Too Little is Better than Too Much

Once you have defined your baseline for your zero sum formulae, things get tricky, which is why there is a need for constant system adjustment via patches in a persistent world.  When these adjustments are made, you try to get as close as possible to the ideal balance, but in general, you’re better off erring on the side of caution than excess.

The reason you want to err on the side of caution is to make sure that you don’t invalidate most of your players’ options.  Say for example you have a set of weapons available to players in an extremely simple middle ages-style RPG.  Barring weapons classified as ceremonial/gladiatoral/desperate, you have the following choices:  axe, sword, spear, mace, dagger.  This system is very simple, and the weapons behave pretty much like you’d expect them to.  However, you have a rogue developer on your team with a personal bias about the dagger, and it winds up being imbalanced.

First let’s see what happens if he thinks the dagger should be better.  Maybe he was stabbed in a barfight or something, and attaches more importance to the dagger as a result.  Therefore, when your game is released, the sum of your factors for axe, sword, mace and spear even out nicely to zero, but your rogue developer has increased the damage and accuracy of the dagger disproportionately, and the dagger’s new total is around +4.  How long do you think it will take for the players to pick up on this?  Now instead of having 5 viable weapons to choose from, you have one.  You have just lost 80% of your character type variety, not to mention the whining you will have to deal with when you nerf the dagger down to acceptable levels.

Now let’s say the rogue developer thinks the dagger is excedingly silly, and thus lowers its speed and damage ratings.  The dagger now has a rating of -4.  It’s still a problem, but now your viable weapon choices are limited to 4 good, balanced weapons, instead of the 1 they had in the other scenario.  It’s still a problem, of course, unless you want to relegate the dagger to the ceremonial pile of substandard weapons nobody will ever use under normal circumstances, but when you fix this problem, it will be seen as a buff, and in the meantime your players aren’t all running around carrying nothing but daggers.

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