Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Realm balance

There has been a lot of reporting that in the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning beta the Destruction side consistently outnumbered the Order side on all beta servers. I've been playing on both US and Euro beta servers, and I can confirm that observation. On the other hand I must say that the more people got invited, the better balanced the realms got. And I'm not prepared to swear yet that Destruction will remain the stronger side in the release version.

The problem here is that beta testers are not a representative sample of the general population. Hardcore players are more likely to sign up for a beta than casual players. It is still completely possible that WAR attracts a large number of casual players who prefer to play humans or high elves, just because they are prettier, or because they are "good". If you saw the new WAR cinematic trailer, it did show off some very cool Destruction character abilities, like the squig herder summoning a big squig that eats him and the herder controls it from the inside (and YES, that is an actual game feature). But the background voice was telling the WAR lore from the side of Order, asking people to defend the lands against the forces of chaos. In World of Warcraft prettier races are played more often than ugly or stunted ones, and I don't think that preference will be much different in WAR.

WAR is somewhat special in that anything you do in PvE can have an effect on the RvR control of your current zone. Thus a large number of casual players just doing PvE quests or public quests for Order can still end up controlling the zones, even if Destruction for is winning more PvP battles. So Destruction is still far from winning the WAR, even if they were more numerous in beta.

Of course imbalance is imbalance, regardless of which side wins by being more numerous. And in a game like WAR, where losing the RvR means getting your capital city plundered, there is a risk that any initial imbalance gets worse with time, because losing players reroll on the winning side. So Mythic should balance realms very early in the game. Only they haven't said how they are going to do that. It is very hard to force people to play a side they don't want to. And if you try to balance things by making the losing side stronger, you get the perverse effect that you reward people for losing, and punish them for winning. This is not an easy problem. We'll have to wait and see how this will work out.
First off I agree with you that you need active population balancing mechanism. I also agree that small imbalances in population will lead to lopsided win/loss records.

So you buff on 3 factors--running all of them at the same time.

1) PVP population. The realm with the smaller PVP population gets a buff for PVP activities. More HP, Mana, AC, crits, etc.

2) PVE population. The realm with the smaller PVE population gets a buff to XP, gold, realm effect for PVE activities.

3) A local battle buff for the realm with the smaller number of fighters in the "local" fight.

The first 2 run on longer trends, while the last is updated every 30 seconds or even more often.

The core of the idea is stolen from PlanetSide.

You don't buff on the basis of win/loss record. You buff on the basis of population. It just happens that W/L should track closely with population.
I think the problem of balancing can be overcome by buffing the losing side without "punishing" the winners as such. Simply reward the side that captures an enemy capital with say nice items or whatever that benefit them personally. The losing side could be strengthened by (for example) having NPC's guards significantly toughened up. So in other words winners gain personal rewards while the losers get benefits which generally benefit their side as a whole rather than individually.

I would think this would keep most on the winning side happy and give the losing side a reasonable chance of winning next time.
Realms will be capped for population, so I do not see it being a long term problem. Yes, it will take some time for the population to divide out, but as long as Mythic stays on top of it from day one it will be fine.
I'll reserve judgment on realm balance to when Mythic is actually trying to balance the realms. The current setup of the servers is not geared towards balancing the realms so no one can really do more than speculate on this.

With as well as Mythic has implemented everything they've done with WAR so far, and as important as it is to have some balance, I have no doubt they'll do a fine job of keeping realms well balanced.
I've never really considered that there'd be a problem. Like yuripup suggested, I imagine a Planetside-esque balancing mechanic will if not smooth out the population, certainly will let people make a fight of it.

Also winning all the time is just as bad as loosing all the time. If there is no challenge, people get bored, so there'll likely be some self regulation that way.

Oh and mate? S'a Squig.

Though the mental image of a Squid herder is fantastic :D
Another thing to consider is what I will do in open beta / preview weekend. I will play the opposite side I intend to play in live (in my case I‘ll play order this weekend). Why? I want my experience with my Black Orc when WAR goes live to be new and fresh.
I find the broad statements on player realm psychology interesting.

In the WoW culture, I often hear it thrown around that the majority of casuals gravitate towards the pretty races and the good races. Now, in WoW you get the never ending arguments about who is truly good or evil, because blizzard has a tendency to gravitate towards moral relativism in there story telling these days.

In WAR that is not really an issue. There is no need for quotation marks around "good" or "evil" in WAR as the destruction races are pretty much evil without any apologies. The races of order are not pristine opposites, and are quite flawed, but on the whole, the Warhammer world is about flawed races fighting those parts of themselves that have fallen completely to evil. I could even make an argument that the green skins are the dark side of the dwarven character traits.

I also think it is fair for many people to gravitate towards beauty over ugliness. It is a rather natural reaction. But there are certain kinds of ugliness that actually count as a kind of beauty. I don't know that it is quite fair to lump in Destruction as "ugly." The chaos Chosen, for instance, would be better described as looking "powerful," than "ugly." Just as a grizzled old human (which you see a fair number of in beta) might better be described as "earthy and familiar" than "beautiful." I don't think there is some mystical level of maturity going on with a certain player type that say "Wow, that looks butt ugly and I want to play that!" You used the word "cool" in describing destruction and that is probably what most folks who roll that realm are thinking. That looks cool and fun. The same can be said of elves.

For my part, I will go order when the game goes live. I think there are certain classes on the destruction realm that look cool and should be a great deal of fun, but for the same reasons I don’t want to play a criminal running around looting and murdering like in GTA, I cannot bring myself to run around doing all these nasty things that a destruction quester would do. I get enough into the story that I would just not enjoy that for the long haul.

But yeah, I got swarmed by Destruction last night in open RvR, so I hope that doesn’t become the norm or we poor Order folks will be forced into fighting small commando type actions for the entire war.
Quoth Heartless: "Realms will be capped for population, so I do not see it being a long term problem."

If the realm caps are harsh enough to meaningfully balance population load, Mythic would really need to achieve a nigh 50/50 population split or the caps will become the long term problem.

If you're faced with an hour long queue to login to your Dark Elf because there are too many Destruction players on your server, are you really going to shrug and say "well, it's for the good of population balance"? Are you going to be happy not being able to roll on the realm where your guild/friends play because that realm is already overpopulated? (I wonder if such realms will become openly hostile to new players because they don't want their queues to get any longer.)

Being forced to wait in queues to get onto servers that have plenty of room simply because that was the only way Mythic could think of to balance RVR just isn't going to fly.
I hope they do something about realm balance before it becomes such a huge issue that cannot be overcome.

Not ignoring the fact more pvp-centric players went Horde from the very beginning. The horde's smaller populations gave them more cohesive teams to face Alliance's huge pool of disorganization.

The ramifications of not thinking of a way to keep opposing faction's populations closer are something we've never recovered from.
I thought they had said that they would provide various bonuses to the members of the outnumbered realms.

I'm not sure what those bonuses will be or how effective they will become, but I do understand there's some plan in place.
"Being forced to wait in queues to get onto servers that have plenty of room simply because that was the only way Mythic could think of to balance RVR just isn't going to fly."

I'd agree... if that was what actually was happening.

Josh Drescher covered that in a video interview at TenTonHammer. They're using a combo of incentives to directly buff the underdogs in PvE and to give them better rewards in RvR.

The quote was something like, "there's a lot of Math. We're on top of it." ;)

"Cap and Que" is just the Nuclear Option that needs to be there, but you hope doesn't need to be used.
I would much rather they take the simple approach they have discussed in the past, called REALM CAPS.

Basically, they would only allow XXXX Order poplulation to log into the server if there are XXXX Destruction players logged with a +/- of about 5% to allow for an increase in numbers.

You couldn't exactly kick Order from the server if more Destruction started logging out, but I would assume there would be a fairly even log-in/log-out rate to balance this.
Being forced to wait in queues to get onto servers that have plenty of room simply because that was the only way Mythic could think of to balance RVR just isn't going to fly.

Faction specific queues would work simply because people (like myself and my core friends) would switch if it meant lower queue times. You might not make that decision, but enough people would make that it would alleviate some of the congestion. Queues are hailed as this horrible thing people won’t tolerate but that’s only a partial truth. Horrible they might be, but gamers have been enduring queues for many many years and I see no reason why people won’t continue to endure them in WAR.

As for the population imbalance itself – well, I was leaning towards Destruction for months. However, as I started researching the careers, I felt that Order actually offered me more options. It’s quite possible that I’m the exception to the rule, but I kinda sorta suspect more people will be choosing Order as they learn more about the game.
I'm with sid67. If the problem presents itself early, I would consider re-rolling to the other faction or changing servers. If you're too in love with your character to do that, I think many people will actually just wait.

The Illidan server in WOW was notorious for long queues. Back when I was doing pre TBC raiding, it was common to start logging in 1.5 hrs before a raid because it would take 45-60 minutes to get thru the queue! Yet people kept coming there and very few every accepted the free transfer off because it had a kind of reputation and people were too attached to their toons, friends and guilds. If the game is good enough, people will just wait.
In my guild, there are a lot of CE preorder people who got to start beta testing this last week.

Probably 2/3 of them went Destro. Of those, quite a few are already considering switching to Order because scenario queue times for the overpopulated Destro are long, whereas Order mostly get inside instantly.

At the end of the day, people want to play. If Mythic caps server population BY FACTION, and they further limit scenarios by faction (like WoW does battlegrounds, to keep the numbers inside evenly split), then one would expect the population to even out over time.

After all, people want to play, not queue.
Further to what I said just above - with regards to the person who didn't like having to queue when there was "plenty of room on the server"?

My guild is solving this by having both an Order and a Destro chapter, on two different servers. If one is just completely borked in some way, there will be dozens of guildies to play with on the other one.

Mythic has made this eminently possible because quite frankly leveling to 40 in WAR is easy peasy. Having multiple alts is a no-brainer here. It is as easy compared to WoW as leveling in WoW was compared to EQ.
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One thing to keep in mind is how piss poor a job Mythic did with realm balance in DAoC. Back in the beta for that game everyone worried about how they would handle realm balance. Mark Jacobs said they had plans in place for how to deal with it. HE LIED! They never did anything about realm populations. DAoC had terrible realm population imbalances from day one and worse yet they shifted over time as different realms got massively nerfed or buffed. So it really sucked if you are your friends actually liked your characters and didn't want to keep rerolling.

So I have no great faith in them getting it right in this game.
How do you know he lied Brent? Particularly with such vehemence?

I am sure you have been gaming as long or longer than I have (10 years of MMOGs, 30 (ack!) of RPGSs). And I would be shocked to hear that you never did your own bit of design--I know I have. I also know some mechanics I couldn't evaluate well until I saw them in action.

While I think Mark Jacobs was naive in his thinking I have no doubt as to his intention to balance classes/realms. (In DAoC you can't separate the 2 topics.) Its just trying to balance 3 different sets of classes and abilities is somewhere between hard and impossible--without adding changing population dynamics or level distributions (which the early game would have had too).

WoW got rid of the balancing apples to oranges problem with BC and WAR has them not at all. Each class, as I understand it, has a exact mirror on the other faction.

So MJ obviously learned from DAoC and created a much easier game to balance.
Actually balancing two realms is going to be much harder than 3. At least with 3 the other two can gang up on one, which happened often in DAOC.

With only two sides you don't have a lot you can do to "beef" up the other side.

They might try the realm cap idea but it will only lead to frustration and resentment of the player base.

As MMO vets it might seem cool to reroll and play on the other side at a moments notice but more casual players will be really put off by that idea.
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