What happens when that silly post is true? Keen and Graev and their commenters tell me that the classes I was considering really are some of the weakest in the game. Unless your developers are philosopher kings who have overcome the Hayekian knowledge problem and defied the dark lords of the Matrix, someone will be on the bottom of the pile, and this problem will probably be worst at launch.
First impressions matter. What if playing a Squig Herder that weekend was my first experience with the game? I would post about how lousy everything was, with RvR being a bloodbath in which all the Dwarf classes are stronger than their Greenskin counterparts, horrible imbalance with only one decent Destruction class on that entire battlefront, just keep cutting classes until you get some decent ones Mythic, rant rant rant. Hey, I segue that into rant rant rant about the state of Conan four months into it and how nothing is ever fixed or done right ran rant rant. Good times.
But I’m a blogger, therefore a known emotional basketcase and someone who has access to many information sources. A commenter would helpfully tell me that Squig Herder weakness is a known issue, but I might enjoy this other class. (Known issue rant rant rant.) Imagine you are not one of us, those who are so hardcore that we read blogs about MMOs. You are a casual player who picked up the game because you like Warhammer or thought it looked neat. Then you get to RvR, the point of the game, and get steamrolled constantly. Do you even bother to complain on the forums before unsubscribing and going back to your miniatures?
What about those poor souls who are unnaturally devoted to one class, making a fansite before they are in the beta? If that class is lousy, you have kicked their puppy. If someone has been running SquigHerder.org for a while (not so much in this case), telling him to suck it up and make an alt is not exactly the right answer. People get deeply attached to characters in these games, which is one reason you can get $15/month from them.
Let’s pretend it is. We take the advice and switch to one of the strongest classes. Wow, this is night and day. We are still a bit bitter about the puppy, but now the play experience is enjoyable. The long-awaited re-balancing arrives, and our FotM gets nerfed (duh). At this point, does it matter that the original class got some love? Our first character came pre-nerfed, the second character was nerfed mid-stream, and why would I trust the company now?
I am supposed to have a solution here, but the main one is “get it right the first time.” Not terribly helpful, I know, but it really is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. The initial imbalance made some people unhappy, the fix will make other unhappy, and your worst case scenario is someone in both camps. And people hold long grudges, with launch issues haunting memories forever.
In a PvE game, imbalances are annoying but not fatal. You may not like being the weakest member of your group, but you can let the other group members be the workhorses. They are still on your side. In a PvP game, imbalances are critical. It is directly competitive, and you do not play chess against an opponent who uses rooks in the place of pawns.
Minor differences are fine, but if one class is clearly the worst at something, that is a problem. If no one wants to play the Greenskin DPS class, you have only two classes left. It is a bigger problem if no one wants to play the healer or tank class, even worse in the current case where two of three options are poor and the third is worse than its counterpart.
Pondering it, Warhammer is probably more vulnerable to balance issues than any other MMO. It is RvR-oriented, with two opposed teams, and three sub-teams on each side. Break just one character, let’s say the Dwarf healer for a change. What are the effects? There are fewer Dwarf healers, enough to make a marginal change; if you lose 5-10% of your healers, that does not sound catastrophic, but it slows down a larger chunk of the playerbase that needs healing: slower PvE, fewer RvR groups with healers. Some of those players just wanted to be dwarves, so they pick one of the other two classes; now we have even more Dwarf groups with no healers. Some of those players just wanted to be Order, so spread them over the other two battlefronts. Now Destruction is smashing one front and getting outnumbered on the others (or your comment may not make the unrealistic assumption that Order and Chaos had equal populations). Some of these players just wanted to be healers, so they will likely stick with that when heading elsewhere. If you’re not a dwarf, your problem is too many healers, not too few, so you don’t see what they are complaining about. Next step, the dwarves are consistently losing. Why make a dwarf? Downward spiral, perhaps difficult to stop with re-balancing once “everyone knows” dwarves are weak.
Having one worst class means having one worst team. Losing four of twenty-four classes did not sound like much, but then you remember that those twenty-four were divided over six sub-teams. Losing one more option from your team means being down to two. If the Black Orc is broken, there are no good orc classes. That is a small margin of error, especially when the competing games are about to launch their expansion packs.