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Subject: Balance Categories rss

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Quinn Brander
Canada
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Previous research has divided balance into three main types: internal, external and positional.

Internal balance is achieved when either every option available to a player has equal power, or every option is strong in some circumstance relative to other options.

External balance is achieved when all players are provided equal opportunity to advance throughout the game as a result of the game design.

Positional balance is applied to game designs that mitigate positive feedback loops which otherwise allow players in the lead to increase their lead throughout the course of a game.

I stand by both internal and external balance as valid and useful categories. However, I believe that positional balance participates in a broader third category: Engagement Balance.

Engagement Balance is achieved when all players are equally engaged in a game from start to finish. Because positive feedback loops leave little to no chance for flagging players to maintain winning chances, engagement balance is often threatened. However, players are often engaged due to other design factors, and may become detached for yet others.

Other minor balance categories:

Skill Variance Balance is achieved when the skill and/or experience of all players is equalized. Often this is achieved by intentionally introducing inequalities in the external balance: many designs include this as an optional feature. In other cases, multiplayer designs often allow players to self equalize by abusing direct player interaction (targeting the strongest player).

Skillset Balance is achieved when the actions required of players involve a wide variety of cognitive activities. For instance, a game that requires the use of visual spacial, verbal-linguistic, logico-mathematical and inter-personal thinking would display a very high skillset balance.

Am I missing something? Let me know!

(My Game Design Analysis blog is here if you want to read more- zamagame.com)
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James Ryan
United States
Madison
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Engagement Balance seems like a tricky category. I can see what you are after there. But I also think there are many factors that can contribute to engagement or a lack of engagement that have nothing to do with the design.

Put simply: Some people like board games more than others and will be more engaged in a game for that reason. Also, some gamers have preferred types of games, and so may be less engaged in a design that is not in their preferred type. I like light-to-medium family games. I have friends that prefer heavy euros. When we play something like Machi Koro, the level of engagement is not balanced. But that's not Machi Koro's fault.

I am probably making a pointless objection here. I imagine you mean "engagement balance" as a term that refers to those parts of engagement over which the design DOES have control: feedback loops, player elimination, equal distribution of interesting decisions, increasing steaks/rewards/abilities as play progresses, etc.

In which case, I think engagement balance an important thing to look at. It would be useful to have a list of those parts of engagement a designer can control.
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Quinn Brander
Canada
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Quote:
I also think there are many factors that can contribute to engagement or a lack of engagement that have nothing to do with the design.


Your concern about differentiating between design and non-design sources of player engagement is definitely something I need to attend to. I don't think your objection is pointless at all, or even an objection: more of a potential problematic.

Some of the interactions between player preferences and design can be discussed in skillset balance. For example, players that prefer spatial temporal games will be naturally drawn to games with heavy spatial-temporal gameplay. Of course, there are endless things I can't talk about that nonetheless heavily affect engagement: group dynamics, theme preferences, rates of hunger, etc. But, as you've mentioned, a bunch of design choices have a direct effect on engagement and it seems to me that positional balance belongs among them.
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