Saturday, October 11, 2008

How Balanced is Too Balanced?

One of the most hotly debated topics in the GoCrossCampus world is the importance of recruitment in GXC games.  Right now, recruitment is heavily encouraged - after all, we wanted to create a new kind of game that is about real relationships with other people.  Thus, the parts of the game that involve interacting with others - organizing your team, recruiting others and negotiating with other teams - are the primary determinants of success or failure.

There isn't an immense amount of history surrounding games like this for us to borrow.  Thus, we have to spend a lot of energy figuring things out ourselves.  For example:  if we want to encourage recruitment, how do we balance teams of drastically different potential sizes?

This question recently came home to roost in the Tech Tournament, where one team rapidly recruited over 50% of their campus.  This normally wouldn't be a major issue, since most GXC games feature teams of roughly equivalent potential sizes.  In theory, two teams that have a very large percentage of their campus playing should receive roughly equivalent total energy.  Thus, we created a "multiplier" that increases the energy per player a team receives as it gets a larger percentage of the campus playing.  The value of the multiplier is, by necessity, dependent on the potential sizes of the largest team as well as the team in question.  For all the gory mathematical details, check out the complete game rules.  

Unfortunately, the team that recruited 50% of their campus happened to be Harvey Mudd, a California school with only 746 undergraduates.  Also in the game is Tec de Monterrey, a Mexican tech school playing with a campus numbering over 10,000 undergraduates.

As you might imagine, the first small tech school to get a large percentage of their campus playing was going to get an absurdly large multiplier.  If we want 746 HMC students to be able to go mano a mano with tens of thousands of Tec students, each HMC student will need to receive gratuitous amounts of energy.

A few people have suggested that we totally drop the recruitment incentive, instead giving all teams a fixed amount of energy and dividing it between whatever players find their way onto the team.  There are multiple problems with this... most notably, tiny teams with a few dedicated players are nearly unstoppable, running over any teams that happen to have a couple players that don't log in every turn.

Also, new/casual players in GoCrossCampus are treated far better by the community than 'n00bs' are in many other MMOs.  In most other games, new and inexperienced players are annoying at best and destructive at worst.  If you lead a guild in WoW, the last thing you want is a bunch of casual players gunking things up and missing their Friday night raid.  In GXC, every player a beautiful and unique snowflake.

So what's the solution?  In the short term, we'll keep working on the multiplier, eventually creating something that can lend the right amount of balance even when teams have drastically different potential sizes.  But the innovation can't stop there - eventually, we'd like to see new types of team-based games that emphasize strategy and skill as well as interacting with others.  If you're a strategy gaming fan, I think you'll start seeing some new things you'll like on our site over the next couple months.