Game balancing is a concern in most multiplayer games. When players play together in the same session, nobody should have an unfair advantage just because they picked the best weapon, armor or spell. And also, designing a new weapon to then see it completely ignored because it is too weak, is not the goal of a designer. And now there are NFTs, which people will buy and can not be altered, so they better be well balanced from the start!
The classic way to go about game balancing is to start with something reasonable, typically using some formula, and then tune with production data. I remember being part of an RTS design team. There were 5 races in the game, so what we did was assign a number of ‘points’ equally among the races. Each designer would distribute those points across the units they wanted in their races.
This actually worked quite well, the key behind its success was that all units had the same type of attributes: range, speed, armor, strength, etc… Our game did not have special units with crazy, fun behaviour. The game that had special units was Command & Conquer Red Alert: the invisible tank, the mammoth tank, wow, those were fun times.
So, in terms of fun, crazy units win. But they are much harder to balance. You can’t grab a spreadsheet and start distributing equal amounts of craziness among units, like we do with speed or armor points. The only way to do it is by playing games, get a feel for the balancing, make a tweak or two, play more games, then play even more games.
It is a slow process, and it involves time from senior testers or designers. We are not looking for simple bugs that broke the game here, we are looking for balancing so the game is fun. Worse, this can only be done when the game is pretty much done, with a direct impact on the release date.
Something that has truly improved from the old days is the availability of production data, often in real time. After release, with some simple integration with easy to use online game data services, we can see if some unit is omnipresent in the games played, or if nobody is using some other unit. With some extra clicks, you can find if some unit wins a lot more than others. This leads to game balancing tweaks, the release of an update and back to checking production data reports.
I have been told that this works well and even that it is part of the fun in a game for players to find imbalances. I guess it depends on the game, and how bad the imbalance is. The point of a game is to entertain, if the imbalance prevents this, it is bad. And if the imbalance is part of the fun, then I am sure it would be best if the designer clearly knew about the imbalance before the release. In other words, a planned imbalance that is truly a feature, not a bug.
At Decisive we are working on a game balancing tool that can help a lot with finding how imbalanced a game is, and then also helping with the value that an attribute should have to bring that to balance.