The One Player Problem
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 October 2012, 7:00 am
What is the biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game?  It's the first player.  In a game with classes and limited talent flexibility there will still be many classes against which to balance an encounter.  But fine, let's roll with it and say that the developers can customize each encounter for each class.  It means making ten fights rather than one, but in this hypothetical world we get to handwave a mere order of magnitude.

That leads us to the second-biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game.  That is, of course, the second player.  We had our ten or so fights.  Now there is another player.  That makes it... ten fights with ten modifications to balance the next possible player.  Okay, one hundred fights rather than one.  I'm having difficulty waving my hand.  But fine, let's go along and add the extra work and everything will be fine.

But this isn't a couples game, so let's bring in a third and thus get the third-biggest problem.  Add them on and we're at a thousand fights.  My hand is now broken with the effort of waving away problems.  We might as well bump it up to five or six players and admit that we've been defeated and can no longer count the zeroes (five or six, but I don't know what those numbers mean).

At this point there are few options.  One is to shrug and give up on fine-tuning, stepping in only when the most egregious problems present themselves.  Or classes could be restricted further into some sort of defined generic role, such as the holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS, or crowd control if that's how you roll.  This essentially cuts it down to four classes and that can be further reduced by having fight mechanics which dictate aspects such as "minimum of one tank and one healer".  At that point it may all be simple enough that classes can be given non-flavor differences.

Still, even with the three or four class/roles, adding additional players is trouble.  Surely we can see that a tank, healer, and DPS are different when soloing and that adding a healer to a tank or DPS has an effect greater than adding another tank or DPS.  And so on.  Each additional player, if players have abilities beyond basic damage, changes the entire structure of a fight.  This means that scaling content to match the number of players is bound to result in problems with difficulty: too easily becoming too easy or too hard, depending on how the marginal player adds to the group relative to what the developer expectation is.

As much as we might wish to be able to bring along one more friend, is the benefit of once in a while bringing along one more person greater than the harm to the difficulty?  I don't think so.  Only at the very edges, with dozens of players, is the additional player not going to have much impact.  Though there were complaints when content allowed, or mandated, dozens of players...



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