Game Development Reference
Don't think through stories. Test enough to build a mental model of how
the game works as a system. Only then do you have the mental context
to make balance decisions.
Real understanding of a game's balance can never come from watch-
ing one or two tests, much less playing the game yourself. It comes from
absorbing many different players' experiences and combining them into
an integrated mental model of how the game is working.
After one playtest, you've got a story. After three, you've got three sto-
ries. After 10, 15, or 20 playtests, though, you'll find your understanding of
the game begins to transform. You won't be thinking in stories anymore.
You'll start thinking in terms of systems and relationships. Your mental
model of the game will grow and evolve to include a hundred new nuances
of cause and effect. You'll be able to imagine the effects of one change
rippling outward, touching other parts of the game, and changing them.
You'll perceive the truth of the game—that it is a system, not a story.
Once you've got the system in mind, then you can think meaningfully
about balance. You won't have to consider how a change might impact the
three stories you saw play out. You'll perceive how the change affects the
So test a lot. Test with as many different players as you can. Gorge
yourself on the data and let your mind build its model. Only after that's
done will you have the mental context to understand all the effects of a
change, not just the most obvious and immediate ones. And only then
should you decide what to do.
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