Fall Guys Carefully Balances Skill and Luck
The game’s design achieves a clever, if imperfect, balancing act
When I was in my early to mid-20s, I loved to spend time playing Texas Hold’em. As a chef, my free time landed between midnight and 4 a.m. every day. I wasn’t a huge drinker, so I spent hundreds of hours on sites like Full Tilt Poker playing for real money.
Texas Hold’em is a game that finds itself halfway between a game and a sport. There are vital skills that allow the top players to win millions of dollars over their careers, but if you reduce poker to a single game or event, this card game primarily relies on chance.
Texas Hold’em has achieved an exquisite balance between skill and luck that keeps players coming back year after year. Our brains are addicted to the luck mechanic. We desperately want to decode patterns or solve the riddle to create predictable rewards. In gambling, they say we are addicted to the loss and not the win.
I held a casual poker night at my house every Monday for nearly two years before life became too busy to sustain the hobby.
Whenever I observe similar characteristics in a similar game, I am immediately sucked in.
This delicate balance is the most outstanding achievement of the recent game, Fall Guys.
Fall Guys has blended a healthy balance between skill and luck that keeps me coming back to try for another crown.
The bubble seems to have burst on Fall Guys, and everyone has settled down. There is no need to worry; this happens to all games. We all rush out to understand what the fuss is about, and the loyal player base is exposed shortly after.
The real question is, does Fall Guys have longevity?
Is there enough of a skill arc, and does the game achieve the perfect balance between developed talent and natural randomness?
My answer is — almost.
After playing Fall Guys for a few short hours, my first thought was that it reminded me of Mario Party; an easy to pick up party game with an average skill arc. There were beautiful, playful colors and cheerful music that encouraged me not to take things too seriously.
Did you lose a match due to a bad draw or rough timing? No worries, jump right into a new game.
The audio in the game is done beautifully as every bounce off walls produces satisfying thuds. Every element of the game encourages you to play another.
The game modes broke down into three categories: survival, race, or team-based games. Maps like Knight Fever or Fruit Schute were racing style competitions. The obstacle course style race is the core Fall Guys experience. The delicate balance between fast reflexes and random doorways is the heart of this gaming experience. These modes achieved a healthy balance between skill and luck. Racing maps had clear luck elements, but you could improve your position through skillful decision-making and a strong understanding of map mechanics.
Maps like Hoopsie Legend or Roll Out were survival-based and skewed much heavier towards skill. When you randomly combine these two types of maps, the developers manage to obtain a certain win-loss ratio. The best match-making in the world puts users at a fifty percent win rate, and Fall Guys achieves this metric quite nicely. The metric is slightly skewed towards winning, leaving me with the feeling of just one more match.
Team-based arenas like Egg Scramble and Soccer were skewed in the opposite direction, as communication with your team was minimal. There is nothing more frustrating than having a great run and having to endure one of these luck-based maps.
Fall Guys is a modern marvel. A seemingly obscure and straightforward game caught the eye of popular streamers and launched the title to the top of the charts over the last month and a half. We all watched as TimtheTatman struggled to achieve his first victory. Moments like these remind us of streamers' importance as filters or curators for the massive amount of games available to play.
The game becomes frustrating only during team-based games. These modes can completely derail an otherwise solid run through “the show.” This playstyle requires you to acquire a competent team, anything less, and you’re sure to lose. A renewed focus on removing these overly chance-based maps or adjusting to add layers of skill could see Fall Guys reach even greater heights as the seasons go on.
Fall Guys’ skill element breaks down into a mixture of map knowledge, game mechanics, and generally fast reflexes. Fall Guys has a generous map pool with many subtle mechanics that require mastery for success. The sheer number of maps takes an overly simple game and extends the value out exponentially. In contrast, the buttons are limited (jump, grab, dive). The angles are not. I was often reminded of my old Donkey Kong days as I tried to make the perfect jump through a set of rings.
The luck element is a bit more interesting. The brilliant aspect of the game's design is the sheer number and clumsiness of the other players. I spent the bulk of my time trying to create some distance between myself and others. When I was able to make some space, the course itself was quite reasonable to navigate.
This player/luck driven element creates some interesting social situations as players will often try to grab, block, or generally obstruct your path.
Fall Guys has gone with some typical models. The season pass is back with all of the unique customizations. This feature allows for some individual expression, but as we have already discussed, it is not the reason people continue to return to the game endlessly.
I applaud the developer's intimate understanding of the need to balance skill with chance. Fall Guys’ execution-only exposes the developer's sense of this balance. If they can continue to make tweaks to the game's overall balance, I believe Fall Guys can ascend to an even higher level of success.
Discovering games like this and enjoying them, even if it’s only for a short while, is what makes gaming a truly special hobby and is why I keep returning over and over.