Monday, October 3, 2011

Balance- Or: Why your Opinion is Wrong

Balance is and will always be one of the hottest topics in any video game that revolves around winning. In a game like Heroes of Newerth, where there are over 90 Heroes, each with their own unique synergies with one another, Balance can often be somewhat challenging. Adding one new Hero to HoN every two weeks has been a controversial change among many players on the grounds that they don't believe S2 can balance the game fast enough.

As somebody who is very attuned with the Community of Heroes of Newerth, I observe a lot of balance complaints. It seems like there is always one Hero out there that the majority of the Community believes to be overpowered- currently this hero has a name; Emerald Warden. In a HoNCast Interview yesterday, balance guru DOGKaiser was asked what he thinks about the numerous complaints about Emerald Warden being overpowered. His response left a lot of the Community flabbergasted- "95% of Competitors think Emerald Warden could use a buff".

This isn't the first time Competitors and the casual Community have been in disagreement, it happens all the time, and while it is not uncommon to see a Hero that is both viable in Competitive play as well as pubs, a Hero that is viable in one but not the other is somewhat less common.

I'm frequently asked why S2 doesn't nerf such Heroes. It's hard to answer this question without offending somebody. Maybe this graph will help:

Balance in HoN is done the same way it is done in every other (good) RTS (or ARTS) style game- from the top down. To a lot of people, this seems unjust. Is it fair that competitors' opinions are valued more than the average joe? No. Does it make sense? Yes. In today's world of the vocal internet forum, everybody believes to be a beautiful unique snowflake. Designers, not keen on being tarred and feathered, will never be seen uttering these words:

If you aren't the best of the best, your opinion is worth less.

To the majority of HoN players, this will definitely seem unfair. After all, if the majority of HoN players are in the 1500 bracket, shouldn't their opinions be valued more? Shouldn't the game be balanced around their metagame? Why should we balance a game around the smallest percentile of players? The truth is somewhere in this graph:

The problem with balancing a game around the "sweet spot", or the area where the most players play, is that it doesn't work. This is because, depending who you ask, you are always going to get a very inconstant consensus. The further down the MMR ladder you climb, the more erratic the metagame becomes. If you ask somebody in the 1000 MMR bracket who they think the most overpowered hero is and why, they'd probably give you a Hero you almost forgot existed.

Competitors aren't perfect. A competitor is not a designer, he can identify a problem but not provide a solution, much the same way a designer can release a well designed hero without it being completely balanced from the get-go. But when it comes to balance, a competitor will always be held to a higher regard than somebody else, because he is playing in an environment where people will be utilizing their heroes to the highest possible potential, and that's where "sweet spot" balance drops the ball.

So where does this leave the players in the 1500 bracket? Are they doomed to be victims of Emerald Wardens, Trembles, Nomads and (if you can think that far back) Zephyrs? Sources say: No. While it is true that competitors will always be held to a higher regard, that 1500 bracket players are, in fact, not doing everything in their power to counter that Emerald Warden, that Tremble, that Zephyr, balance can often be changed in a way that it nerfs the Hero in such a way that he is less effective in pub play while retaining his skill in the competitive scene. This can be accomplished by making the hero less easy to play while keeping his overall strength intact.

Concluding, let it be said that just because a lot of people think a hero is overpowered, it doesn't necessarily mean he is, because HoN is balanced from the top down. Playing only one hero and getting to 1800 MMR without losing does not, contrary to popular belief, prove anything. Most competitive players could reach 1800 MMR without losing playing pretty much any hero, given the right team and communication. While Tremblerape & Crew are certainly an entertaining sight to see, they don't actually say anything about balance on a competitive level. This doesn't mean the Hero shouldn't be tweaked in such a way that he is less powerful in pubs, but it does mean the Hero probably isn't overpowered.

So, before you cry nerf, take a good long look at yourself. Who are you, and why do you think your opinion matters?


  1. Though, nigma, I'd like to think that some 1500-1600's oppinions do matter. Maybe not as much, but at least a little.

  2. Good stuff. As a 1600ish player I'm one of the minority in my bracket that thinks EW is weak. Thanks for your post Nig.

  3. Would like to comment that "... Crew are certainly an entertaining site to see" should be fixed to "sight", not "site".

    On the side, this is a very good post. +1

  4. about EW, i think a good way to balance it, is to buff the bird, but make it a active skill.

    you use the ult, and the bird stay on for 30 seconds, this way the ult will be buffed, stronger, but will be less noobfriendly, and ppl will start to think he is not that good.

    i may be diverging, but it seens a good idea

  5. Anyone is correct when they provide valid arguments. Fail Nigam +111scut SCUT OMG USELESS HERO

  6. emerald warden is in no way imbalanced but he is simply too easy to play at a decent level.
    a new player could play fairly well with emerald warden whilst he would get raped if he chose a hero that requires you to think and be able to hit skillshots

  7. Do more post like this please.

    Even you are out of S2 now, I can see you still love this game and the community.

    Always support you, and keep up the good work

  8. While this post was interesting, it is flawed because the complaints about EW aren't that he is overpowered. The issue is that his skill-reward ratio isn't balanced. In addition, the constant clearvision is an extremely obnoxious mechanic.

  9. My respect to Nigma. You are totally right.

  10. @shawn Opinions on EW are diverse. This post isn't entirely about EW, it's more of a broad statement, EW just happens to be the current centerpiece of this 'problem'. I don't have any problems against people who think that Emerald Warden is a poorly designed, too easy, or boring Hero. My problem is with lower MMR people talking about *balance* like they know what they are talking about.

  11. Nicely stated. Keep in mind however that while competitive players do actually play the game closer to a level that balance is aimed towards, that they themselves are often not consciously aware of a lot of the factors behind the strength or weaknesses of the tools they use.

    A lot of the current competitors are also horrifically biased towards their favourite heroes/exploits as well, and resist change at all odds to these under the pretence of "skill".

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. I agree that balance should be based around competative play, but not around the pros. There's a common misconception that the pros know a lot about the game. IMO this is wrong. They are good at the game, but do they know how it works? Doubtful. For example:

    Remeber when Parasite came out. Everyone says he's complete garbage. Now hes banned and hasn't been changed.

    Remeber when Silou was nerfed. Competitors said he was garbage. Oh, still banned.

    Remember when Legionairre was THE worst hero in game. Now gets picked up by COL 3 times in 1 week.

    Remember EZ vs LION 2nd Oct. Chu builds his pebbles 4/4/0/0. This is widely known to be incorrect with 3/4/0/1 producing more damage and + ms.

    All consider how many matches pros play, compared to how many as an Esports fanatic I might watch? I would be willing to bet I watch more then double the amount pros play. Probably up to 5 times of some pros. Scrimming is almost non existant and high level players are generally on Sub accounts.

    Conclusion: Saying competative players know better is wrong. They play probably 5 competive games per week, the rest of the time they are on sub accounts smurfing the 16-1700 bracket. Some comp players know whats up, Fly, Swindle, Era. But in general, they get heroes picked for them and play them well.

  14. Removed that post as i'd explained it poorly, but on this comment "Balance in HoN is done the same way it is done in every other (good) RTS (or ARTS) style game- from the top down."

    Considering how HoN is almost entirely supported by the legions of bads that fill this untoward unwanted opinions bracket you should actually take the view that every RTS or ARTS is balanced with a compromised view from the top down, frequently balance issues are addressed that cause the community to froth at the mouth because competitive scenes follow popular games and frustrating game-play isn't conducive to this.

  15. This is retarded on so many levels. How about you stop rushing heroes every 2 weeks with a such high skill ceiling, that are either so bad in pub and yet so powerful in comp play, or stupidly auto play heroes that rape pub but not used in comp due to metagame.

    How about actually balance the hero so it's useful both in pub AND competitive atmosphere. Especially since 99% of all you revenue comes from that casual pubtrash that you just called out.

  16. and this is why hon is such a bad game. if you only balance around th etop players, then the lower players will leave, BECUASSE YOUR GAME IS UTTER SHIT

  17. Enjoyed reading the post and definitely agree. Also, sanji is great as is One Piece.

  18. touching on the subject of 1800 players being 1800 and regardless if they used just 1 champion to climb there they could do it anyway i'd like to say this.

    if there were a champion that could pub stomp and someone COULD climb from 1200 to the 1800 ish level to then that would indeed be a problem, if they encountered a game where the champion they used to climb that far got banned or picked first they would be completely screwed because of no other champions being as easy to play to power level, and sure they would eventually fall back down if that repeatedly happened, but during the brief time they were at a higher MMR they would have a time where their voice would actually be higher than it should be because of that one champion, and i'm sure they would fight as much as they could to stop that champion from being nerfed

  19. Here's the problem that I see with your strategy:

    It only works when you're the dominant force in your specific genre, and honey, lemme tell you a secret....HoN is at the bottom of the barrel in MOBA games. Competitive players would rather play Dota 1 than play HoN, and this is shown by HoN not being part of any single major tournament ever. There are no major HoN players streaming their games and getting viewers. No one is following any of the competitive HoN teams or players, because no one cares about HoN.

    So your competitive community is quite simply non-existent, and with all your balance changes being focused on them, you alienate your main customer base, and that's not a very good business strategy. Maybe if you focused more on drawing in casuals and semi-pros (those interested in high level play but not competitive tourney play) HoN would be a successful enough game that you wouldn't have had to go to a casual friendly F2P model.

    Time for a reality check Mr. Game Designer. Good players will adjust to ANY changes you make from any perspective. It's what makes them good. Nerf, buff, doesn't matter. A good player adapts and overcomes through skill and innovative strategy. So you never actually affect the competitive players with what you do, you only affect the bads, and the bads pay your bills.

  20. For the 1000s time: Warden needs a REWORK, not a buff/nerf. Its a no-skill autoplay hero made for no-skill noobs in a very skill-dependant game. Absurd. You cant balance that for top pro-skill players.
    And Warden's automated play is the very reason he feels unfair for 1400s and underwhelming/crap for 1900s - the hero success doesn't co-relate with players skill much. Needs a rework.

  21. "Who are you, and why do you think your opinion matters?"

    Back at you.

    I am going to make dinner for 1,000 people. I will get feedback from all diners about how well they enjoyed the meal.

    50 of the diners are chefs. They all like sushi.

    950 of the diners are "normal" people, they all like spaghetti.

    Not wanting to disappoint the chefs, I make everybody sushi.

    Feedback comes in, and almost everyone hated dinner. Why? Because I catered the entire meal around a very small number of people who like sushi.

    1. Your example is flawed, and frankly shows your ignorance. First of all, if you are making dinner for 1,000 people, you are going to have already published what you are making. If they don't like it, they won't be there.

      Second of all, you are very unlikely to have a place that makes both sushi and spaghetti.

      Third of all, there is no relevance to the discussion at hand. It isn't the difference between sushi and spaghetti. It's the difference between using rose sauce with garlic, alfredo sauce with bruscetta, meat sauce with cracked peppercorns, or tomato sauce with basil.

      Lets look at a more realistic example. There is a racetrack. At this racetrack, you have the ability to rent time and race the stock cars. You aren't a professional racer, you just enjoy the feeling of racing, the rush, the entertainment. You really love driving stock cars A and C. After 300 races, you go to the company that runs the track, and you tell them that stock car X is just too much. You think that something should be done to either limit the available performance of stock car X, or boost the performance of stock cars A and C. However, the pro racers that compete in these vehicles on a regular basis all think that the cars are just fine. Who is the owner going to listen to? You (and lets say you have 500 other people that feel the same way), or the pros that know the ins and outs of their cars? Of course he's gonna listen to the real racers. Even if you and 500 others come three times a week every week and pay out the arse for the opportunity, he's not gonna listen to someone who is just trying his hand at racing. Perhaps stock car X has a quicker acceleration time on it, but cars A and C have significantly higher top end. You just don't know it, because you're not skilled enough to open them up entirely without crashing.

      It isn't about disappointing the top players. It's about FOCUSING WHERE THE KNOWLEDGE CAN BE FOUND. Just because you pay some cash doesn't mean that you are a god. It means you are a consumer. However, without the developer, you wouldn't have this game to complain about. Developers tend to focus their attention towards high end competitive play because those people will show what is really going on. Just because you get your face stomped in every time EW walks in lane doesn't mean EW is OP. It just means you aren't good enough to compete against the relatively easy-to-play EW.

      Top end players look at EW and say he's not worth much. His skill-performance ratio is too low to make him worthwhile. EW doesn't need a nerf, he needs to be reworked to be less autoplay. However, at the same time, top end players are exposing flaws in other heroes that are viewed as more pressing. The heroes were designed to have a certain skill-ceiling. This means that the full benefit of their abilities are not unlocked until you are good enough to do it. It also means their weaknesses aren't going to be exposed completely until the person playing against them is skilled enough.

      Get used to the fact that you're just a little fish in a very, very big pond.

  22. I found this hilariously accurate. I know someone who was talking about LOL balance, and he's like 1100 or something in LOL (and you start at like 1200 or something).

  23. Because those are the people that continue to pay money for your game. If their not having fun with the game then they leave and go play something else. The game is F2P now so its not a once off LOL WE HAVE YOUR MONEY ANYWAY its their continued support of your product. Welcome to making a F2P game.

  24. While I agree with the overall point of this, the logic presented is completely circular. Very poor word choice :/

  25. Never mind about pro/noobs balancing the game. HON suffers really more of something much, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than this: CRASHES.

    It crashes everywhere you can be in the game menus or a game, and anytime. Sometimes more than 10 times a day, sometimes more than 5 times a game. For all my friends and people with whom I play. Lots of games are just ruined because of that.
    Enough to accumulate .dmp, sending them is useless.
    Enough to download patchs and patchs and fixes just to bring new fucking heroes and new fucking overexpensive skins or other shitty things like this, never fixing the enormous real problem.

    Enough to be said it's our PCs, our Windows (--> try 64 bits OS I was said !!), our drivers. Our computers are mostly top of the range fighting machines, that never crash whatever we lauch or do with. Except HON, and in a just not bearable way.

    How many hundreds of games have been launched with one or more crashes during hero selection ? (Oh shit my worst hero...) Awfull. How many with not enough pauses available because of crashes ? No XP, no money, failed teamfights, back fountain, stress, loose.

    If the problem is just HARDCORE with Win Vista and 7, it exists with Win XP too.

    I'm talking for me and my friends, we're about 15 players, several thousands games, all addicted to HON, and every new evening being potentially HELL. The time goes by and we all are awaiting for DOTA 2, even if HON could have been just as good, if not better. We play since the Beta, 2 years ago, september 2009. No crashes in these times....

    Stop with fuckin debate. The subjects are details comparing to the crashes frequency. So many crashes and for everybody is just a shame for developpers. The RAM management could have been worked by my grandmother, and done with her feet.

    You could talk about balancing and PGMs/noobs importance of opinion just WHEN THE GAME WILL BE FINISHED. Faithful players playing since the beginning feel so betrayed. It's (was) a paying game, it could be considered like a swindle.

  26. Sadly this the second graph is usually not true, a lot of competitors are less smart when it comes to balance then some idiot who has neve played the game before.

    Obviously the game is being balanced around the target audiance... which is (or at least was) high skilled players. This does not mean you shouldn't balance for 1500's as well. Which has been done before (ra's hp regen nerf while he wasn't played in comp. play at all for instance).

  27. I'm afraid I disagree with you on this one Nigma. On quite a few levels.

    Just one problem is the huge assumption that the purpose of balance should be to make the heroes equal on a completely objective basis.

    You don't actually consider exactly what it is that the game is meant to do. What is its purpose. In the interests of eSports, sure your article is spot on. But balancing the game at a level that the average player can see as fair also has its own justifications. The casual gamer is on the rise, and ultimately it's the consumer who decides where the game should be balanced at. Because if a competitor releases a game that they balance for the masses, chances are they'll just plain make more money. If we consider the economic drive behind the gaming industry, this article loses a lot of credibility.

  28. The people who do disagree are partely wrong, because the main attribute that qualifies you to give a valid feetback is to totally have understood the game. AND internalize the basic game mechanics. Which, and thats for sure most of the 1500 and below don´t have as much as a let´s say 1700 has. That´s the first point where nigma is right just because of that. That is just like saying the dame or the knight is overpowered in chess when you just learned the basic rule set and haven´t played a single game. Lucky us the inventor of chess has long passed away and can´t change the game. Or let´s take soccer or basketball, if there are changes made to this games (or any major sport) they are made to either make them harder, or increase the value for the viewer. Yet no one complains about this. People just train and get better. To the level they can reach at least. Would any amateur basketball player complain about the rim hanging to high, because he is unable dunk? No, he simply enjoys the game. Still he is angry when someone dunks over his head, but he won´t blaim the creator of the game.

  29. Customization and lots of Options is the answer. Many players like for their gaming experience to be realistic but some uneducated game designers and producers think they can force arcade and sim-like gameplay on players(consumers) without options or customization in the way they play.

  30. 'So, before you cry nerf, take a good long look at yourself. Who are you, and why do you think your opinion matters?'

    The post was ok until I read this. Wait, what?

    I PAY for your game, I PAY you so you can keep doing the job you love. Who are you to view the customer's opinions as unworthy? It is your job to try to make each player group happy, that's why they PAY you for, remember?

    It is not the reasoning I am critisizing here, it is the attitude. This is not a professional attitude, and it will not help the community to understand things in the long run.

  31. The sad thing is, the final line is exactly right. Who are you? And why DOES your opinion matter? What gives you some credibility to be speaking about the subject.

    This age of entitlement is so frustrating sometimes. Games in general are based this way. World of Warcraft, for example, spent a VERY long time catering to the top end players of the world. It was (and still is) the most played MMO in the world, too.

    They aren't saying that OPINIONS matter. They aren't saying that the top MMR/ELO/Ranked players/teams KNOW more or have a MORE VALUABLE opinion. They look at the games. They watch the heroes/champions/classes/races perform in dozens, if not hundreds, of games. They analyze the results of matchups, abilities, items, etc. These things are analyzed at a top end of play for one reason. The top end player will make the best possible use of whatever it is.

    For example, I am a LoL player. I don't profess to be a fantastic LoL player. I'm actually pretty low in the ELO. My game knowledge, mechanical knowledge, and understanding are extremely high. My execution is where I falter. Basing balance off of my gameplay would be a waste of time. Why? Because I don't consistently perform. I forget to use an active item when it would have been helpful. Or my map awareness wasn't strong enough and I got ganked when I should have been able to avoid it. Or I loose track of where I am in a teamfight when the particle animations of 10 champions are going off. These are my failures, and why gameplay will not be balanced around me as I am.

    The average player plays for fun. The game is designed to be competitive. You need to have real competitive players showing the strengths and weaknesses of a champion/hero/class/race to be able to really understand what it is capable of.
    Now, the casual community was a right to their opinions. They ALSO may have very good points. For example, the Emerald Warden discussion. He isn't played by top end players because his performance is substandard. He is hated by mid MMR players because he is a pubstomper. Does this mean EW is OP? No. It means that he is too easy to get top end results out of. Thus, a rebalance is required for that hero.

    In a LoL example, Shaco is one of the top banned champions in my ELO. I've almost never seen a game where Shaco ISN'T banned. However, Shaco is almost entirely ignored in high ELO gameplay. Why is he hated so much in low ELO, and ignored so much in high ELO? It's because he is easier to play. Lower ELO players have a hard time dealing with stealth champions. They aren't as aware of the counters, and tend to get stomped on hard by champions that CAN stealth. Shaco and Twitch being the most common examples of this. However, Shaco is viewed as a sub par jungle option in high ELO, offering little to the team. His high ganking potential in low ELO is completely offset in high ELO because these players are more aware of their surroundings, and how to counter Shaco. Twitch is viewed as a pathetic AD carry in high end play because his stealth is so integral to his gameplay. On the other hand, low ELO players find twitch to be extremely irritating to deal with because he can move about undetected without proper play.

    Should Shaco or Twitch be nerfed because the low ELO players have a hard time with them? Should they be hit with the bat because the majority of players (the 1500 and lower ELO) tend to get crapped on by these two champions? Or do they really need a rework (in particular a stealth rework) and perhaps a slight buff to make them more attractive in high end play?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Those of you who think you are important just because you play a video game make me shake my head. You are 1 person, who doesn't play at the top levels of skill required to really offer anything truly insightful to the discussion. Lawmakers don't come to ask your opinion on the laws they make because you won't understand the principles or the reasoning because you don't have the background in law and sociology that would be required for such understanding.