Game Development Reference
Goals of Balance
The word balance is one of the most abused terms in game design. People
will call a game balanced when it seems fun, or imbalanced when it seems
unfair. But lumping all these ideas into one word confuses the method
with the goals.
Balancing is a method. It means changing the relative power of differ-
ent game mechanics. This method can be used to pursue almost any goal.
Fictional coherence, clarity, simplicity, and elegance can all be improved
by balancing. For example, a designer might reduce the health of a beggar
to emphasize his fictional frailty, or increase the speed of a jet to clarify
But among all the different goals that balance can achieve, two stand
above the others. They are fairness and depth .
These goals are so associated with balancing because balancing is the
key method of achieving them. Other design goals are mostly achieved in
other ways. We tell a story with art or writing, and we make games clear
with good interface design. But to achieve fairness and depth, we must
BalanCing foR faiRness
A game is FAIR when no player has an advantage at the start of play.
We pursue fairness because it lets players feel that their wins and losses
are legitimate. In competitive games, players want to know that their wins
mean they were really better than the other player. If the game itself is
unfair, the competitive ritual is meaningless because it reveals nothing
about the people involved. The loser can complain that he only lost because
the game was unfair, and the winner doesn't get the satisfaction of an
Some kinds of games are automatically fair because players start in the
same situation. This kind of game is called symmetric because each side is
exactly the same. For example, hockey is symmetric because both teams
start in the same positions and are subject to the same rules. Hockey is
automatically fair because the only difference between the teams is inside
the players themselves. When designing a symmetric game, fairness is
not a concern because it is automatic.
But truly symmetric games are unusual. Most games are asymmetric .
In these games, players can start in different situations. For example, in
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