Balancing Effects

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Rules and effects in games that lessen the differences of value used to measure competition between players.

Although players may win or lose games, or fail to complete them, the designers of these games may wish to steer when this occurs, especially if the game is supposed to take a certain amount of time. One way of doing so is introducing Balancing Effects - giving those that have an advantageous position disadvantages and vice versa. Besides giving designers more control over how long time a game should last, this can hinder losing players from having to endure uninspiring gameplay or making gameplay breakdown due to them stopping to play.

Examples

Power-ups in the Mario Kart series or the mini-game Monkey Race 2 in Super Monkey Ball 2 give speed boosters only to the players that are not leading the races. In the latter, further Balancing Effects can be added through an option that makes leaders have a lower maximum speed than other players.

Multiplayer online first-person shooters often have possibilities to force teams to be balanced in numbers. Some, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, have functionality that can automatically reassign teams based on experience to try and balance the teams further.

Many board games, e.g. Egizia and Ursuppe, determine the player order for the next turn so that the leading players go last and trailing players go first.

Using the pattern

Balancing Effects can be designed in a game to be preemptive or correcting. They are most commonly used in Middlegame phases since they may be premature in Startgame phases and counter-productive to make Endgame meaningful. Preemptive Balancing Effects try to maintain Player Balance in games with PvP gameplay so that imbalances do not occur or, for Single-Player Games, ways of trying to set challenge levels, while correcting Balancing Effects try to correct imbalances when they have occurred. An alternative to Balancing Effects, which can be used together with them, is Limited Foresight since this removes players possibility to experience that they are losing to others. While most of the possibilities listed below look at ways a game system or game design can try to have Balancing Effects, the Beat the Leader pattern looks at how players can be encourage to enact Balancing Effects against perceived leaders of a game.

Handicap Systems are preemptive Balancing Effects that are put into effect before gameplay begins. An example of the latter is making powerful actions into Extended Actions, an another form of preemptive Balancing Effects is to make these Extended Actions into Interruptible Actions since other players can interfere with the actions, especially if they do not have any effect before they are completed. Collaborative Actions, Cooldown periods for actions and Powers, and Delayed Effects can all have Balancing Effects, since the limit how easy or often player can make certain actions and how easily others can avoid them. Other ways of creating preemptive Balancing Effects consist of designing Illusionary Rewards, requiring Trade-Offs, allowing players to choose a Selectable Set of Goals that best fit their abilities, or providing Diminishing Returns to players that otherwise could become clear leaders. One example of a Trade-Off possible with Tools and other Equipment is to make them Deteriorate with use; this forces players to choose between avoiding to wear down their usefulness (through Decreased Abilities or Ability Losses) to solve current problems or save them for future challenges.

If Balancing Effects are direct, these effects can ruin an Exaggerated Perception of Influence for players and even make them avoid trying to achieve what should be goals for them. Having Balancing Effects affect the players results indirectly can solve this, for example through Character Development progressing slower for already skilled Characters, or by making New Abilities be additions to those players already have to pick form when using Budgeted Action Points or make them into Temporary Abilities. Countering New or Improved Abilities with Ability Losses or Decreased Abilities is another solution. Resource Caps shows an example of how preemptive Balancing Effects can be achieved through modifying how Resources are handled, although the Resource Caps may in turn affect how actions can be made, e.g. by providing caps for Budgeted Action Points. Conditional Passageways can be used to create Balancing Effects, either indirectly through creating Safe Havens by only allowing some entry into gameplay area or directly by denying entry to some gameplay areas for those using Vehicles.

Correcting Balancing Effects are generally some form of Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment or Negative Feedback Loop. Specific examples of correcting Balancing Effects include giving New Abilities or Improved Abilities to disadvantaged players and giving Ability Losses or Decreased Abilities to advantaged players. The classic case used in Races is Decreased Abilities in the form of Movement Limitations through having a lower maximum speed. In games that require Aim & Shoot activities, Balancing Effects by giving some players Auto-Aim support or giving all players this but give various levels of this depending on their performance or skills (however, giving the wrong players this works against Balancing Effects). To support players having Exaggerated Perception of Influence, the positive effects of correcting Balancing Effects are usually Rewards to disadvantaged players for completing goals while the negative effects are usually Penalties to the advantaged players for failing to complete goals. The evaluation function that determines the Balancing Effects is for the reason of maintaining Exaggerated Perceptions of Influence often masked from players through the presence of Randomness, as for example is done in the Mario Kart series by making all Pick-Ups look the same, or nearly the same, even though they have different effects, or by hiding the actual rolling of Dice to be able to make Fudged Results. Another example of a correcting Balancing Effect is to decide the order of Turn Taking so that disadvantaged players give the most advantageous positions - this is found for example in Ursuppe. While this is one way of Varying Turn Orders in a game with Turn Taking many other versions exist, including those were players can change the order by gameplay actions. One use such correcting Balancing Effects is to compensate for Asymmetric Abilities and Asymmetric Starting Conditions such as First Player Advantages; imposing extra costs for picking elements deeper into Drafting Spreads is an example of this. Balancing Effects that are supposed to even the playing field for Late Arriving Players or those engaging in Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay need to be correcting rather than preemptive. Games with Evolving Rule Sets can provide Balancing Effects in the tweaking of game rules in updates, and while this may occur in between game instances this is a form of correcting Balancing Effect in that it is the result of observations of imbalances in the gameplay.

Transfer of Control can also be used to correct imbalances, but these are often linked to the Rewards or Penalties of any of the players. A common solution is to have forced Shared Rewards, so that the player who gains the Reward must share it with someone else, typically the most disadvantaged player. Controlling how Spawning occurs can also be corrective, either placing disadvantaged players at Strategic Locations or placing advantaged players at bad locations.

Back-to-Back Game Sessions are a specific type of Balancing Effect that can be applied on games with Asymmetric Starting Conditions or First Player Advantages as long as players are willing to make Meta Games of them by playing the game several times.

Multiplayer Games with more than two Teams or players competing against each other automatically have some corrective Balancing Effects. This since players perceived as leading form the natural starting point for Uncommitted Alliances with the Mutual Goals of ganging up against the leader but can also lead to King Maker effects. These Uncommitted Alliances are common in games with King of the Hill goals but can also be found in games that allow Player Decided Results and Player-Decided Distributions of Rewards or Penalties. Sufficient Game State Overviews, e.g. public Scores as Ursuppe uses, are required for this form of Balancing Effect to occur since players need to be able to notice who is leading.

Game Masters, as Dedicated Game Facilitators that have constant access to the complete game state and can enforce their own Player Decided Results, can perform both preemptive and corrective balancing effects during gameplay. They can, as can Dedicated Game Facilitators in general, make the Balancing Effects hidden from the players and difficult to detect.

Games using primarily Randomness to judge outcomes can easily be designed to have Balancing Effects over time or when considering several game sessions together simply by taking statistic of probabilities into account. However, games with Dedicated Game Facilitators can fake the Randomness, e.g. through Fudged Results, to explicitly create Balancing Effects during gameplay.

Consequences

Balancing Effects can help games maintain Tension as long as possible in games and to allow Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses. Balancing Effects can provide both Player (in games with PvP) and Team Balance (in games with TvT). In Single-Player Games they are in contrast used to provide the specific level of difficulty, e.g. Casual or Challenging Gameplay, and this often through Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment. Regardless, Balancing Effects can provide Smooth Learning Curves since they can compensate for lack of experience or player skill.

Balancing Effects push players towards Tied Results if they are possible in a game. While ensuring that players have a chance of finishing in good positions, Balancing Effects can work against them having a Determinable Chance to Succeed. It can also make Perceivable Margins more difficult to provide, remove feelings of Gameplay Mastery, and lessen the Value of Effort for what has been achieved in games. Balancing Effects have a volatile relation to Exaggerated Perception of Influence - when players do not notice the Balancing Effects it can support the other pattern but when players can notice that it is explicitly the Balancing Effects that tip the scales it instead works against them having an Exaggerated Perception of Influence.

Balancing Effects can make Predictable Winner difficult or impossible to identify and thereby also avoid Kingmaker situation from occurring.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Casual Gameplay, Challenging Gameplay, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Smooth Learning Curves, Tension

with PvP

Player Balance

with TvT

Team Balance

Can Modulate

Asymmetric Abilities, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Beat the Leader, Character Development, Drafting Spreads, Drop-In/Drop-Out, First Player Advantages, Late Arriving Players, Middlegame, Multiplayer Games, New Abilities, Races, Spawning, Tied Results, Turn Taking

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Auto-Aim, Back-to-Back Game Sessions, Budgeted Action Points, Collaborative Actions, Cooldown, Decreased Abilities, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Delayed Effects, Deterioration, Diminishing Returns, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Evolving Rule Sets, Extended Actions, Game Masters, Handicap Systems, Illusionary Rewards, Improved Abilities, Negative Feedback Loops, New Abilities, PvP, Randomness, Resource Caps, Varying Turn Orders, Safe Havens, Selectable Set of Goals, Shared Rewards, Temporary Abilities, Trade-Offs, Transfer of Control, TvT

Conditional Passageways together with Vehicles

Decreased Abilities together with Improved Abilities

Ability Losses together with New Abilities

Uncommitted Alliances together with Multiplayer Games

Movement Limitations together with Races

Player Decided Results or Player-Decided Distributions in Multiplayer Games with Game State Overviews

Can Be Modulated By

Randomness

Possible Closure Effects

-

Potentially Conflicting With

Auto-Aim, Determinable Chance to Succeed, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Gameplay Mastery, Kingmaker, Perceivable Margins, Predictable Winner, Value of Effort

History

An updated version of the pattern Balancing Effects that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].

References

  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Acknowledgements

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