers and public quests that add influence points for your side. The catch is that there's a limited number of places to capture so once it's all captured the winning side is left with only defense. Defense is boring and harder than offense. Attackers can pick the time and place, defenders have to wait. WAR will have several months to play-test factional warfare in Eve before WAR releases. Maybe they even held back on the release date so that they could take a peek. How knows?
That poll accounts for only .004% of the total number of folks signed up for Beta. That's not even close to a sample size.

I've never seen EA Mythic "admit" to imbalances, only that they are aware they "could" occur, and are looking at ways they might counter them.

The other important point here: all the polls around all the WAR sites are slightly different.

All the talk around this poll, is worse than CNN covering a hooker/senator story...

0.4%...I should type slower :D
i think if you're going to bother to put a "®" after "Realm vs. Realm®", then go ahead and just stick it everywhere... after Public Quest®, WAR®, EA® Mythic®, MMO®, etc...

it feels kind of gross... a bit like a PR guy dotting his Is and crossing his Ts... isn't this "just a blog®"?
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