Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
 
Game balance

A reader stumbled upon an article about Path of Exile on Massively, where it said: "According to the devs, about 5% of the possible weapon-gem combos are the best in the game, and they're not easy to find.". His question was whether that was lazy design or a feature.

I was wondering about what exactly the devs meant by "not easy to find", because there are two aspects to that. One is experimenting with various combination to find out which is the best. The other is already knowing what is best and having to rely on some low drop rate to actually get the gems you need. In principle I like experimentation, but unfortunately the arrival of the internet killed that game feature possibility many years ago. People usually already find out the best combinations in beta, and they are published before the game is even released. Now if you enjoy experimenting and the game is single-player, you can still refuse to look things up and have fun trying things out yourself. But MMORPGs have created a strong cultural bias against that sort of behavior, because somebody entering a dungeon for the first time and not having seen the boss kill strategy on YouTube is usually called a "moron" online.

In a game where certain items or classes are strictly better than others, word gets around quickly, and the less good items just become vendor trash, while the less good classes become rarely played. Especially in multiplayer online games. If 5% of the stuff you find is best in game, then the game becomes about hauling trash to the vendor 95% of the time. In games with different classes needing different types of items, you end up finding mostly items for the other classes, and then of the stuff for your class only 5% is useful.

It gets even worse if there is a player economy: In Diablo III you can buy a huge pile of gold for pocket change, and that gold is enough to buy you very good equipment for everything but the highest level of the game. Before you actually need a drop, you'll have to play through the game several times. And as I mentioned yesterday, most people don't even play through a game once. So you end up with a game about loot drops in which loot is trivial and worthless, because you could get it easier on the AH.

I definitely enjoyed Diablo III a lot less than the first Diablo. And I wonder to what extent the increased connectivity is to be blamed for that. I never even got to the highest difficulty level, not because the game became too difficult for me, but because the AH made getting there a boring and trivial chore. Somehow I don't think that "you need to artificially handicap yourself if you want to enjoy this game" is good game design. And I think we need to come up with something better than random loot drops of which 95% is vendor trash for our games.

Comments:
> random loot drops of which 95% is
> vendor trash for our games

Stating that "top of the top" falls in a small 5% does not mean that everything else (95%) is vendor-crap. It does mean that 5% of the loot is the best you can get in the game, while other items can be slightly or greatly worst.

You don't need THE best to play. And you will not be trashing 9% of your gear. Anyway, there will always be "something better" in loot-based games. That's the trill of playing diablo clones.
 
What I got from that quote is that there are combos that are not excatly intuitive but will wield great results, i.e. a greatsword-wielding caster, with a specific build, slotted with Skill A + Skill B. I se it more as an encouragement to deviate from the norm, rather than a flat statement that "loot X is BiS".

And besides, even if that's the case, not having BiS gear doesn't mean that you're wearing vendor trash, just that you'r performing at 95% efficiency. Where on earth did that notion come from?
 
"Somehow I don't think that "you need to artificially handicap yourself if you want to enjoy this game" is good game design."

On the contrary, I find this solution one of the best ! A lot of people like to have different levels of difficulty, accesible right at the start. This allow to tailor your experience to your needs ! The other way to say it is to allow bypass of some part of the game.
This works perfectly well in single player game.

The problem is for the multiplayer : some players does not allow others to select the hard way. You are not allowed to discover a raid, or to use a fun but suboptimal build.

I would love to have different difficulties servers, with simple server for noobs and casual, and hard server for leets ! And please, please, use bad words for the casual server "candyland", "not-for-real-man" "for Moron" ! This would avoid a lot of bad behaviours on these servers ! Reduce (lightly 5% ) the loot and XP rewards.
 
For the record, Path of Exile has a skill tree composed of 1350 skills that are all inter-connected, so you can't just pick the ones you want.

http://www.pathofexile.com/passive-skill-tree/AAAAAgMB (full screen encouraged, press F)

So maybe if you put the 5% statement in its context, it will seem a bit more appropriate. With such a system, it's almost impossible, even on teh internets, to clearly identify the best 5%. And even if that will happen, with such a diverse playground at a player's disposal, there will always be variations.

So the rest of the 95% builds are not trash. Same goes for items or anything else in other games. The vast majority of players, in any game, use the 95% part, not the 5% one.

There will always be a "best of" class of items / skills. It's something that's unavoidable when you're dealing with numbers and quantifiable effects. So the problem is not those 5%, but bringing the other 95% close and also, mixing them up as often as possible or at least making line between the groups as foggy as possible. This is why pretty much all games are an on-going balancing act.
 
Go to the Diablo III Auction House and check the price of a best in slot item versus an item that is slightly inferior: BiS costs a fortune, slightly inferior is near worthless. Assuming that the AH prices reflect the perceived value of items to the players, any system which has clearly identified BiS items is problematic.
 
Has any multiplayer game ever tried to beat the internet by introducing a random element? The most powerful combination for one player might not work for another so everyone has to discover the best combination for themselves. It might be hard to balance but it could make exploring and discovery interesting again.
 
In this case it is actually the case that the real good combos are hard to find intellectually, and not because of low drop chance.

Most of the skill gems are available as a reward for quests as well as drops in PoE, only a few are only available as drops in the endgame. But even those are not that hard to come by, so that the drop chance would be pohibitive to a specific build.
 
@ Tobold

I don't see why you insist on the BiS angle. As long as there are stats on gear, there will always be pieces that are inherently better than others. Even on GW2 with its caps on stats on gear, people min-max all the time.

Just because a muppet pays 100x the price for a 1% increase, doesn't make the rest of the stuff worthless. And besides, you're comparing PoE with D3, which are inherently different in pretty much everything they do (at least when it comes down to character development and gearing).

The only solution (according to your logic) to make a non-roblematic arpg is to remove gear, which is the whole point for those types of games.
 
@Tobold
They are worthless on the AH, for trading (especially if you're referring to the RMAH).

They are not worthless in-game, to the average player. I know because the gear I have and I'm fighting mobs in Inferno is what you call worthless.

Its low price is due to the fact that average quality items are found quite often in-game, so of course the market price for them sinks.

If we were to have access to the traffic caused by these so called worthless items, I'm sure we'd see that they are constantly bought, which of course hints at the fact that their value for players is higher than their AH price.
 
"The most powerful combination for one player might not work for another so everyone has to discover the best combination for themselves."

I like that idea. It makes buildguides worthless without hurting anything else. It might even do some interesting stuff to trade, because what might be trash for one player will be great for another.
 
The thing is, in my opinion, that they no longer care for good game design, not even for a design that could cause high retention rate, but for a design that makes as much money as ever possible on Earth.

Who cares if over a half of a particular game's player base is running the same classes and items over and over again, as long as they keep paying? Who cares if Diablo III isn't finished even for a single time by many players because there's an item shop - the whole POINT of the game is bring players to use the item shop, if they did it even once, the goal is set and reached right there.
 
I doubt the item shop makes Blizzard anything like as much money as selling boxes / downloads.

But I could be wrong. Does anyone have actual stats on how much real money enters the D3 AH on a weekly basis?
 
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