Game balance
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 January 2013, 3:31 am
A reader stumbled upon an article about Path of Exile on Massively, where it said: "According to the devs, about 5% of the possible weapon-gem combos are the best in the game, and they're not easy to find.". His question was whether that was lazy design or a feature.

I was wondering about what exactly the devs meant by "not easy to find", because there are two aspects to that. One is experimenting with various combination to find out which is the best. The other is already knowing what is best and having to rely on some low drop rate to actually get the gems you need. In principle I like experimentation, but unfortunately the arrival of the internet killed that game feature possibility many years ago. People usually already find out the best combinations in beta, and they are published before the game is even released. Now if you enjoy experimenting and the game is single-player, you can still refuse to look things up and have fun trying things out yourself. But MMORPGs have created a strong cultural bias against that sort of behavior, because somebody entering a dungeon for the first time and not having seen the boss kill strategy on YouTube is usually called a "moron" online.

In a game where certain items or classes are strictly better than others, word gets around quickly, and the less good items just become vendor trash, while the less good classes become rarely played. Especially in multiplayer online games. If 5% of the stuff you find is best in game, then the game becomes about hauling trash to the vendor 95% of the time. In games with different classes needing different types of items, you end up finding mostly items for the other classes, and then of the stuff for your class only 5% is useful.

It gets even worse if there is a player economy: In Diablo III you can buy a huge pile of gold for pocket change, and that gold is enough to buy you very good equipment for everything but the highest level of the game. Before you actually need a drop, you'll have to play through the game several times. And as I mentioned yesterday, most people don't even play through a game once. So you end up with a game about loot drops in which loot is trivial and worthless, because you could get it easier on the AH.

I definitely enjoyed Diablo III a lot less than the first Diablo. And I wonder to what extent the increased connectivity is to be blamed for that. I never even got to the highest difficulty level, not because the game became too difficult for me, but because the AH made getting there a boring and trivial chore. Somehow I don't think that "you need to artificially handicap yourself if you want to enjoy this game" is good game design. And I think we need to come up with something better than random loot drops of which 95% is vendor trash for our games.
Tobold's Blog



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