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Regarding balance design in Overwatch, I’d hit the pedal to the metal

Chiu on This
A short and regular opinion blast from Stephen Chiu

‘Chiu on This’ is a short and regular opinion blast

Jeff Kaplan released a statement on Friday about balance design in Overwatch. Specifically, the numbers he reviews are telling him the game is balanced. But my question is if the current design of the game is good. Then the real question is: what is good design? I believe the best competitively designed games are games that allow the most skill and personality of a player to manifest, particularly at the highest levels of the game. To me, that is good design.

In that sense, I can understand why he doesn’t want to add pick/ban in Overwatch as you want to see the best player on their best hero. I also agree that looking at pick percentage is dumb and that trying to get all heroes picked at an even rate is also dumb. What I will say is that just because a game is balanced overall, that doesn’t make it fun. As far as I know, BL/infestor was balanced for the majority of the scene until you reached the top level of StarCraft 2, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t terrible. At the same time, Brood War had times where the game was skewed in one race’s favor or another, yet it’s still one of the best designed competitive games. There are a lot of reasons why, but it comes down to that the depth of the game was unreachable, both in terms of strategy and tactics. One player using 3 base muta is very different from another.

That game has run for more than a decade, but I’ve never seen any particular complaints about design or balance from its top pros. So why are we seeing it in Overwatch so soon after release? It could just be the changing of times as game devs have larger lines of communication, and we’ve seen devs change based off of loud community feedback (SC2 comes to mind). That could be part of it. The other could just be that the top end really is just tired of the dive meta as they feel very constrained by it, Yongbangtang and Alwaysoov being the biggest voices of this discontent.

Let’s thinks about this. There are three competitive games that have been lauded for their design: Brood War, Melee and Dota 2. In the two former, neither has changed balance for over a decade. In the latter, a balance-grenade so to speak smashed into the game fairly often, and core mechanics that change the way the game is played happen almost equally often. When I look at the entire collective of Kaplan’s statements, I get the sense that he likes to do things slowly, deliberately and with calculation. Whereas I think you should step the pedal to the metal.

No one can ever know what is going to happen to the future of the meta anyway. More importantly, no one can control it, not even the devs. You can talk about how not to break the meta or picks, but they’ll be broken anyway, have already been broken by pros. What the top pros do to the game is beyond what any of us can know anyway. As additional heroes and modes are planned to be introduced anyway, I’d just keep adding them until I felt I hit a critical point where the depth and viable options of top players felt wide open (as it does in Dota 2 to an extent). If we’re changing the game a ton anyway, then let chaos reign. No game dev has complete control, they can only direct the river or stem it, they can’t stop it.


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