Game Design Is About Balance! Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about loot boxes, their implications in the game and pay to win models. The general consensus that is appearing in forums are that games like a progression system, but gamers in general do not like methods where people can just pay money and be the best at a game. I think the approach of cosmetics make a lot of sense to maintain the balance of a game. Where developers can run into traps and need to guard against are features which tip the balance towards a player’s advantage over another player. Sometimes features work, sometimes they don’t.
Where I’ve spending a lot of time recently is in research and development of adding advantages into my game Nerepis. To see great examples of adding advantages into games, you could refer to Super Mario Kart. In it, the advantages range from small advantages to large advantages. Some items affect all players, some affect just a few. The concept works well and seems to favour the player who is having trouble. But what about wanting to favour a certain player. Is there a model which works? Is favouring a certain player fair? Is it possible to build mechanics to favour one player but still be somewhat fair? I believe there is a way. It involves providing an advantage at a cost to some type of resource as well as an ability for all players to take advantage in the reward. I’m not actually saying the effect should trigger on every player, I’m saying the player needs to have equal opportunity to get the reward.
As an example, in Mario Kart, if you could collect a limited number of coins and use the coins to generate an advantage, you could then trigger an effect worthy of the resource. You could even monitor this economy and make changes over time. You would also have two variables to change affect even more change. As an example, suppose you gave 25 health to a racer for 25 coins. But as you were monitoring the data, you noticed that it was easy to have 25 coins, what if you increased the coin requirement to 50 coins? Well, now you would have half the amount of health potential in the game. Also, what if people still used their 50 coins and were trying to abuse the health bonus, you could also decrease the amount of health down to level where it provided less of an advantage. Through fine tuning, you could determine that sweet spot where a person would think long and hard on whether to spend their coins.
But what if the person had unlimited coins? This is where having an advantage possibility to all players makes a difference. If everything were even, the best player would and should get the reward. But could the player keep getting the reward and isn’t this just pay to win? This is where it could get interesting to even things out. If the game play logic knew a player received an advantage multiple times in a row (pay to win), the reward should then drop to zero since you are already the best player and you probably don’t need the advantages. This would solve the pay to win problem.