Fun > Balance

One of the most common misconceptions I've seen new game designers is that they overly focus on balance. This saps a game of fun, which is already so hard to create.

A game with +1 modifiers evenly assigned to each side is dull.

The fear is that without regarding balance, the game will spin out of control and break, causing players to flee in droves. But far more often, games don't have that core "juice" that attracts players in the first place. Creating and cultivating this juice is much more important and often harder than balancing a game.

Players can't leave your game if they don't play your game.

Pre-balance is the root of all evil
In programming, this is summed up beautifully by the famous computer scientist Donald Knuth (who is talking about code optimization):

Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered. We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil. Yet we should not pass up our opportunities in that critical 3%."

For me, this gets at the heart of the issue. If you spend your time "balancing" what you think, but don't know are the unbalanced parts of your game, you're doing that instead of making your game better.

But far worse, balancing sucks the life out of your cool ideas. That bouncing projectile that could chain between 100 enemies with perfect placement is now limited to 3. The coolness and the player fantasy is weakened or destroyed. All in the name of "balance" (which is usually unverified).

Don't worry, you'll still need to balance that last 3%. Later.

There are hundreds of games released every day. What is going to attract players to your game? The coolness. The excitement. The "broken" parts. Players crave the rough edges, those areas they think they can exploit. The parts that keep them thinking about the game. The emotional peaks. The best games have those - they can't afford to water them down.

But when balance is stressed more than fun ("pre-balance") the most wild, fun, exciting moments of your game are constantly under attack.

So instead of thinking about balance, lets reframe it to creating the coolest game instead:

  • What player fantasy am I going for with this unit/weapon/faction?
  • How can I create a peak moment, never seen in another game?
  • How can I make this feel broken? Unknowable? Insane?
  • What's the coolest thing I could add to my game?
  • What can I create that has never been seen before?

The goal isn't to have silent players in your community, with nothing to say, posit or theorycraft. That means they aren't engaged. What's far better is to have equal numbers of people on all sides complaining that something is overpowered.

Player A: "Protoss is crazy - one probe can spawn a whole base at once!"
Player B: "Zerg is crazy - they can create any unit from anywhere!"
Player C: "Terran is crazy - their buildings can FLY!"

These are reasons we fall in love with a game. It's much better to have everything feel overpowered, than nothing. And the strange part is, when everything is overpowered, everything generally works.

Because if nothing feels overpowered, players will have no reason to play your game, and you will have no players.

And you'll have no reason to balance that last 3%.

Thoughts or questions? Join the discussion on Discord or get in touch.