When you think of stuff that is hard to handle when doing video game development, without any doubt, balance is the one that comes to mind first. Balancing a multiplayer game is hard – no arguing here – but it is not impossible. There are few techniques to work toward what counts as a balance. In the article, we will explain the importance of this wicked problem and how real-time strategies and shooters can deal with it. Also, there will be a few minutes read about what you need to adhere to actually create a balanced video game.

Balancing is Important

The marketing of a custom video game and the hype that is generated is often linked to the game’s graphics and new features it offers within the genre. For strategies, this often focuses on interesting units, such as new units in Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void; for shooters, the number of players and vehicles/weapons available, such as the scale of combat in Battlefield 2; for sports games, this often focuses on new modes outside the actual gameplay, such as Ultimate Team in FIFA.

It is features like these that draw players in and create the necessary fanfare. Once players beginning playing and the intensive reviews start rolling in, the focus falls upon the diffuse category of “gameplay.” Fundamental to gameplay is a balance. Without it, strategy — the dimension of thought or praxis that gives gameplay its invisible quality — becomes static and unengaging.

When a game is unbalanced, it doesn't matter how many features, units, or guns are available. Players will simply gravitate toward the most priority option. Very quickly, everything becomes very linear and predictable.

It's important here to note the opinion of the community. Every great game is replete with critics shouting so-and-so is “imba” (imbalanced in the sense of overpowered). Just because a certain tactic is common or easy doesn’t necessarily mean it is too powerful. It may just be a noob technique. As a game designer, it is imperative to take the communities’ point into account (they the customers, after all), but also trust that strategies and counters can evolve over time, if the base structure is sound enough.

The key to resisting this dynamic is to make strategies situational and adaptable. What a rock can defeat (scissors), can’t also work against the paper. In such a case, why ever use something else? The trick is that rock-paper-scissors dynamics have at this point become overused. In order to remain competitive, games must involve dynamic strategies that rely on a myriad of supporting factors. How this plays out, however, is heavily dependent on the genre.

Real-Time/Turn-Based Strategies

In strategy games, balancing largely orients around unit strengths/weaknesses and the in-game economics. This results in a complex web of relationships that must be thoughtfully examined.

The logic behind units is fairly sound. Units must have a specific tactical advantage in certain situations that can be countered by other units. This forces the player to strategically take risks to outwit the opponent by compiling tactical advantages (units).

The in-game economics determines how the player is able to compile these units. The economic cost of acquiring the unit must scale appropriately to the advantage it offers. If a counter unit is too expensive comparatively to the original unit, then its efficacy is effectively lost.

Thus, it becomes clear very quickly that everything is a delicate balancing act. For this reason, many of the top-tier strategy games (Starcraft and Age of Empires) limit the amount of units. For example, chose the same method and made sure the game is competitively played. For that reason, the development team focused most on top-level players and their needs. Oh, come on... we all know that you want to be among them. However, they haven't forgotten about intermediate players; verifying everything in the game is useful on players’ first tries.

A whole host of different units seems appealing initially for marketing and, at first glance, seems to improve the strategic depth, but in reality, it often results in games that become boiled down to several dominant strategies and many useless novelties.


The term "imbalanced" is often applied to first- and third-person shooters because of their high competitiveness and often unequal starting capacities. However, most shooter-lovers put these concerns aside and believe that people say so because they are not really successful in the game itself.

Actually, yes there is some imbalance indeed, and sometimes, it is just a game's fault. For example, in Counter-Strike, everybody's favorite shooter — there is a controversial weapon called "AWP" that is, on most player's opinion is a bit too powerful (read "cheating"). It is the only gun in the game that can strike you dead no matter what armor you wear and where you are hiding - behind the wall or the box. Because of that, many players (and even tournaments) established a "no AWP" rule, in order not to give anyone an additional superiority.

The battle for the balance began a long time ago for games (and still continues) since it is quite challenging. The major reason why balance is that hard to achieve is that you may not always find the way to it. Eventually, there is no such thing as "ideal balance"; the concept is roughly approximate at best. Even chess, a well-known example of a balanced game, gives a small advantage to the player who goes first.

In shooters, there is a big thing that has to be balanced – a set of weapons. You need to pay attention to guns' firepower and shooting accuracy, armors' defensive abilities, attack damage and, of course, price. In order to make them equal (or at least close to it), scale them at the same rate. For shooters, gameplay is all about making wise choices of ammunition, and a poorly-balanced game makes these choices useless because soon after massive release, people develop a few winning strategies that dominate others. And then, players feel handicapped when it comes to playing because they know when they lose and when they win.

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