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Game Balance

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Game balance refers to adjusting game elements in order to make a coherent and enjoyable game experience. Part of involves keeping the mechanics, aesthetics, story, and technology in support of each other, but many other elements within games need balancing as well.

In The Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell sets out a list of the twelve most common types of game balance:

1.    Fairness – ensuring that any player feels they have adequate resources to overcome the challenges the game presents, either from the computer or other players. Symmetrical games ensure that all players have the same starting resources and play by the same rules, and are relatively simple to balance in this respect. Asymmetrical games can be more interesting as players are given different resources, powers, and goals, but are much more difficult to balance.

2.    Challenge versus Success – a game designer must find the balance between a game being too easy and too difficult for players.

3.    Meaningful Choices – the choices the player has in a game ought to be equally meaningful in some way, and dominant strategies (strategies that lead to victory every time) ought to be avoided. A good way to balance for this is through triangularity.

4.    Skill vs. Chance – too much focus on skill often makes the game predictable, while too much chance makes it less fun for the players

5. Head vs. Hands -- having the right amount of puzzle solving and strategy (head) versus challenging physical activity or dexterity (hands). The ratio of head to hands depends on the type of experience a designer is looking to create

6. Competition vs. Cooperation -- how much players work together versus how much they work against each other. Often, elements of both can coexist in a game, making for an interesting experience.

7. Short vs. Long -- the length of the game. Game length can often be best manipulated through mechanics.

8. Rewards -- the frequency and impact of helpful items or powers given to a player for completing a task.

9. Punishment -- the frequency and impact of negative consequences of certain actions a player does in a game. The right amount of punishment makes certain actions more risky, which leads to more meaningful choices.

10. Freedom vs. Controlled Experience -- how much agency the player has over the events of the game. As Schell points out, sometimes the game designer only needs to provide the illusion of agency for freedom to be acheived.

11. Simple vs. Complex -- the amount of learning required to understand and master the game. Though complex systems can lead to deeper gameplay, there is something to be said for a few simple, elegant rules that may lead to high levels of emergence.

12. Detail vs. Imagination -- the amount of content the game makes visible to the player versus the amount of the fictional world the player has to imagine. As a rule, Schell holds that "players have rich, detailed imaginations," so showing less of a world or story paradoxically increases its depth (199).

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