GameDev Protips: How To Balance Your Indie Game With Limited Resources
Well-designed games allow players to experiment with choices and allow players many options to approach situations. Having a game with multiple dominant strategies requires frequent rebalancing. However, playtesting alone cannot solve your balance issues if you have them. It may bring attention to certain weaknesses in the balance or core mechanics, but ultimately it will be an iterative process where you’ll slowly get the game more balanced as you adjust a few variables over and over again.
There are usually two options when it comes to game balance. The first option involves using calculations to optimize the game. The second is to trust your intuition as a designer. You should know what works best for your game. If neither of those work well for you, you can ask your playtesters what they think works the best.
With each of these techniques come challenges. When it comes to mathematical optimization, one wrong of incorrect formula and everything can get thrown off. Complex formulas can become very tedious to fix and even more difficult to find.
When it comes to relying on your instincts, you may not necessarily trust yourself as a designer. Or you may be inventing an entirely new set of mechanics and thus, lack any reference or guide which can help you. Even a veteran might not be able to rely on judgement alone. Perhaps you can only find validation from other designers or gamers, however playtesting can be expensive and time consuming.
It is good to be aware of the relationships between different objects and systems. hanging one things can cause a ripple effect which can affect other parts of the game. Try to only focus on making one change at a time, so you can observe the effects of changes and undo them if they go wrong.
Actionable Takeaways: While very simple games have only a single path for a player to be successful, most fun and engaging games have multiple paths towards victory. When balancing a game with multiple viable strategies, make sure that every potential strategy is equally viable and that players aren’t forced to choose one strategy that is clearly better than the others (you’ll need playtesters to test for this).
You can use various methods to balance your game, such as using mathematical formulas, relying on player input, or trusting your intuition as a designer. However, the key trick when making core balance changes is to only change only one thing (or a few key things) at one time so that you can understand truly what effect your changes might have on your game.
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Thank you so much for reading! I’m Daniel, Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. We’re a publishing and marketing firm dedicated to helping indie developers succeed.