Video Game Balance: A Definitive Guide

Alexander Brazie

Alexander Brazie

Alexander is a game designer with 25+ years of experience in both AAA and indie studios, having worked on titles like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps. His insights and lessons from roles at Riot and Blizzard are shared through his post-mortems and game design course. You can follow him on Twitter @Xelnath or LinkedIn.

In this guide, I will provide an A-to-Z overview of the practice of game balance in game design including definitions, misconceptions, methods, and tips.

It’s a long guide, so feel free to use the table of contents to skip to the section that interests you 👇

What is game balance?

Game balance is the ongoing game design process of adjusting the composition of game mechanics, rewards, challenges, tuning, timing and telegraphing to create a fair and meaningful gameplay experience with the right amount of difficulty.

In more common terms, it’s a continuous process of changing values and player behavior inside your game.

It is not a stable state because the “perfect” balancing point is dynamic – even a 4,000 year old game like Go still has had balance adjustments in the past twenty years.

While balancing, you are changing numbers, animations, visuals and more. In severe cases, you may even remove problematic abilities, characters or game mechanics.

The exact approach will vary based on the game’s design values, but usually great balance decisions increase the number of viable options.

By the way, as you’re reading this post, if you have any questions or issues implementing you can get free help in the #game-design channel in Funsmith Club Discord, or you can DM me there.

Get notified each week on the latest game design tips, guides, templates, and workshops that I don’t share anywhere else here 👇

Why is it important to balance a game?

The point of continuously balancing a game is to retain the players as along as you can which increases the Life Time Value of the players.

If your game feels impossible to play, learn and master, players will quit playing!

On the other hand, if your game is too easy, then players get bored and will quit playing!

This means fewer people talking about your game, even fewer staying to enjoy your hard work and ultimately a loss of sales.

(Credit: Flow channel concept proposed by Csikszentmihalyi)

Game Balance is incredibly challenging because modern games are so deep – and the talent pool of players worldwide so vast.

it’s not possible for even a team of 1,000 developers to thoroughly understand every possible combination or variation of a game’s experience.

Furthermore, the perception of what is strong in a game tends to harden over time, forming a period known as a meta – where only certain game features are considered competitive or feasible.

Game balance breaks up these periods, creating enough disruption that the meta shifts, ideally broadening the number of competitive and viable options.

Common misconception about game balancing

Probably the most common mistake players make when considering balance is to assume that every option should be both viable AND able to compete evenly with every opposing option.

This conceit, known as the “50% Trap”, assumes that if all options aren’t equal, then a game is imbalanced.

Human decision-making and experience show this to be untrue for the games players come back to over and over again.

What players actually enjoy is to experience a varied texture of situations where they have advantages and disadvantages over time.

But never so severe that they are plunged into hopelessness for too long.

Side note: If you’ve ever been stuck inside a game of League of Legends where your team was destroyed early you know this pain intimately.

The lack of an early victory condition for being severely outplayed across the board means players might spend 15-20 minutes in a lost state without any way for the opponents to end the game.

Such situations cause negative emotions to amplify the amount of blame and teammate abuse that occurs.

Rob Pardo, VP of Game Design for Blizzard Entertainment often said to the designers on Starcraft and Warcraft:

“Players will often say they’ve had the most fun not in situations where the battle was perfectly balanced, but instead in games where they had a very slight advantage the entire time. That way, they were always winning, but the enemy put up enough of a fight that they felt scared”

Pursuing either the 50% trap or “perfect feeling match” will inevitably lead to an unbalanced game.

Game balance philosophy


There are numerous different approaches to executing game balance, from spreadsheet heavy statistical comparison before making any changes to gut feel based try-and-check brute forcing until the experience feels right.

However, none of these are meaningful before you understand why you are making a balance change.

The worst balance decisions I’ve seen happen from either a focus purely on the numbers or purely on the feeling of the experience.

Both must be executed in harmony with each other.

Player experience often reveals pain points with intense clarity, but rarely shows exactly how to attack the root of the problem.

Data analysis will reveal issues with the current state of affairs, but may surface issues players don’t care about or advantages too subtle to value.

So how do you do better?

Problem, intent and execution

Before you tackle any specific balance change, you must first be clear on three things:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
    • Is this problem a specific instance of imbalance?
    • Is this problem systemic?
    • Is this problem real?
  1. What player behavior do you intend to change?
    • Are you changing the outcome for a specific action?
    • Are you changing the options the player considers in a situation?
    • Are you changing the goals the player strives for?
  1. What specific changes could achieve the goals in mind?
    • Is this the only option?
    • Are there other options that are more costly but more effective?
    • Is this change highly subjective?

These can be incredibly difficult questions to answer without a strong understanding of the concept of strategy, tactics and game balance.

All games are built up of four layers of content:

  1. Strategy – or what you did before battle.
  2. Tactics – or what you do during battle.
  3. Disruption – or what you do in response to the opponent’s tactics.
  4. Recovery – or what you do after they disrupt you.

This concept is too large for this article, but you need to be intimately familiar with which layer on which your balance problem exists.

For example, solving a strategy issue (such as defeating a tank who is immune to damage from the front) with a tactical technique (such as rolling behind her) works.

However, the opposite direction (defeating a tumbling opponent using a character whose back is not exposed) means you’ve already lost to the tactic.

Creating meaningful decisions

A meaningful decision is one whose outcome has a substantial and noticeable impact on the person who made it.

When handed decisions that are not meaningful, players will become demoralized and ennui, or permanent boredom, will begin to build.

Meaningful decisions are lost in these four ways:

  1. A dominant strategy arises
  2. Decision-making gets too difficult
  3. Decisions become meaningless
  4. Decisions disappear completely (due to randomness or a lack of counterplay)

In order to make an effective balance change, you need to understand

  • The surface problem
  • The layer of the content cake (strategy, tactics, disruption, or recovery) in which the issue exists
  • Which of these ways has contributed towards there being no other meaningful decisions

Before we get into the how, let’s first clarify and establish some fundamental terms.

Game balance concepts, terms, and principles

Game designers tend to use a lot of the same concepts independent of the game and genre to balance games.

As a game designer or game developer, it’s important to understand all of these terms and the purpose of understanding all of these concepts is to ensure the elements comprise a balanced game.

General definitions

Here are some general terms that are pretty broadly used everywhere, both inside and outside of the games industry.

  • Multiplayer – a game played with two or more cooperative or competitive players.
    • PvP (Player vs. Player) – a competitive game where players compete for victory.
    • PvE (Player vs. Environment) – a game where players mostly defeat NPCs.
    • Co-Op (Cooperative) – a game (either PvP or PvE) where players collaborate to win.
  • Gameplay loops – a repeatable sequence the players engage in
  • Game Mechanics – interactions that meaningfully affect the state of the game
    • Note: Due to the long misuse of this term, many different concepts were historically ill-defined as mechanics. Check out this post on game mechanics to get a clearer understanding.
  • Game Systems – things that occur behind the scenes in a game, either in response to game mechanics or changes in other game systems.
    • Subsystems – smaller systems that work together to form a major single system the players experience.
  • Design Pillars – the distinct guiding principles that are shared by all the game devs working on the same game

Game balance-related definitions:

These are terms generally used by both players and designers in essentially the same ways.

  • Buffs – power increasing balance changes
  • Nerfs – power decreasing balance changes
  • Overpowered (OP) – characters or skills which exceed the perceived threshold of fairness
  • Underpowered – characters or skills which are below the perceived limit of fairness
  • Difficulty – the state of tuning, such as health, damage and cooldowns which meaningfully changes the margin of error for the player
    • Static – difficulty predefined by the designer (e.g. Easy, Hard, Legendary)
    • Dynamic – difficulty that adapts based on the success or failure of the player over time within a play session
  • Skill – a difficulty to measure quantity combining knowledge and execution to improve the player’s likelihood of success in a given game context
  • Randomness – a catch-call term used to describe unpredictable results
  • Meta (short for metagame) – these are the popular strategies that emerge each time the game balance is changed. In general, gameplay balance focuses on balancing the current metagame, rather than the game as a whole
  • Dominant Strategies – strategies so rewarding for so little effort that no other strategy is viable. Usually an urgent red flag in-game balance
  • Power        – the numeric effectiveness of a card, weapon or item. Usually the easiest value to tune
  • Costs – the resources consumed to utilize en effect. Usually the riskiest value to change.
  • Survivability – the potential for an entity to survive a sequence of actions, it provides an upper and lower limit to the duration of a game character, item or entity

Designer definitions:

These are terms that are mostly used by game designers in the everyday flow of work and are usually only used in gaming communities when repeating concepts shared by game designers.

  • Agency – the capacity of a player to act in their favor in a specific game situation.
    • A balanced game is not the same as a game with high amounts of agency.
  • Revamp / Rework – when a given option’s core mechanics are deeply flawed and a significant revision is needed to achieve the game’s design goals
  • Antipatterns – common design patterns that feel intuitive, but ultimately undermine the game’s health, creating weaker agency or unbalanceable scenarios
  • Fairness – the relative chance of success between two opposing teams or strategies. A game is considered fair when victory is reasonably accessible, even if challenging to pull off
  • Frequency – how often something happens in a single match or across multiple play sessions
  • Intensity – how severe or impactful the moment is when it occurs.
  • Economy – a bucket term to describe the flow of resources, costs and benefits over time
    • For example, in an RTS, unit and building production is heavily limited early game and player choice to invest in harvesting over game units will diminish as units upgrade, increasing benefit for cost and opponents grow in strength, increasing the risk of defeat
  • Meaningful Decisions – these are the choices that make the players feel they have an impact on the game. The term Meaningful Choices originated from a Sid Meier quote.
  • Flavor Choices – decisions that may add personality or self-expression, but do not change the ultimate outcome of a game
  • False Choice – an option that is always wrong or presents as a meaningful choice, but has no impact upon the game
  • Feedback Loops – game elements that create cycles that improve or damage themselves
    • Virtuous Cycle – a loop that strengthens itself the more times its repeated
    • Diminishing Cycle – a loop that gets worse each time it occurs, for example destroying a player’s resources makes it harder and harder to recover
  • Solvability – how easy it is for players to find the optimal play in a given situation. While limited amounts of solvability for a single situation is desirable, complete solvability of a game often indicates a flawed game design, dominant strategy or game based on insufficient agency
  • Transience – a logic term, used to indicate how strategies flow into each other. For most games, intransitivity is essential to long-term game health.
    • Transitivity – if strategy A beats B, and strategy B beats C, then A automatically beats C.
    • Intransitivity – if strategy A beat B, and strategy B beats C, then A may not beat C. Aka rock paper scissors.
  • Skill Floor – how successful a strategy is when executed at a basic level
  • Skill Ceiling – how successful a strategy is when executed at a master level
  • Power Curve – a ratio between power and costs, it essentially showcases how efficiency changes as cost scales.


  • Uncertainty – how unclear the outcome of a given action will be
  • Unpredictability – catch all for several different approaches to hide the outcome:
    • Random – pure unpredictability, randomness is innately streaky.
      • A sequence of 10 random numbers may look like either:
        • 24, 11, 19, 7, 30, 11, 27, 5, 22, 2, 3
        • 1, 1, 10, 30, 28, 15, 16, 22, 13, 1, 1
    • Chance – the average likelihood that an event will happen over a period of time.
      • 30% chance will only occur 30 times out of 100
      • The odds will not change between each roll
    • Ramping Chance – a chance that increases each time the event doesn’t occur, that will eventually guarantee it does happen, but exactly when is unclear.
      • 30% ramping chance might actually be:
      • 15%, 30%, 60%, 90%, 100%
    • Variance – (1 / 2 concepts)
      • The distance between the best and worst possible outcomes
      • An unpredictability concept that limits streakiness by guaranteeing certain events will occur, but not the exact order, reducing randomness  (e.g. a deck of card)
      • A sequence of 10 numbers between 15 and 25 with variance in their order:
        • 22, 17, 25, 16, 23, 20, 19, 15, 24, 18
        • 23, 15, 20, 19, 17, 22, 25, 16, 18, 24
      • Variance feels like randomness, but limits total chaos

Player decision space definitions:

These are specific terms around player decisions that are often confused for each other. These definitions may vary from the traditional definitions in normal conversation, so these concepts should be considered specialized usage within game balance.

  • Strategy
    • High-level decisions are generally prepared before conflict.
      • Examples:
        • Building a card deck
        • Equipping a character with gear
        • Choosing a hero
        • Picking a team composition
        • Choosing where to build a base and how it’s built
  • Tactics
    • Decisions made after the strategy is established to handle the situation in front of you.
      • Examples:
        • How you play from the hand of cards you hold
        • Choice of weapons, attacks or specials
        • Moving, positioning and pressing your opponent mid-battle
        • Coordinating with teammates to flank an enemy position
  • Execution
    • How well a player pulls off their tactic and strategy in the heat of the moment
      • Examples:
        • Choosing to use a card immediately or wait for an opponent to act
        • Timing and Aim
        • Ability usage of a given character
        • Knowledge of ally
  • Disruption
    • Things done to break up the enemy’s tactics and potentially force a change in strategy.
      • Examples:
        • Destroying a key card with a spell
        • Blocking an attack with a shield
        • Activating an effect which protects you from damage
  • Counterplay
    • Opportunity to mitigate the consequences of disruption in the game
      • Examples:
        • Canceling an opponent’s spell
        • Kicking a blocking opponent to remove their shield
        • Dispelling a defensive effect
        • Dodging an attack or missile with precise timing
  • Symmetry – a game where both players have access to the same pieces and options, e.g. Go or Checkers
  • Asymmetry – a game where both players have access to different options, for example, Netrunner or Crawl

Now that we’ve established the definitions, let’s get into the how.

How to balance a game?

The nuances of a game’s balance vary between genres, but balancing a game isn’t magic — even if the game is Magic the Gathering.

Let’s review some core principles and processes that help create balanced gameplay no matter the context or genre first.

How to handle player feedback

There’s a famous quote among game designers that says

“When players say something is wrong, they are usually right. When they tell you how to right it, they are usually wrong.”

Players have thousands of hours playing games and can intuitively feel when something is off. They do not have thousands of hours rigorously considering design problems and the consequences of gameplay changes.

So follow these 4 steps when you’re taking feedback, particularly player feedback.

Step 1: Write it down. Capture it exactly as delivered.

Step 2: Ask some leading questions to figure out which decision spaces (described above) may contain the problem, for example:

  • Did you feel like you could respond to the problem immediately?
  • Is there another solution if you had planned for that situation?
  • Which aspect was most frustrating or empowering about that experience?
  • How did you feel? What did you think during and afterwards?

Step 3: Organize and prioritize the player feedback with these 5 criteria:

The problem is:
  • Specific
  • Game Wide
Difficulty originates from:
  • Design
  • Execution
Frequency was:
  • Constant
  • Often
  • Rare
Intensity was:
  • High
  • Medium
  • Low
Urgency to fix:
  • Immediate
  • Soon
  • Someday

Step 4: Then sit down and review it briefly after the feedback sessions to anchor it in your mind, then add it to your ongoing list of issues.

Note: As you collect feedback through each iterative cycle, make sure to continuously prioritize based on the 5 criteria listed above and sort them into three lists:

  1. Urgent & quick to fix
  2. Important
  3. Backlog

Game balancing process

Step 1: Examine the feedback and identify the root problem that’s causing the in-balance. Ask yourself:

  • Has the feedback occurred multiple times from different sources?
  • What kind of problem is it?
  • Is it an agency problem?
    • If so, in which decision space is the problem occurring?
    • In which decision space should the solution exist?
  • If it is not an agency problem (player made the right decision in the right scenario):
    • Is the issue with power, frequency or cost of the specific response?
    • Is the issue broader and systemic?
    • Is the issue specific to this metagame/players perception?

(You can use these 7 diagnostic tools taught in the First Principles of Game Design)

Step 2: Once you have an idea of where the problem is occurring and why, it’s time to consider options and what tools you have at your disposal to solve the problem.

  1. Come up with at least three different approaches
  2. Evaluate with your team and pick the best one

Step 3: Determine how to measure what success looks like.

Step 4: Playtest it locally.

Step 5: If it works, deploy it to everyone / scale it up.

Step 6: Check back after a reasonable period of time to see if players have integrated the change and if it’s succeeding.

Step 7: If not, go back, re-evaluate and repeat.

Game balancing methods and tools

Here are some specific methods and tools a game developer might use to discuss and address balance problems:

Balancing power (5 Methods):

When players think of a game’s win rate, rules and balancing characters, power is the first place they consider. Power related problems are usually related to a perceived unfair advantage between two or more game objects.

As a result, game developers find power related comparisons fairly intuitive, as they provide apples to apples criteria for comparing a particular strategy against the entire game.

Method 1: Power Curve

The power curve is a particularly useful tool – as it provides a standard guideline for what to expect across a game’s experience.

(Credit r/dataisbeautiful)

In a card game, this might be something as basic as a 1 cost card has a total of 3 points between health and damage, while an 8 cost card will have 15 points between health and damage’.

In an MMO, this might be an actual formula used to calculate health and damage.

Rather than defining enemies by a hand-picked health value, I often would set an enemy to be some multiplier – for example 3.0 for a very tough monster, or 0.1 for a minion I expected you to AoE to death alone.

(Credit: r/wow)

This kind of design allows you to tweak the entire game as a whole, without designers having to individually retune every single enemy!

Method 2: Power vs. Survivability Bias

This balancing tool helps you choose whether to bias a game towards offensive power or survivability.

If you bias balance in a game towards power, particularly offensive power, it will encourage players to be aggressive in order to get the most value out of the game. However, if you encourage survivability instead, it will encourage players to play cautiously and slowly chip away to succeed.

One of my favorite examples of this is the Dark Souls series. Due to its high lethality, the game greatly rewards survivability while learning the game rules. However, as players master the same rules and rely less on survivability, they can become increasingly aggressive, focusing on offensive strategies.

Method 3: Randomization

When a strategy is popular, but overbearing or dominant in strength, one strategy to address it is to introduce unreliability in the form of randomization.

Experienced players will tend to shy away from inconsistent outcomes, while players of lower skill levels will embrace the unpredictable highs of an unexpected victory.

Method 4: Statistical Analysis

As game development becomes increasingly complex and games have too many variables to account for every matchup by hand, it’s often worth putting development resources into statistical analysis.

This is particularly useful for asymmetric games and card games, as the complex systems and sheer number of random events make uncertainty a core feature that the target audience enjoys.


Statistical analysis is only useful across hundreds or even thousands of games, as the player’s skills average out over time. It also allows for trial and error to be tracked as players learn and grow over time.

Just be aware of the 50% trap – and that win rates are not everything!

Method 5: Difficulty Levels

The sheer number of players who play games now is so broad that tuning a game for a single skill level is usually impractical at best.

Customizable settings, particularly for single-player games, challenge players with higher pain tolerance, adjusting things like health, damage, starting resources and other aspects of gameplay.

Many games offer at least three difficulty levels, with some unlocking additional ultra-hard difficulty levels which give enemies an unfair advantage meant for only the most professional players.

Difficulty levels are not appropriate for competitive games or other games with a focus on multiplayer fairness.  However, dynamic difficulty adjustment and the use of handicaps can help make a fun game better for everyone involved.

Method 6: Tier Lists

As a game greatly increases in complexity, at some point, it becomes nearly impossible for everything to be equally viable in competitive strength.

Separating characters out into tier lists allows you to focus the right kind of work on the right kind of characters.

Top-tier characters might be a focal point for early numeric balance, while low-tier characters are prioritized for comprehensive reworks, a strong niche or accepted as a primarily thematic pick.

(Example League of Legends Tier List – Credit: The Mattrex)

When we worked on patches for League of Legends Season 4, we would develop tier lists for champions we were concerned about, as well as known offenders in need of nerfs or buffs.

This allowed us to focus on the most urgent competitive issues, while still making long-term updates to less outstanding champions.

Balancing comprehension (4 Methods):

Other times, balance issues are rooted in a lack of understanding. The power may be tuned correctly, but the game mechanics are poorly communicated.

Method 1: Telegraphing

In games, some abilities strike players without the ability for them to react. These kinds of mechanics have little to no gameplay. For example, auto attacks in World of Warcraft. Dodging, parry and even blocking are simulated entirely by the server.

To improve the quality of gameplay, adding audio and visual cues to communicate when an attack is incoming and what kind of actions can be used in response is known as telegraphing.


In this screenshot, the red lines indicate where the enemies intend to attack in the next round, allowing the player to plan for the incoming threats.

(Credit: Wildstar)

Telegraphing can be even richer, utilizing ground markers, character animations and beyond.

For example, in Dark Souls, every attack is telegraphed with an animation, allowing players to utilize their dodge and block skills to interact with every enemy attack.

(Credit: r/eldenring)

Whatever the mechanism, introducing telegraphs that warn of impending danger creates the potential for agency in gameplay.

Method 2: Feedback

Different from the Feedback Loop, feedback provides information on whether the mechanic succeeded or failed.

Game developers improve the visual or audio feedback when players are performing actions repeatedly that don’t actually help with their game experience.

(Credit: Skullgirls)

In the above screenshot, a clear symbol appears to convey that they attack was ineffective.

Method 3: Gamemaster

Rare in digital game design, tabletop games have a Gamemaster, whose job is to dynamically adjust the difficulty and provide appropriate contextual cues to the players.

(My friend Matt trying to suppress his dismay at yet absurd plan from the crew at Critical Role)

Method 4: Tutorialization

Other times, you may simply have not done the work to properly teach the player how to play the game.

Tutorialization, or the process of teaching the player by playing with light hints, allows players to have an engaging experience while learning the ropes.

Multiplayer games and strategy games in particular are difficult to teach without proper tutorialization outside of an active PvP battle.


(Credit: Legends of Runeterra)

Legends of Runeterra creates a new challenge with each expansion set, to teach players the meaning of special keywords.

Balancing agency (4 Methods):

If the game is properly balanced numerically – and players understand what’s happening, but are still consistently frustrated – then there may be an agency issue.

Method 1: Response Windows

The first area where balance problems may occur is in the response windows. This is the period of time between the telegraph and the effect.


Here’s an example of a dagger attack from Elden Ring, which has 10 frames of telegraphing before the attack lands.

You can increase the ease of blocking, parrying and dodging by increasing the response window.


(The rockfall path gives you a 2-turn telegraph before it destroys the weakest enemy unit)

In non-action games, this can be things like the number of turns before a major effect fires.

Method 2: Counters and Counterplay

The next form of problematic balance may be in a lack of counters or counterplay. Counters are tactics or strategies that negate or reverse an enemy action, putting them on the defensive.

If your game has too few counters, or a strategy is too perfect, the other players will get frustrated by facing the same single strategy without the opportunity to defeat it.

Counterplay is about introducing ways of handling opponent disruption in the moment independent of personal mechanics.


(Credit: Surrender at 20) – Illaoi Skills are built with many forms of counterplay.

This can be as simple as evading an attack by moving out of the way, or something as complex as defeating a phantom object quickly to prevent a spell or trap.

Method 3: Bans

If you’re creating a game with many options, then allowing players to ban characters before character selection has finished allows players to remove perceived worst offenders between patch cycles.


However, this brings the risk of some players never getting to play a new or favored champ if it is perceived as overpowered.

Method 4: Matchmaking and Ranking

Of the many aspects of game design, the bottom line is that some players are just more skilled at playing a game.

With identical resources, the game’s balance can feel incredibly broken, even if the game elements are perfectly fair. So game developers introduce matchmaking to ensure players of similar skill levels are playing against each other.

Unfortunately, many players see the matchmaking system as a way to grow in rank, rather than a system to provide them with a reasonably fair match.


(Ranked progression from VALORANT)

Still — without matchmaking game balance would be incredibly worse as pro-level players shut down entire teams on a regular basis. In this case, even if the game mechanics support agency, it is out of reach for some players.

Balancing resources (5 Methods):

When Power, Agency and Communication are all tuned up appropriately, that leaves resource limitations.

In fact, resource limitations are so important they will usually be established first, then the other three tuned around it.  Resources restrict how, when and how frequently certain threats can be used.

Method 1: Cost

The most basic cost is price – this might be mana, gold, ammo or otherwise. This forces an option to be weighed carefully against other resources with the same price.

Grenades and rockets are frequently the most powerful weapons in FPS games – but often can only be fired in very limited quantities.

Method 2: Cooldown

When a skill has an oppressive or pressuring effect upon battle, introducing or increasing the cooldown reduces how often the opponent has to mentally prepare for an option.

Thus once used, the player can assume that skill won’t be used again, allowing previously dangerous options to become viable.

A corollary here is charge or ammo-based cooldowns allow rapid use of skill in a short burst, then allows them to be inaccessible until the recharge period has completed.

Method 3: Contextual Costs

Sometimes a skill is incredibly powerful – too powerful to grant an effect universally at a low cost.

image28 image33

However, if a particular strategy is highly vulnerable to a particular type of counter-attack – for example single-target removal in Legend of Runeterra’s cultist weapon decks – cards can be introduced that reduce the cost of the effect in that specialized condition.

Method 4: Exclusivity

Just as resources control  the number of things that can be done at once, exclusivity can lock out certain options.


This can be incredibly valuable in reducing the amount of possibility space an opponent has to consider.

In the above screenshot, Legend of Runeterra limits no more than 6 champion cards and from a maximum of two regions. This means players don’t have to consider every possible card in every match.

Method 5: Pacing

Ultimately, resources are just all variations on the concept of pacing.  Players may not have access to every option out of the gate.

By limiting how quickly, how often and how broadly the player needs to consider what might defeat them, it allows them to develop strategies with inherent flaws, allowing them to lose and encourages them to try many diverse ideas over the lifespan of a single game.

Balancing fantasy (2 Methods):

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly to the most systemic among us, Fantasy can have a huge deal to do with the perceived balance of the game.

Method 1: Aesthetics

Presentation matters.

A famous story goes that a development team had a perfectly balanced shotgun. The numbers were right, the cooldown was right, it worked. However, players reported it was consistently weak. An insightful sound designer replaced the sound effect of the shotgun blast going off and complaints immediately ceased.

Likewise, if you have an enemy that is a colossal giant, but has only one hitpoint, then players will cry foul.

image4 1

We ran into this with Xerath’s ultimate – the balance point of each impact was right, but I had to ask the VFX designer to juice it up several times so that it felt like it impacted the ground with sufficient force that it felt like an ultimate attack.

Method 2: Mechanical Alignment

The choice of mechanics needs to make sense for the character and situation. If a character or situation doesn’t feel right, players will notice and it will become a balance issue.

For example, a fire mage having access to slowing effects or a monster made of electricity poisoning you. Players will feel the intuitive affordances and lessons they’ve been taught by the game have been undermined.

By the way, I’ll be diving deep into all 20 methods to balance power, comprehension, agency, resources, and fantasy in my upcoming Mastering Game Mechanics Course.

You can join the waitlist here

Common math tools in game balance

Balancing a game or even a single item can be intimidating. It helps if you understand the video game math most game combat is built upon. Here are some practical techniques you can use today:

Tool 1: Time to Death

If the player does nothing, how long will / should it take for her to die?

The answer to this question shapes the rest of the game.

Imagine a character with 100 health. If an enemy does 2 damage per second, that means it will take 50 seconds to die. With just this answer, you suddenly have an answer to ‘How much damage should each attack do?’

If an attack has a 2 second warning and a 2 second recovery animation, then it should deal a minimum of 4 damage to hit your target.

If enemies spend half the fight running to your agile, backflipping ninja, then that attack needs to do a minimum of 8 damage.

If the player can dodge 50% of the attacks thrown at them, then you need to deal 16 damage per hit.

If the player can block all attacks reducing 50% of the damage taken, then you need to deal 32 damage per hit.

In just this very simple chain of logic, we’ve traversed the difference between tuning for a game like World of Warcraft (unavoidable base damage per second * time) to Elden Ring (high lethality dodgeable strikes).

The increased agency over death means increased risk if we want our average case to meet the desired targets. In this case, the player could die in 6-8 seconds instead of 50 seconds.

Tool 2: Hits to Kill

How many attacks should the player land to kill an enemy?

The answer to this question shapes how the game will be designed.

Classic Super Mario Bros games are very simple:

  1. hits for basic enemies
  2. for special enemies
  3. for bosses
1 balance mario1
2 balance mario2
3 balance mario3

Legend of Zelda enemies take far more hits than Super Mario enemies, but the number of strikes tends to stay steady throughout the game.

image7 image16

Elden Ring enemies start off taking more hits and steadily reduce until enemies can be slain in one blow by a high level character, but the ratios between weapon types tends to stay the same.



(Credit: r/EldenRing)

Furthermore, growth of offensive power is done incrementally based on the stats which empower the weapon. This leads to the concept of breakpoints – or certain stat values where power gains fall off over time.


Just as there are breakpoints in the weapon power’s growth, there are ALSO breakpoints where the gameplay changes.

For example:

An enemy with 100 health who took 10 hits to kill will take 9 hits to kill after 15 points of strength increase your damage from 10 to 12, but still take 9 hits to kill at 16 strength, since you aren’t dealing 13+ damage yet.

Damage Hits to Kill (100 hp)
10 10 (10 x 10)
11 10 (9 x 11 + 1 overkill of 9)
12 9 (8 x 12 + 1 overkill of 4)
13 8 (7 x 13 + 1 overkill of 9)
14 8 (7 x 13 + 1 overkill of 2)
15 7 (6 x 15 + 1 overkill of 10)
16 7 (6 x 16 + 1 overkill of 4)
17 6 (5 x 17 + 1 overkill of 16)
18 6 (5 x 18 + 1 overkill of 10)
19 6 (5 x 19 + 1 overkill of 5)
20 5 (5 x 20)

In fact, you won’t ever precisely kill a 100 hit point creature until you hit 20 damage per strike.

As a result, a weapon with a higher damage growth stat that takes fewer hits to kill an enemy also takes longer to result in a meaningful gameplay difference; while a faster weapon leads to fewer hits to kill sooner.

However, this alone isn’t enough – 4 hits reduced to 3 hits to kill from a great hammer might be easier to land than 16 hits reduced to 12 hits on a dagger.

When balancing your game, know exactly how many hits to kill it takes to achieve victory and over what period of time!

Tool 3: Base + Growth Analysis

As hinted at above in the Elden Ring example, to truly understand how your game changes, you need to be able to understand how characters grow in power over the course of the game.

In World of Warcraft, poor collective understanding of how talents would impact the relative growth rates of abilities leads to skills being removed from player rotations over time. In fact, in the Burning Crusade expansion, it was better for Warlocks to ONLY press fully stacked Shadow Bolt attacks, rather than mixing multiple skills together!

This happened because the coefficient (multiplier of spell power added to each cast) was higher for Shadowbolt than Corruption!

While the details of executing this, particularly in a live MMO, are incredibly intricate, he’s a basic version I used while overhauling all 3 Warlock specs in Mists of Pandaria.

(Fun Fact: Celestalon, aka Chadd Nervig, started his career – that eventually led to him being the features lead on Hearthstone – by writing simulators to accurately calculate skill damage and growth).

But how did this happen in the first place? Well…

Let’s imagine a sample fight where I collect the total number of actions performed to kill some giant orc.

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Shadowbolt 10 – 100 100% 100 600 150 15,000 – 90,000
Corruption 1 – 10 10% 10 60 1000 10,000 – 60,000

Now, in this table, you can see that the ratio of power between Shadow Bolt and Corruption is a steady 10 : 1.

However, due to the increased frequency of events, Corruption brings 40% of the total damage.

Let’s imagine a simple Fire Mage who only has one skill:

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Firebolt 10 – 166 166% 166 1000 150 25,000 – 150,000

In order to do the same damage over time, every Mage’s Fireball needs to deal 66% more damage.

This is balanced, right? Well…

For those of you not familiar with World of Warcraft, Shadow Bolt takes 3 seconds to cast, while Corruption is instantaneous, dealing 10 hits per cast over 30 seconds with a 1.5 global cooldown and can only be cast once per target.

This means that if there are 2 targets around, it’s suddenly more valuable to cast corruption twice back to back than it is to cast one Shadowbolt!

Let’s simplify the actual gameplay to make the math easier to see – in this case, we’ll say 10 corruption events costs 0.5 shadow bolt events – so an extra 1000 corruptions costs 50 shadow bolts.

Suddenly on a two target fight, the charts look like this!

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Shadowbolt 10 – 100 100% 100 600 100 10,000 – 60,000
Corruption 1 – 10 10% 10 60 2000 20,000 – 120,000

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Firebolt 10 – 166 166% 166 1000 150 25,000 – 150,000

This seems reasonable, right? It’s an advantage, but still reasonable. 20% more damage for a lot more work.  Well, what about 3 targets…

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Shadowbolt 10 – 100 100% 100 600 50 5000 – 30,000
Corruption 1 – 10 10% 10 60 3000 30,000 – 180,000

Assume Spell Power = 500 at max level

Skill Base Value

(lvl 1 – max)











Firebolt 10 – 166 166% 166 1000 150 25,000 – 150,000

Uh oh! Suddenly the Warlock is dealing 40% more than the mage. Push this to 4 targets and its 60% and 0 Shadowbolts!

A concerned class designer saw this happen in dungeons and probably went back in and reduced the growth coefficient of Corruption ‘just to be safe’. (Probably because a certain Mage-loving lead designer didn’t like other classes out-damaging him in dungeons. 😉

Now, math nerds and wow players may realize I’ve fudged the numbers slightly, since you’d still be weaving shadowbolts and corruption casts all the way up until 10 targets. Forgive me, I’m teaching here and doing this chart 10x is tedious!

What’s the point?

Even if we perfectly balanced our game with growth rates related to the most obvious thing – spell power – additional variables, such as attack duration, exclusivity, synergistic effects and multiple targets can cause difficult to calculate growth.

Furthermore, there are gameplay considerations – it is easier for the Fire Mage to just push a fireball than it is for the Warlock to cast two spells. However, corruption is instant! This could be a huge deal in PvP.  (Spoiler: it was)

Despite all of this, charts like this allow you to have an apples-to apples comparison across both specializations and classes.

Tool 4: Standardization

As a result of the two above examples, rather than just one-off fixing each skill as you run into it, you develop standard rules.

For example, League of Legends realized quickly that some skills that are incredibly difficult to use against players who flee are incredibly strong against monsters who stand and fight.

As a result, certain items and skills have reduced effect against monsters.

image14 image26

This ratio is consistent for all damage over time and maximum health effects.

In the World of Warcraft case, we might decide that instant-cast damage over time skills should always be 75% as efficient as a stand-and-cast missile spell.

Then we can fix game-wide mechanics issues by adjusting a single value.

Tool 5: Non-Combat Variation

If you’re developing a non-combat game, such as a Stardew Valley or The Sims, simply replace ‘Death’ and ‘Kill’ to “Failure” and “Desired Goal”.

The math concepts are identical, just the contextualization is different:

  • How many days of dates do you have to go on with a gift before the townsfolk love you?
  • How many months of rent without selling food until the bank repossesses your farm?

Tool 6: Triple Tap (aka Undershoot, Overshoot, Shoot)

Described aptly by Dan Felder, this balancing strategy reduces the number of iterations you have to do while balancing a gameplay mechanic.

The process is simple:

  1. Pick a number that feels right
    • Was it too weak?
      • Pick a new number that you are pretty sure is too high
    • Was it too strong?
      • Pick a new number that you are pretty sure is too weak
  1. If you’re wrong with the new number, keep going by large steps

For example, if a card costs too little at 3 mana and too much at 6, you have a very narrow window where the right cost exists. However, if you go 3, then 4 and it feels right… you’ll never be quite sure if 5 or 6 was too much or just right.

Triple Tapping lets you define the boundaries of power quickly.

Game balance tips and takeaways

As mentioned above, the 50% trap is a real risk of attempting to achieve a “perfect” balance rather than an appropriate balance for the game you’re crafting.

To help you avoid reinventing the wheel, here are the five main game balance takeaways I’ve learned from working on League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps.

1. Focus on player agency

Your goal in game balance is to keep the agency high for as long as possible – with swings happening on either side giving them opportunities to win.

As soon as the game has crossed the point where swings aren’t possible, the match should end as quickly as possible.

The longer players are trapped in a fail state, the more negative emotions build up; it’s better to end the match and let a fresh one take place than for a player to sit in a beatdown.

2. PvP has less margin for error than PvE

When you’re balancing for PvP, you have a narrow margin for error.

Players tend to get cranky when win rates differ by more than 55% vs 45%.

However, in PvE – the NPCs don’t complain when they lose. This means you can bias win chances and stack the deck in favor of the players pretty hard.

To quote my colleague Candace Thomas (Former Principal Game Designer at Blizzard Entertainment, Riot Games, Amazon Games, and Supercell):

“The Role of NPCs is to lose convincingly.”

In PvP, you need to be mindful that each strategy works well and isn’t obliterated from viability by other strategies on a regular basis.

In PvE, you just need to be confident that each strategy can beat the game!

3. Single-player game balance is much simpler

I balanced all of Ori & the Will of the Wisps myself:

  • Damage
  • Health
  • Experience
  • Money
  • Resources

Other designers gave input and tweaked the feel on a single enemy level, but at the end of the day, I balanced everything across the board.

This would be impossible in a game like World of Warcraft, League of Legends or Elden Ring. The sheer volume of options and comparisons to test made it impossible.

I was able to balance Ori alone because

  1. Only 1 character
    1. Ori was the only character with meaningful balance values

(Spoilers: Ku tuning copied Ori’s except for the jumps)

  1. Only 3 essential weapons
    1. The sword, hammer and bow were the only spammable weapons
    2. Everything else used energy which meant it could be balanced for cost
  1. Only 2 raw power upgrades
    1. At 25% and 50% damage, it meant the thresholds for power upgrades felt clear and substantial, affecting the Hits to Kill for all enemies
  1. Only 4 major tuning points
    1. While Ori had 8 major zones, it only needed 4 tuning points:
      1. Opening
      2. Baur’s Reach & Luma Pools
      3. Mouldwood & Windswept Wastes
      4. Willow’s End
        1. This meant that I could simply setup multipliers for each enemy/tuning pairing and then assign the difficulty to the regions.
  1. Only health and energy scaled significantly
    1. This meant progress was linear and only on error-tolerance
  1. Shard boosts were relatively minor
    1. The exception here being the glass cannon shard, which most players ignore
  1. Bosses were one-offs with only 1 tuning
    1. Most tuning was internal to an un-boosted Ori
    2. This means you just killed them faster if you unlocked a major powerup
    3. Chris and Milton were able to get balance most of the way there just beating them with a non-upgraded Ori
  1. The gamewide difficulty was a flat multiplier with 3 variables
    1. This isn’t the highest quality difficulty ever, but it worked.
    2. Health, damage and environmental damage were the only things that changed

If you take all of these variables and multiply them:

  • 1 × 3 × 2 × 4 × 3  = 72 player power variants per enemy (there were < 20 enemy types)

By comparison, League of Legends has 162 champions, 5 rune pages each with (4 × 3 × 3 × 3) 101 options.

Before the game even starts, each champion has 505 possible variations, and then 161 × 160 × 159 × 158 different team composition possibilities.

With a total of 647,142,720 different ways you COULD play a champion before considering items or item builds.

Mathematically, it is impossible to play the exact same game of League of Legends twice.

In practice, we know that players aggregate towards certain local maxima, so you will face the same build on Jinx multiple times a season – however, even then the exact same combinations are relatively rare for most players.

It is simply not possible to reign in that much chaos alone.

4. Multiplayer game balance steps

So how DO you balance a competitive game like that?

  1. Triage outliers quickly
  2. Address root structural issues systematically
  3. Collect massive amounts of statistical data
  4. Trust your gut to tell you where there’s a problem
  5. Trust your colleagues and skills to determine the best way to handle it
  6. Forgive yourself for making mistakes
  7. Test
  8. Listen
  9. Iterate

Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets. So here are a few genre-specific tips:

Balancing Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Games (MOBA):

MOBA games are extremely diverse, but there’s certain habits you can go through that will help you step through the balancing process. MOBAs are games of combinatorial complexity.

This means you have to look at things both 1:1 and how they combine. The key is to isolate variables early on.

Balance in these phases:

  1. Start with itemless lane tests
    • Champion Design would do 1:1 lanes endlessly while blocking out skills
  1. Use consistent item builds against an anchor
    • Changes to champion design are hard to feel if your power curve varies too widely between changes
    • Facing the same opponent lets you feel mechanical adjustments
  1. Face diverse opponents
    • After you have a good anchor against a stable opponent (this used to be Renekton or Darius in top lane for example), mixing it up lets you confirm weaknesses and exploit strengths
  1. Establish core niche
    • Each champion should have something clear that it does better than anyone else
    • This should be paired with an appropriate weakness.
    • For example, Xerath range is insane, but has no escapes and dies to assassination.
  1. Introduce team fights intermittently
    • You might not be aware of how dramatically team comps can change champion effectiveness
    • Remember, that sometimes it’s okay to not have a solution for everything
  1. Balance into clear identity
    • Better to buff a strength and make a weakness a bigger weakness
    • If you don’t, you end up with Karma or Irelia 1.0, who resist everything
  1. Examine the data
    • Look at launch data with an open mind
    • Players will neither comprehend nor fully exploit a new champion for a few weeks
  1. Course correct, not hard pivot
    • Small changes for the first few weeks.
    • Don’t undermine your fundamentals unless you’ve made a grievous mistake
    • Try not to create a Yorick 1.0 – so powerful that they have to be nerfed into irrelevance until you have to rework them.
  1. Remember balance is more like gardening than engineering
    • You will constantly be course correcting and making mistakes
  1. Player builds will be better than yours
    • 1,000,000 players will play more of that champion in the first hour than you will in the entire development and balancing cycle
  1. Forgive yourself
    • MOBAs are hard and the audience is thoroughly demanding

Balancing Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG):

I’ve spent 6 and a half years working on World of Warcraft. Where MOBAs are combinatorial complexity, MMOs are combinatorial AND problems of scale. So what do you do?

  1. Establish baselines
    • If you know an outdoor battle is supposed to end in 30 seconds…
    • You know all characters need to do 30 dps if monsters have 900 hp.
  1. Separate throughput from flourish
    • Throughput is the core rotation
    • Flourish the short-term bursts of power you can gain
    • Balance all classes against throughput first
    • Start with the core rotation balance
  1. Conditionalize flourish
    • It’s better for classes to be super effective in specific situations
    • This means knowing the niches and standing by them
    • Examples:
      1. Warlocks are stationary, Mages are mobile
      2. Warlocks can endure more, Mages can avoid more
      3. Warlocks can heal, Mages can self shield
      4. Warlock spells can cost health, Mages never will
        • The end result of this design is two caster classes that will feel very distinct, even if they have many skills that are mechanically similar (AoE, Nukes, etc)
  1. Establish standards
    • If all characters have AoE skills, what is the target damage cap?
    • If all characters take damage, what % do they heal themselves?
  1. Remember at the high end, no cost is too costly
    • Players will bend over backwards doing the most absurd things for a 1% advantage
  1. Decide why you bring multiple classes
    • Are they buffs? Unique skills? Throughput niche?
    • Embrace that variety
  1. Remember, in PvE, you only have to succeed
    • The deviance between the best, average and worst case is farther than you can ever imagine
    • Decide what counts as passing and in what context
      1. Solo is easier than Dungeons, easier than Raids… or is it?
      2. It’s actually possibly to push players harder solo – there are fewer variables… but player expect more difficult content in large groups… but the variance is far larger.
  1. Forgive yourself – MMOs are hard and the audience is thoroughly demanding

Balancing Real-Time Strategy Games (RTS):

Disclaimer: I did help playtest and provide design feedback for StarCraft 2 prototype. However, my overall time on RTS games is relatively minor. I will have someone who has deeper RTS balancing experience to rewrite this section in the future.

Here are the general RTS balancing tips:

  1. Develop Uniqueness First
    • Protoss / Terran / Zerg was a better split than Warcraft 3 races because the crispness of the base unit differences was far easier to feel
  1. Units are notes in a chord, not the whole song
    • Starcraft 2 suffered heavily for having too much combat complexity on every unit
  1. Single-player can be wild
    • This is the place for your crazy overpriced mech that absolutely annihilates
  1. Ebb and Flow
    • There needs to be a natural cadence between farming, arming and defending
  1. Tech and Power Spikes should line up timing-wise
    • The best moments happen when army caps and new tech unlocks line up
    • Having to utilize your new toy to outplay your opponent’s raw power advantage feels amazing
  1. Actions Per Minute is just a metric
    • Effective actions per minute are far more relevant
  1. Control is King
    • Unresponsive, difficult-to-use features are better off cut in competitive
  1. Counters are essential
    • If you’re in a situation without the agency to recover, the game should be ending quickly
    • Hard counters should be easier to hard counters than soft counters are to soft counters.
  1. Forgive yourself – RTS games are hard and the audience is thoroughly demanding

Balancing Fighting Games:

Disclaimer: I mostly played Soul Caliber when I lived in Japan and never got competitive with these games. So take this section with a grain of salt.

I will invite a colleague with more extensive experience in fighting games to update this section.

  1. It is essential to understand what is core to your game
    • Are you building a highly deep single-character mastery game?
    • Are you building an ensemble tag in the game?
    • Are you building for friends vs. edgy online competition?
    • Are you supporting or punishing button mashing?
  1. Fighting games are built upon stacks of Rock / Paper / Scissors with inequitable outcomes
    • Strike / Block / Grab – guessing correctly is half the game
    • Guessing is made more predictable by giving uneven advantages to different strikes
  1. Remember your goals are uneven matches, but winnable and outplayable moments
    • Elements should be telegraphed and mistakes should be risky
  1. Pay careful attention to combinations of offense and movement
    • Root motion is one of the most powerful aspects during an attack
  1. Know your classes and their tradeoffs
    • Rushdown characters are imbalanced towards aggression
    • Zoners are about escape and constant pressure from
    • Grapplers are heavy hitters but immobile
    • All-rounders sit somewhere between these three
  1. Preserve your class identities, don’t undermine them
    • A grappler who is fast is just overpowered
  1. Be aware of counters and their frequency
    • A character with a consistent and powerful recovery in Smash Bros, but who is consistently countered by blocking is only useful in tiers where blocking is weak
    • A character with a rare and niche skill will only rarely be able to make use of it, so it should be powerful when you do get it off
  1. Execution difficulty and outcome power are related, but not directly
    • While you want to reward increased difficulty, twice as hard should not reward twice as much power.
    • Versatility or control of timing is a better reward than a linear power increase
  1. Counterplays should be more accessible than plays
    • If only one character can counter one other character’s special move, that move will be overpowered in every other matchup
    • The pressure is on when
  1. Chaos vs. Consistency – balance these separately
    • Smash Bros w/ Items – Chaos
    • Smash on Final Destination – Consistency
  1. Forgive yourself – Fighting games are hard and the audience is thoroughly demanding

Balancing First-Person Shooter Games (FPS):

Since I’m wholly unqualified to talk about competitive balance in first-person shooters, here are 10 balancing (and game feel) tips from my colleague Michael Anderson who has extensive experience working on FPS titles such as Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Apex Legends.

Take it away Michael:

  1. Tuning weapon damage/falloff/recoil numbers will not save you from bad design.
    • FPS gun feel is much more than the weapon metrics themselves, but rather a holistic design problem where success is the result of multiple systems working together and hundreds of tiny decisions along the way, validated by playtesting
  1. One domain of focus is simply not enough to make your gunplay stand out or feel good. How good or balanced a weapon feels is a combination of
    • The weapon itself
    • The player controller/movement system
    • AI/enemy reactions
    • Sound, fx, and animation.
  1. Boiled down, game feel is where player expectation meets results
    • The player expects something to happen, consciously or subconsciously, and they expect the game to deliver on that expectation
    • You can think of feedback being the same thing as player validation. Did the game validate what the player expected? Then the feedback will feel great.
  1. Damage feedback and aim assist are huge to gun feel and balance.
    • If the player doesn’t witness the effects of their shot on their target, all sense of immersion and feedback is lost.
      • Ask yourself: Does the target play a reaction animation visible to the player?
    • If you’re limited by animation, are there other ways you can communicate this, like reticle/UI animations?
    • Aim assist is driven by tons of tiny factors, and you’ll have to find what works for you, but some common methods are:
      • Magnetism – the reticle tracking the target for a short period of time
      • Friction – how much the player reticle movement slows down over targets
      • ADS snapping – more appropriate for PVE games
      • Bullet growth over distance – targets far away or in motion are slightly easier to hit with your bullet growing in size over time
      • Bullet bending – bullet trajectories actually bend towards targets by a slight amount
  2. Avoid making tons of changes all at once. If you plan on making significant changes to a weapon, player movement, etc.
    • Try to make incremental changes where you can clearly see the results of each change, validated with a playtest.
  3. An often overlooked aspect of competitive PvP FPS balance is where your player bullets originate from. In practice, they will not originate from the weapon barrel. This is due to the FPS camera perspective and the resulting parallax issues.
    • Many games have the bullets silently originate from the player’s head/center of the screen, with a ‘fake’ bullet that’s purely visual coming from the weapon barrel. Other games might have the real bullet originating from the player’s chest.
    • These decisions come down to how you wish to balance the game for the opposing players on the other end of the bullets.
      • For example: If the shooting player is crouched behind a low horizontal wall, with only the tops of their head visible and their guns hidden, is it fair to the other receiving player that they can still be shot if the bullets originate from the center of the head? You’ll have to decide.
  4. Player momentum should be considered when handling gunplay.
    • Do shots inherit player momentum? Maybe they do, but only by a fraction? Maybe that fraction only applies to directions that aren’t forward or backward?
    • These types of micro decisions will make your game feel so much better, again respecting the analog input of players and making informed guesses of their expectations.
  5. Button inputs also need lots of care. This ranges from allowing the remapping of inputs, tuning timing windows (being generous with the amount of time players need to combine inputs when needed), to thoughtful handling of how multiple actions overlap.
    • One tip is using a spreadsheet/matrix of how each button action performs in combination with other currently active behaviors.
    • Given the current player action vs. desired action/button press, what should the result be?
      • For example: If I press the melee button during ADS’ing, should my melee input be ignored, or queued and wait for some moment during the ADS animation to cancel out of it, etc. Organizing this in a spreadsheet will help greatly.
  6. FX should communicate what is happening under the hood with the design.
    • If an AOE effect takes up 200 units, make sure the FX defines that region clearly.
    • Muzzle flashes are also something to consider, with thoughtful care needed to represent the power and rate of different weapons while not significantly obfuscating the screen and annoying players.
  7. There is no such thing as perfect balance. Games are all about compromises, and therefore you’re inherently assuming you’ll be stuck shipping an imperfect system.
    • Live service games have embraced this flaw by tweaking balance every season in the name of gameplay novelty.
    • If you don’t have the luxury of live updates, don’t sweat the small details and instead worry about the overall satisfaction of players in playtests.
    • Not getting the damage falloff right is nothing compared to nailing the overall feel of satisfying animations, great sound, inputs that respect lots of player analog actions, etc.

How do you learn game balancing?

Game balance is unfortunately one of those skills that looks easy from the outside when you see one or two numbers change each patch cycle.

In truth, you can only learn game balancing by doing it – and can only do it by working on a game.

Other options are:

  • Mod an existing game, changing weapons, attacks and enemies to see what happens
  • Create content inside of an open level-design experience, such as Roblox

However, you can speed up your learning by platforming off of other’s experiences. Here are 2 courses to help you do this.

1. First Principles of Game Design – where I help you develop the skills to diagnose any games and identify the 7 common player experience problems universal to all player types on command.

2. Mastering Game Mechanics (in development) – where I provide you with existing proven balancing methods, tools, and solutions to common player problems.

You can get notified when it’s live here

BONUS: Simple game balancing framework for beginners

All of this can be overwhelming, so if you’re new to balancing, use this simple framework by my colleague Kevin ‘Geeves’ O’Brien, former Riot balance designer.

Step 1 – Problem identification: Gather information from the player base, both anecdotally and through whatever telemetry data you are gathering.

Balance intuition with data, and in data starved environments, make sure to really understand the nuance of the root problem.

Step 2 – Solution exploration: When you’re looking for solutions, keep in mind that all these problems all have many different types of solutions. So ask yourself:

  • Does the problem you’re solving require a full system rewrite, or will a simple data change work?
  • Does the problem only apply to one specific area, or to many?

For example: In the case of League of Legends, we would frequently see issues with 1 fighter tank that would apply to a larger group of them.

This is an area where you can really practice your balancing skills.

Step 3 – Ship & validate: Ship the solution, communicate it to the player base and observe its effects and think:

  • Is the problem less pronounced now?
  • How did players respond to the solution?

You can practice all 3 of these in-depth, and a big part of live service game balance is based on these 3 steps.

Game Balancing Final Thoughts

This is a long guide. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions for me feel free to comment below or chat with me in the #game-design channel in the Funsmith Club Discord.

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[STUDIO] Blizzard Entertainment: Content, mechanics, and systems designer

(Creator of Apex Legends & former Creative Director at Respawn)

[GAME] World of Warcraft: MMORPG with 8.5 million average monthly players, won Gamer’s Choice Award – Fan Favorite MMORPG, VGX Award for Best PC Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Video Game.

  • Classic:
    • Designed Cosmos UI
    • Designed part of Raid Team for Naxxramas
  • Burning Crusade:
    • Designed the raid bosses Karazhan, Black Temple, Zul’Aman
    • Designed the Outlands content
    • Designed The Underbog including bosses:
      • Hungarfen, Ghaz’an, Swamplord Musel’ik, and The Black Stalker
    • Designed the Hellfire Ramparts final bosses Nazan & Vazruden
    • Designed the Return to Karazhan bosses: Attumen the Huntsman, Big Bad Wolf, Shades of Aran, Netherspite, Nightbane
  • Wrath of the Lich King:
    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
    • Designed quest content
    • Designed Deathwing Overworld encounters
    • Designed Morchok and Rhyolith raid fights
  • Mists of Pandaria: 
    • Overhauled the entire Warlock class – Best player rated version through all expansion packs
    • Designed pet battle combat engine and scripted client scene

[GAME] StarCraft 2: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Diablo 3: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Overwatch: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Hearthstone: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[STUDIO] Riot Games: Systems designer, in-studio game design instructor

(Former Global Communications Lead for League of Legends)
(Former Technical Game Designer at Riot Games)

[GAME] League of Legends: Team-based strategy MOBA with 152 million average active monthly players, won The Game Award for Best Esports Game and BAFTA Best Persistent Game Award.

  • Redesigned Xerath Champion by interfacing with community
  • Reworked the support income system for season 4
  • Redesigned the Ward system
  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
  • Improved UI indicators to improve clarity of allied behaviour

[OTHER GAMES] Under NDA: Developed multiple unreleased projects in R&D

Game Design Instructor: Coached and mentored associate designers on gameplay and mechanics

[STUDIO] Moon Studios: Senior game designer

(Former Lead Game Designer at Moon Studios)

[GAME] Ori & The Will of The Wisps: 2m total players (423k people finished it) with average 92.8/100 ratings by 23 top game rating sites (including Steam and Nintendo Switch).

  • Designed the weapon and Shard systems
  • Worked on combat balance
  • Designed most of the User Interface

[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

  • Designed core combat
  • High-level design content planning
  • Game systems design
  • Game design documentation
  • Gameplay systems engineering
  • Tools design
  • Photon Quantum implementation of gameplay

[VC FUNDED STARTUP] SnackPass: Social food ordering platform with 500k active users $400m+ valuation

[PROJECT] Tochi: Creative director (hybrid of game design, production and leading the product team)

  • Lead artists, engineers, and animators on the release the gamification system to incentivize long-term customers with social bonds and a shared experience through the app

[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

[STUDIOS] Studio Pixanoh + 13 other indie game studios (under NDA):

  • Helped build, train and establish the design teams
  • Established unique combat niche and overall design philosophy
  • Tracked quality, consistency and feedback methods
  • Established company meeting structure and culture

Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
  • Tencent Studio
  • Wargaming
  • USC (University of Southern California)
  • RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • US AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association)
  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • West Gaming Foundation
  • Kyoto Computer Gakuin – Kyoto, Japan

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