Balance in Multiplayer Games

Many people enjoy playing games with their friends, either online or locally. This is a natural addition to many games and makes a lot of them better. Upon careful analysis though, there are many times when this does not work properly.

Multiplayer is generally versus or co-operative, meaning that you are either playing against the other people, or with them to win.


An inherent issue with any multiplayer game is balance. Games have to be balanced to be fair because if not then one player will have an advantage over the other player. This results in the imbalanced player winning possibly too often. While the gameplay, story, and other elements of the game might still be fun, the inability for one of the players to win can make the game a lot less fun for them because they want to progress and become better, and less fun for the imbalanced player because it might not be enough of a challenge for them.

Gameplay Balance- Statistics and Mechanics

To avoid this, games try to make sure the game is balanced in several ways. The most obvious way is to balance the statistics and mechanics that each player has access to. No one strategy or choice should result in an unavoidable advantage. For example, if a strategy game has multiple distinct races the players can select, even if one race has stronger units, it will either have a disadvantage to balance out the strength, such as their units taking longer to make or being slower, or the other races will have a different advantage such as higher damage so that all the races have an equal chance against the others.

Player Balance

While balanced gameplay is essential for any game, there is another inherent issue that is harder to deal with. If you and your friend both like a game, it might be natural for both of you to want to play it together. When this happens in a versus multiplayer game though, the matters of player skill, and to a lesser extent player level come into play. What player level refers to in this case is an extension of gameplay balance, meaning that a game might reward players with upgrades or additions that newer players or players with less experience, time invested, or achievement might not have. This often provides an objective advantage to that player, not to mention limits the options of the player who haven’t achieved that yet.

Skill

More importantly, an essentially unavoidable problem in multiplayer games is the skill level of the different players. When you play against your friend for the first time, they might play very differently than you. Especially in a game like StarCraft where professional players are far more skilled in terms of reaction time, memorising the order in which to make units and buildings, the intricacies of what strategy best counters another strategy, and a multitude of macromanagement and micromanagement factors that the average gamer does not consider because they play the game for fun. Even amongst normal players though, their skill level in these various factors can vary a lot. Part of this depends on whether the player wants to get better at these things and is both willing and reasonably able to do so. A huge reason not do improve one’s self in these areas is because it is extremely stressful and requires a lot of work to not only learn these things, but to apply them. The stress and work required to play at certain levels often makes the game a lot less fun and sometimes not even worth playing.

Matchmaking

When you play a versus game, your opponent essentially has to play as close to your level as possible for the game to be fair. This is why different skill levels is an issue: it is very difficult at sometimes impossible to consistently if at all match players of similar skill level. Even if you improve your skills, the game will likely put you in a higher skill bracket where you will face players who are far more skilled than you. Even if you are not placed in a different bracket, there will likely be someone you play against who is still far better than you. This also applies to the people you play against; if you become better at the game, it is very likely that you will surpass many others, and if you play against them they will be the ones who are now facing someone who they cannot beat.

The matchmaking system is what tries to match players of similar level. Since there are only a limited amount of players available at any one time, there might not be enough people to match a player or a team against people of equal or similar skill. The issues here at not only the inability to match players in a balanced fashion, but how it does that and how consistently it can and does do that.

  • If a game tries to match players based on their level but ignores their equipment, it would be easy for a low level player with equipment from their higher level accounts to join a low level game. This would give the player a huge advantage as the other players cannot access that high level equipment.
  • If a game tries to create balanced teams by matching players with the same character on opposite teams, it can make the game less fun. Also, a mirror match offers less variety between the two players and essentially means that the better player is more likely to win.
  • If a game tries to match players with the same amount of time played, it assumes that all players are of equal skill based on their equal experience of the game. This does not take into account skills that are not necessarily learned in the short amount of time playing a game.
  • If the game matches players based on their wins alone, it can match a less experienced but higher skilled player against a more experienced lower skilled player.
  • If a game matches players based on a win to loss ratio, newer players will insignificant win to loss ratios will be placed in arbitrary skill groups.

A mixture of several of these factors is better to accurately determine player skill, but there are still issues with this as this is not an exact science. If a game matches players to similar enough skill levels, it is possible for some games to be impossible to beat and some to be too easy.


Co-op games are not affected as much by balance issues because while it may affect the gameplay, it generally won’t affect whether or not the underbalanced players will win or not.

Multiplayer games might force you to play in a way you don’t just to have a chance at winning, they may force you to work hard and suffer when you should be having fun. They might offer you no chance to win or no challenge. When you join a multiplayer game, you need to be willing to either play as the match demands, or to accept that the game won’t be fair and to instead just have fun while losing.

Matchmaking also does not apply to playing games with friends, as your and their abilities are already set. It is nice to play with friends, but sometimes the games don’t let you play together without some people having an advantage, or else both sides will have to accept that the games will tend to be one sided and they will have to have fun regardless.

While there might be a way to have players of the same skill level player together, this might not be easy or reliable. Everyone enjoys games in their own way, so people must know this when trying to play together.

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