Tuesday, June 10, 2008

WAR population imbalances

The Greenskin reports that a poll of 3,000 future Warhammer Online players revealed that 60% of them want to play Destruction, and only 40% want to play Order. And up to now EA Mythic's stance on possible population imbalances is that they are aware of the problem, but haven't come up with a brilliant solution yet.

Population imbalances like that exist in World of Warcraft, where Alliance outnumbers Horde in a similar ratio. But the worst effect of that is that the under populated side has a harder time to find groups, and rarely gets overland PvP objectives like Halaa done. And to balance that the over populated side stands longer in the battleground queues. But the really important PvP in WoW takes place in arenas and battlegrounds, and there the numbers are evened out.

In a Realm vs. Realm® game population imbalances can have a much worse effect. As far as we know from the various video podcasts, everything you do in WAR can add to the control of your side in the zone that you are in. Not only PvP, but doing things like public quests or even normal quests apparently add to who controls each zone. If these poll numbers came through in the released WAR, Destruction would always win RvR just by being more numerous, by simply doing more quests and other control-gaining activities. And of course whatever open battles there are will be most likely be won by numerical superiority as well.

The Greenskin suggests that reasons for the imbalance are that Paul and Josh openly favor Destruction in their marketing, and that the Destruction classes have cooler abilities compared to the bland standard fare of Order classes. But as he also correctly remarks, most of the people who voted haven't even played the beta yet, so the numbers in the release version of WAR could look very different. People who visit a WAR fansite before the game is even released are not a representative sample of the population. Early fans tend to be more hardcore than the average player after release, and maybe the hardcore favor Destruction. It was always said that casual players in WoW favored the "good" side with the "pretty" characters, and that could still happen in WAR. We can only hope that this balances things out, instead of just creating another imbalance in the other direction.

What could EA Mythic do to fix population imbalances? RvR is not going to be a whole lot of fun if the same side always wins. There might even be an effect that people quit the losing side and reroll on the winning side, making matters even worse. I don't think much can be done to change the outcome of big PvP battles where one side is more numerous than the other. But the control points gained by questing could be effectively neutralized by "normalizing" them, that is dividing the points by the numbers of players online. EA Mythic is also toying with the idea to give the losers of a war some boost in the next round. Not sure how that will work; in the end it could be perceived as giving the losers of a war a better reward than the winners, which is good for balance but counterintuitive. The best method is obviously to make both sides equally popular, but that is extremely hard to do, as nobody knows by what criteria players choose their characters. So I'm expecting to hear more about the problems of population imbalances once WAR comes out.

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