GameDev Protips: How To Balance For Skill When Developing Multiplayer Games

Skill is a factor often ignored when balancing multiplayer games. Sure, the game might be perfectly balanced from a numbers standpoint, but if a strategy that is three times harder to execute is just as strong as any other strategy, there’s no reason to use it. As a result, developers need to make sure that there are strategies that are stronger when the player is better. This being said, there also needs to be strategies that are strong even in the hands of a weak player, something that player skill doesn’t have a huge effect on. Strategies like these can give new players a “ladder” to climb into higher skill levels. Without them, veterans will run all over new players and cause many of them to quit because they don’t stand a chance. There are ways in which this system can be detrimental. However, the most prominent issue is making these strategies nearly as strong as top-tier strategies.

Whenever your “newbie” strategy is enough to carry you through games, you’ll never learn to adopt another strategy. Even if the top-tier strategy is twice as good, if it’s ten times harder to execute only those top-tier players can use it effectively. If you don’t gradually wean your player off the “newbie” strategy and let them acquire the skills they need to tackle something tougher, two outcomes can occur. The first is that the player never needs to adapt their “newbie” strategy and they get bored because of how easy it is to execute. The second is that the player keeps using that strategy until they hit a brick wall of difficulty where they’re fighting players using the top-tier strategy but they never learned to use it themselves up until that point and will have a difficult time learning it past that point. Both of these outcomes are going to result in players quitting your game preemptively, so they should be avoided.

Essentially, a multiplayer game needs to have a variety of strategies that can cater to every player. There needs to be less skill-intensive strategies that are still strong that players can use as a stepping stone towards higher skill levels, but these strategies need to be invalidated at an early enough point as to not gimp the player’s skill development and enjoyment later. There also has to be incredibly skill-intensive strategies that incentivize this switch once the players are familiarized with the game.

Important Takeaways: Sometimes raw numbers aren’t the only factor in balancing your game; you also need to consider how useful strategies are to players of different skill levels. You need to have strategies that are strong for new players but weak in the hands of a veteran (comparatively), and abilities that are weak for new players but strong in the hands of a veteran. As long as the new players can work their way towards those skill-intensive strategies, you’re doing things right. Problems arise if you never give the player a reason to switch strategies, however. If you don’t get them to switch early on, their skill development will be gimped and they’ll either keep stomping with the beginner strategy and get bored. They might even run into a progression wall when they start fighting people that can use the skill-intensive strategy that they never learned to use in the first place.