The Eternal Debate About Game Balance
Smash Bros Melee Marth.jpg

There’s a debate that has been going on in many gaming communities--most prominently the fighting game community--for a while now, and it’s a debate that you don’t even see until you get close to pro level. Should game developers patch imbalances out of their games or should players just adapt?

It’s a more complicated question than it first appears. It’s easy to say, “of course imbalances should be patched” but how effective are these patches? Street Fighter IV is now on its sixth balance patch, with Ultra Street Fighter IV coming out, and there is still not a balanced playing field. There is always a “top tier” of characters that dominate professional tournaments.


Also, a game isn’t necessarily bad just because it’s unbalanced. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was so unbalanced that only 4 or 5 characters were viable as main portions of a team, with another 8 or so characters viable as assist choices. The full roster of the game was over 50 characters large, however, so that was a very small fraction that anyone ever really played with. Still, the game still has pro tournaments going on today, and not once did anyone think of patching it.

Another great game that has remained untouched for years is Super Smash Bros. Melee, also still active in the pro scene to this day. The roster is incredibly unbalanced, and it’s rare that you’ll see pros taking on the tournament circuit with someone other than Marth, Sheik, Fox, Falco, Jigglypuff, Ice Climbers, sometimes Captain Falcon, and so forth. That’s only about a third or so of the game’s full roster, and only three or so characters routinely make it to the finals.

Another argument against patching, is that it removes the things that made characters fun in the first place. If characters become weaker, players will drop them and pick up other characters that have become strong, continuously rubber banding and never quite finding equilibrium. So why not just leave the game alone and let people figure out new strategies?


Unfortunately, as I said before, it’s more complicated than that. To see why, just look at Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Once again, it was quite imbalanced, with Metaknight basically dominating the metagame… irony. However, apart from that, the mechanics of the game were not nearly as enjoyable as Melee’s. Hence, players took it upon themselves to hack the game and make their own patches. That’s how Project M was created.

In addition, several games encounter serious problems due to unbalance issues. For example, Injustice rubbed many players the wrong way when Scorpion first came out. Players thought that his teleports and setups were far too difficult to deal with. Called a “Mortal Kombat character in Injustice” his ability to make people block the wrong way was crippling, whereas it was not nearly as problematic in MK which had a universal directional block button. Many were saying that it would kill the entire tournament scene if he wasn’t patched, and sure enough he was.

So what do you think? Patch or don't patch? Should players just adapt or is it the responsibility of the developer to make a game perfectly balanced. Let us know in the comments!

Angelo M. D'Argenio
Angelo M. D'Argenio

Former Contributing Writer
Date: 05/14/2014

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