Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Aion faction balance

After shameless stealing his "Thought for the day" idea, I'm now morally obliged to make up for it by linking to Melmoth's better posts over at Killed in a Smiling Accident. ;) But seriously, his post on Aion's attempt to balance their two factions by simply forcing the players is excellent!

The fact that Aion's endgame is PvPvE, and not pure PvP, solves at least the problem for the stronger faction: They'll be able to do PvE in the endgame in absence of a real challenge from the weaker faction. The weaker faction is just plain out of luck, as they are basically permanently excluded from having any endgame at all, unless they like suicide missions.

Makes you wonder why developers still make PvP games with only two factions, when nobody has found a way yet to effectively balance them without some inconvenience to one side (not always the weaker side, in WoW the more numerous side is disadvantaged in terms of battleground queue waiting times). Games like EVE or Darkfall, where players form "factions" themselves, and these are constantly shifting, are ultimately more balanced.

But now that I said something nice about Darkfall, I have to balance that out by another quote from Killed in a Smiling Accident, this one by Zoso, who imagines how a cataclysm would look in other games:
Darkfall are also set to overhaul their starting area, finally introducing proper impact PvP. Unlike the original namby-pamby system put in to appease pathetic losers who can’t handle a real game, where death merely results in a bit of lost loot, Darkfall: Teh Ubahclysm introduces permadeath. Not some sort of rubbish pseudo-permadeath either; if you’re killed by another player then your character can’t be resurrected, your account is banned so you can’t create a new character, your credit cards are blacklisted so you can’t create a new account, and an Aventurine employee comes round your house and smashes your PC up with a baseball bat. Eurogamer’s re-review of the game awards it a score of 9/10.

Seems highly likely to me that Aion is heading for a crash and burn that will make Warhammer's subscriber numbers look flat.

Highly likely that they will sell a million. Will even 10% be playing in a year's time?
That quote was hilarious :) Cracked me up!
Great quote! Still laughing !:)
Problem with more than two sides is that they (usually) cannot go into dungeons together. You therefore limit yourself, because server capacity is limited.

There are two way around this:
1) Use cross-server dungeon instances.
2) Use a guild model instead of a faction model. A guild model allows the same players to be at war or piece whenever they want. But then - consider to add some incentives that produce a few big guilds per server, not a hundred tiny ones.
Two observations:

1. There is a third faction in Aion, the Balaur (NPC) that is supposedly attacking the stronger faction. Now how that works out in practice I do not know. But at least there was some thought along the lines that you are proposing.

2. The faction balance is much much better than Wow. Go to the main Aion site and you'll see links to server stats that display the faction percentages, class percentages and level percentages.
Note how no server is allowed to get more than 4% away from the 50% balance. This again is a great way to ensure that no side gets overwhelming numerical advantage.

I really like the feel of Aion for now. I enjoy being in the world that everyone is leveling up, no one really knows what is out there, and there is a lot of value in putting some thought into what we choose to do next. By and far the best game since WoW. It is *clearly* not better than WoW back in 2004, but it provides a far different experience than the WoW of today, that is run in instances in a controlled environment.
You are a smart guy Tobold, but not smart enough.

You keep looking for a different game and you keep trying crapstatic offerings that one could tell right away that are fundamentally flawed from the get go: Free Realms, Luminary, Atlantica Online - these games are obviously for those out there looking to kill some time but will never give you anything lasting feeling. No lasting experience that you could remember in months or years.

I think you will find that what makes Aion special is that is far more difficult to play than any of these games. There are stiffer penalities, therefore a for more prononuced sense of success. At the same time PvP plays out very differently than that in WoW - you will not go down in 10 seconds without having any chance to fight back. And if you don't want to fight you can still be useful. You could go find the opposing factions resurrection stones and destroy them. That way when they die they will resurrect back in their own lands and allows you to conquers yours back.

There are so many game mechanics in Aion that are aimed at forming and valuing the sense of community and that's why it will appeal to people who want to invest in their game and feel special when they achieve something. In WoW no one cares when you are not logged in, they'll pick someone else.

I want to refer to you to the producer of WAR who thinks (correctly imo) that the flaw in WAR was that the game was too easy. There was no risk and therefore no reward. TO me this is where WoW is right now, there is no reward in the game, getting the a gear + this or + that is extremely boring, I know that is no more than a number.
Note how no server is allowed to get more than 4% away from the 50% balance. This again is a great way to ensure that no side gets overwhelming numerical advantage.

The premise of Melmoth's post was that this is an illusion, caused by many people being forced by queues into playing the otherwise less popular side. It is questionable whether these players will remain on a side they didn't choose but were forced to play.
It is questionable whether these players will remain on a side they didn't choose but were forced to play.

I do not play Aion right now and I do not play to do in the near future.
However, my guess is that it will work pretty well. There may be problems, but this one is not a major one, I guess.
They will probably stay, because faction doesn't mean a whole lot.

Once you've got your chanter to 10, is it really worth it to reroll just to look a little darker and gothic? I don't think so. And if your whole guild landed on the wrong faction, ya'll really pulling up stakes and moving? I doubt it.

Do you really understand the end game? I sure don't. I can't find anything that clearly explains it either. Given Tobold's intense prejudice against PVP, I don't really trust his summary of the design either. I doubt he actually did any pvp.
Not to mention that most WAR servers also were within that 4% difference, and how did that work out in-game?

Any game that talks about PvP and has set factions, let alone only two, is either doomed to fail or limited to instance pre-set Arena fights. How is it that back in 2003 DAoC already had realm pop issues, and that was with 3 realms, and today in 2009 someone releases a PvP MMO with two faction plus an NPC side (and who honestly trusts MMO AI to provide balance in PvP?) and thinks its going to work out just fine?

Hopefully Aion has better end-game PvE than WAR, because anyone with any MMO PvP history can already see where the PvP is going.
It's the best attempt so far. At first glance it seems like an illusion. Except if more Asmodians are logged on it will only let you create Elyos. It's not 100% foolproof, but it makes a giant leap forward. Even if people quit its still going to balance as new people come on board.
It is questionable whether these players will remain on a side they didn't choose but were forced to play.

They are welcome to switch sides, once the server balance allows them to do that. But that does not change the fact that the server will always be no more than 4% away from balance.

Now saying that having to pick the other side makes someone a worse player - that I do not buy. The sides in Aion are pretty much identical save one ability (at least to the best of my knowledge)

Elyos get a 100% damage absorbtion ability - the Asmodians a 50% absorption+reflection. These are usable only occasionally when the DP points are filled up. Beyond that you get white wings vs black wings.

Some people claim the Asmodian skill is be better, yet that remains to be seen in practice. When many people gang up on you, I think survivability is better.

Actually I think there is a great value in being slight underdog ... I want to refer to you to a study that shows that basketball teams that were slightly behind at halftime won more frequently at the end (as long as the half time difference was small). That's because it ends up motivating people more.

I personally think that the Elyos is the New Horde more thoughtfull people working together.
I agree with Tobold and Melmoth. Forcing people to play a faction that weren't expecting to play seems flawed. The thing is that people see the cool looking guys with glowing red eyes and claws and they want to play THAT! What I wonder is why not make your allegiance arbitrary and NOT based on race? Why cant I play a "good" Asmodian, or a "bad" Elyos? Making the faction more Abstract would lead to more balance I would think.

Maybe what Aion needs is the ability for Betrayal to the opposite side ... ala EQ2.
They probably will stay yeah. The sides aren't actually very different. I expect that someone who is 'forced' to roll Elyos and plays a bit, then rerolls Asmodian, will find that the environments, quests, lore, etc. are basically identical and that the "faeries vs. demons" aspect is quite overplayed.

Aion has dozens of major and minor issues but I don't really think faction balancing is one of them.
Note how no server is allowed to get more than 4% away from the 50% balance. This again is a great way to ensure that no side gets overwhelming numerical advantage

What if you want to join your friends who are on the unbalanced side?
Considering Aion has over half the numbers of subscribers Wow does in Asia and that it's been out for a year, it seems unlikely to be a "crash and burn" like Warhammer.

The server balancing may not be perfect, but what's the alternative in a faction oriented game, no balancing? I could not create an Asmodian on my server of choice at first, but I just tried again 10min later and I could.

I'm thinking that their end game PVP system must not be too imbalanced due to the success they have already achieved outside of North America.
What if you want to join your friends who are on the unbalanced side?

That I'd say is a BIG problem. It can be very frustrating.

yet is it still not clear what the right solution is for the greater good if faction balance is also desired.

As with any rule, enforcing the rule means that some legitimate requests may not be honored. That also means losing some income from people who cannot play.

The future will tell us if this is a good approach. I tend to think so but I could be wrong.

What if you want to join your friends who are on the unbalanced side?

That is a big problem. No doubt it will frustrate people to no end.

But what is the alternative? I think NCSoft would rather lose some customers than lose the battle over server balance.
The game is about white jersey vs black jersey that's how different they are.
I'm glad NCSoft is trying this stricter method of server balance, but I don't think it will work.

Developers never take into consideration the possibility of losing players down the road. I can already see a half dozen pitfalls with their server balance.

As for Aion doing so good compared to WAR... it presold less than 1/2 in the US what WAR sold. They can't afford to lose any subs in the west.
The racial locks aren't permanent. The majority of people who didn't freak out and roll on another server, but who tried again in 10-15 minutes got to make the char they wanted on the server they wanted. The only reason the locks were felt so strongly was because you had like 400k people all trying to jam into servers at the same time, with some people in queues for hours, which made folks have to wait longer for the factions to balance.
Nobs, I think its inevitable that you will lose a significant portion of subs from launch. I imagine even WoW did. There's going to be a certain % who just don't like it and quit. Period. Question is how the trendline goes from there.

Having been a booster for Aoc and War in the early days, even I don't trust myself when I say this, but Aion just feels different. It looks better. It feels really polished. Its fun. While a certain percentage of WoW tourists will quit, if we see the same devastating collapse you saw in War and Aoc in the opening months, then its proof that it doesn't matter what kind of game you release you are going to have that collapse. Cause there sure isn't a lot of bitch about; Tobold has to reach to the endgame to find something to complain about. In the leveling game you have a very wow-alike game that is very beautiful. Combat is interesting and responsive. Servers are working well. Not a lot to complain about. You really didn't have to do that with last years fleet of failboats.
I donno, I really think it could be possible to make an MMO with "impact pvp" that has some meaning, and execute it in a way that isn't "hardcore". I just think the current attempts have been really bad at it.
Supporting evidence for your assertion, Stabs? Bearing in mind that Warhammer was fundamentally broken on many levels, whilst Aion has already a demonstrated history of success in Asia.
What if you want to join your friends who are on the unbalanced side?

Charge extra to be put on a queue. People are taken off the queue if anyone in that faction transfers off the server. If the queue is nonempty, transfers off (for that faction) are free.
One way to have balanced PvP is to make the map very large. When you do that, there is an incentive to be on the less populated faction because its easier to find opponents and thus easier to get more kills. PvP'ers like to be where the action is, and if the less populated faction gets more action, players will switch.
Toxic says: Tobold has to reach to the endgame to find something to complain about.

Toxic, would you please stop lying outright about me on my own blog? Read my Aion beta review, where I'm clearly "complaining" about Aion being an unimaginative clone with zero replayability, having only two starter zones which are carbon copies of each other.

This is a post about faction balance. Obviously that is only a problem in the endgame. That doesn't mean that Aion doesn't have numerous flaws in the game before that.
"Supporting evidence for your assertion, Stabs? "

For all their faults AoC and WAR were much more innovative. You lot have already played Aion to death, it was called World of Warcraft.

Also the two sides rvr model is a terrible ineffective model that has been proven to not work over and over. I can't understand why designers keep reverting to a design flaw DAOC fixed in 2002.

Plus there's a very very strong list of new games coming out in the next 15 months. WoW Expansion, Diablo 3, maybe Starcraft 2, SWTOR, Star Trek, This Secret World etc etc.
If Aion is going to sell less often in the beginning, because it is too similar to WoW, but is successfull afterwards because of that similarity, I'm going to cry !
I just don't see it doing nearly as well as people expected. I've already seen people on massively complaining about game features that have been in the entire time targeted at the eastern market.

It's funny I am currently in the market for a new MMO. Burnt out on WoW and WAR. Aion isn't even a maybe on my list, the game just doesn't interest me. I'd play Champions, Fallen Earth or just try and older MMO before it; such as LoTR or EQ2.
Tobold, that is some weak sauce. I'm playing through the starter zone, and it is GREAT. Looks great, plays great. Much more fun than WoW starter zones (excepting possibly the BE start zone).

Replayability, I can see your point.

But yeah, if that's what you've got to complain about, weaksauce, sir, weaksauce.
"After shameless stealing his "Thought for the day" idea, I'm now morally obliged to make up for it by linking to Melmoth's better posts"

You can't steal my ideas when we're the same person, Tobold. Come now, give up the charade, admit it.

Also, is it true that you're really Elvis? It seems obvious to me that MMO blogging is the way he'd make a comeback.

Although, if we are the same person, this is me talking to myself. Or you talking to yourself.

Tobold, that is some weak sauce. I'm playing through the starter zone, and it is GREAT.

Bloody hell, Toxic, are you a blind Aion fanboi now that you can't even read what I'm saying any more? I didn't say the starting area isn't good, I said that the two starting areas are carbon copies of each other, which is very "weak sauce" in your vocabulary.
I'm just saying, repetitive start zones, ok. Possible end game faction balance issues, check. That's it?

I'm just saying that if that's whats what in the complaint department, I think Aion is doing really well. That's all. Certainly in comparison to AoC and WaR and their launches.

People seem to forget that this game has been out for nearly a year in Korea; it had 3.5 MILLION subs a while ago. This game is already approaching WoW's real sub numbers, even without the American launch.

Between my experience with the game so far, its wild success outside of the English market, I think these predictions of doom are premature. It says to me the end game and everything else works really well.

You guys are treating this game like some its a standard untested mmo when it's not. It's already boasting WoW-like sub numbers. And since it's not peaked yet, it'll probably be larger than WoW by the end of the year (now that they don't get to count their China subs).

So yeah. Weak sauce.
It wont be near WoW... not by the end of this year or the end of next year. That is complete blind fanboyism to believe so.

As for the smoothness of launch from what I've been reading the wait queues are as bad as all the other MMO's. I fail to see how it's better?
I think the pointing out that it's successful in Korea does not necessarily translate to success in America.

East and West have different tastes and I'm not sure or not if it's a guaranteed hit out here. I've personally have read mixed buzz fluctuating between "it's great" to "I wouldn't spend money on it". There's no solid collective cry for "I want to play this!" from what I've seen.

I think it's more safe to say that it'll be a moderate hit out here but won't do as well as it is in Korea. Only time will truly tell.
Sounds like a nice plan to keep things balanced ... for now.

What happens a month or two down the road? We know some folks playing now, loving the game, will not keep playing. Then there are others who will decide it's not for them. And lastly are those who are trying it out while maintaining other subs who like their old game better.

After that exodus which will probably be of a good enough size that any possible balance you may have had when everyone was there ... could be gone.

For example, I play on Server A. Right now the Elyos and Asmodians are even. Things are great. A month later a bunch of Elyos decide the game's just not for them. So they leave. Now what was balanced is left unbalanced. If no new players step in to fill the void -- which could happen -- you are left without balance and one side is schnooked.

Sure, the NPC faction is meant to provide that balance for the weaker side but I agree with Syncaine ... Programmed AI is going to make the difference? Should be interesting to see how it plays out.

Balance in any of these games is tough to maintain despite best efforts.
Nobs, its not blind fanboism.

It already, as of this moment, not counting anything in NA or Europe, 3.5-4 million subs.

WoW has 5 million or so now that they can't claim their dubious "subs" in China. AION is almost as big as WoW, and that's before you count all the new subs gained in this launch. Not fanboi anything, that's just a raw fact. Not a projection, not speculation. Facts on the ground, as we speak.
Nobs, its not blind fanboism.

It already, as of this moment, not counting anything in NA or Europe, 3.5-4 million subs.

WoW has 5 million or so now that they can't claim their dubious "subs" in China. AION is almost as big as WoW

Toxic, as you are exclusively negative about everything WoW, and exclusively positive about everything Aion, allow us to be sceptical about your claim not to be an Aion fan.

About subscription numbers: WoW is back online in China, so they are back at 11 million, although you are totally right that it is a matter of definition whether to count somebody with a gamecard paying per hour as a "subscriber". Having said that, how is the business model of Aion in Asia? I was under the impression they worked with gamecards too, and not with monthly flat fee subscriptions like in Europe.
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