Session: Rules of Engagement: Blizzard’s Approach to Multiplayer Game Design

Speaker: Rob Pardo, Blizzard Entertainment

Rough notes below


Game Balance

– solo to max level

– important role in a group, raid, and group PVP

– Starcraft – Race totally different

– Better players can win games fast

– Offense over defense (don’t want Starcraft 2 as a Sim City simulator)

– Creative strategies

– Every unit has a counter

– Be fun Game Balance

  • Game Balance: Math vs Fun
  • Math is the foundation
  • Everything should feel overpowered
  • Don’t balance the game into mediocrity
  • Must understand nuances
  • Can’t balance the game through replays (doesn’t show up in spreadsheet, pathfinding algorithm)
  • Balance for all skill levels
  • Shamans could buff (bloodlust) became much more overpowered, aoe spells needed to be adjusted
  • No super weapons
    • Super weapons are fun (not so fun for the other person)
    • Ex: Ghost, powerful weapon feels super (sees nuke silo), see ghost sneak in, nuclear launch detected
  • Use your beta
  • how i approach beta – 3 months get as many balance patches within that time, buff it a little more
  • UI affects balance
    • Unlimited selection vs 12 selection
    • Internal battle about
    • army of 100 zerglings, game became easier to play, overpowered?
      • Players didn’t understand why they could only select 12 units
    • Multiple building selection
    • Subgroups
      • Before Warcraft 3, all you would get is intersection of abilities (lowest common demoniator)
        • Hero can still cast spells
    • Wow – Click to move – play more like diablo, not the preferred way to play
      • Originally got put in a way to auto-face/pathfind to player (PVP)
      • In Wow Beta
    • UI Mods
      • has a dark side
      • What mods are out there
        • should we balance game for modders vs non-modders?
        • make the choice to break the mods
        • Mods are bad when they play the game for you (bot)
    • Balance – It Never Ends
      • Change is always bad to players
      • Maintain your game to keep it relevant
      • Still putting out Warcraft balance patches
      • Ban the cheaters –
      • plan patches, but leave time to be reactive
        • Talent reviews for each class
        • at any given moment, a strategy or bug will be uncovered
      • Don’t panic
    • Competitive Sports – Football
      • 3-4 Defense, Zone Blitz
      • NFL isn’t outawing defenses, enable players to find the counter
  • Player Psychology
    • Not always predictable
    • Perception of fairness –
      • Best balance spreadsheet and tester in the world
      • if players don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter
    • Can’t argue in forums with a million people
      • Arguing is not the answer
    • Players hate losing
      • Counterstrike can play 10 games
      • 1/2 hour – 1 hour long game if you lose, not interested
      • Alliance wins 90% of AV, lose AB 90% of the time
        • Make sure losing side still gets something out of it
        • 1 mark of honor and still get honor
    • How do they climb the ladder?
      • Need to decide what your goals are
      • Starcraft 1 ladder – ELO chess system
        • Not necessarily fun to play
        • #1 player in world doesn’t gain anything from playing
          • No incentive to be #1 until #2 passes you
    • Right amount of complexity
      • Starcraft II – 15 units is the right amount, depth to game, learn units and strategies, can still easily identify units, understand counterstrategy
      • Magic – The Gathering: Hundreds of thousands of options, turn based,
    • AV
      • Original vision o fAV was epic, huge battle zone including player controlled bases, npc support, quests, and capture point
      • av was ment to be fought in several smaller fronts with npc assistance in a war of attrition
    • isn’t exactly waht happened
      • How we designed map isn’t how we made it
      • incentive to get honor is to kill opposing NPC and just zerged to win
      • players ride by each other
      • wave emote on horseback
      • players on losing side still get honor
      • knew it was going to be a 30-60 minute match
      • AFKaving – players leeching honor because of insufficient incentives to actually play PVP
    • Inspect messages was creepy
      • [altair] is inspecting you
      • players felt they were getting stalked, removed the message, now everyone loves the feature
      • Rest isn’t a penalty it’s a bonus – original implementation, keep playing you get less experience, instead switch it to a bonus
        • Exact same system, now people love it
      • Warcraft 3 "thumbs" – thumbs up/down any map you wanted
        • Then changed it to a veto system to thumbs-down a map as players were asking WTF when they thumbs -down
    • Does a unit, gun, weapon, suggest it’s function and power
    • Special effects can cause confusion in battle
    • Team differentiation (Warcraft) races, and colors in Warcraft 3
    • Avoid hidden modifiers – do this very selectively
    • Visualization
      • does the art tell you who has more HP or who runs faster – art and balance is not aligned
    • MMO – much, much tougher
      • class-based armor sets – make the art of the armor set suggest the class – gear and equipment visualize
    • Home Stretch – Maps
      • Random vs pre-made
        • Age of Empires vs Starcraft
        • Player perception will be that map generator screwed me in starting point
      • Number of maps – more is not better
        • Starcraft II – 8 maps
        • more maps means players won’t world battle field very well
        • Black shround vs Fog of war
          • reveal resources
        • Size does matter
          • Bigger isn’t better – people want to be in the combat right away,
          • design as small as make sense for # of players
    • Matchmaking
      • Less buckets is better
      • What type of game play will it be
      • Don’t give players too many choices, no one in your matchmaking bucket
      • Feedback on system – LFG doesn’t give feedback, AV is in queue
        • momentum works against you so if matchmaking doesn’t work, it falls aparat
    • E-sports
      • Decide upfront if you want an E-sport game
      • Replays
      • Spectator mode
  • If a player beats me


  • World of Warcraft not designed to be E-sport game, now retro-fitting, I hope one day we can get a spectator mode into it, but it’s non-trivial
  • Why don’t we have stats on server on maps like there is in Warcraft 3.
    • We consciously don’t put up race versus race stats (Orcs vs Undead), you put that on the Web and players will jump onto Orcs
    • If we put up there that alliance always wins AV, horde will stop playing
    • Can balance stabilize: Starcraft is pretty well balanced, need
    • Warcraft: Cross-server interaction,
      • hardcore stance that we wanted realms to be their own communities
      • softening up – battlegroups, matchmaking (arena), battlegrounds (queues)
      • cross-server chat a possibility
    • Philosphy on super-weapons – is this for all games or subscription games?
      • For PVP, did the other side feel like there was no way they could have stopped it
Comments (1)

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