Fairness and Gaming

Matt Barton's picture

Mark Newheiser has a new article up called Playing Fair: A Look at Competition in Gaming. Mark does a great job of breaking down the issue of fairness in gaming and showing how different kinds of people bring different expectations and conflicts to games. For instance, casual gamers want to be able to pick up a game and be competitive right away, whereas hardcore gamers want the hundreds of hours they've put into a game to "mean something."

All of the issues Mark raises make perfect sense to me, and I've seen it all firsthand. Indeed, one reason why I often get disgusted playing online games is what I view as unfairness (on so many levels!). For instance, I was often faced in World of Warcraft with the realization that certain classes were just simply more powerful, and certain specializations as well. So, if you were a mage, you had to be arcane or people snubbed you as a noob. Thus, everyone who wanted to be good had to play exactly alike. Boring. The arrogance of the "hardcore" folks was just stunning, and I can't help but have sour grapes--"If I were such a loser that I had nothing else to do than play this game for sixteen hours a day..."

I think any online game should be balanced in such a way that allows you to play in different styles and still be competitive, and no single class should ever be supreme. Imagine how dull Street Fighter II would be if Ryu was simply the best--play with him or suck. I doubt SF II would ever have become popular if that were the case. On the other hand, I can definitely see why people who are willing to put so much time into a game ought to be rewarded, but it should be based more on skill than raw hours played. For instance, you can become a very good chess player by doing lots of reading and so on; there's no magic rule that you must play exactly 15,000 hours of chess before your queen can move in all directions.

Anyway, reading Mark's article was great fun, so head over and read it for yourself! I think you'll agree that he does great work.


Joined: 12/16/2008

Mark Newheiser here, thanks for the link, Matt. I feel like balance and fairness issues are going to be a bigger and bigger deal the more complex games get to be. Traditional board games are often simpler in terms of options, but because they can't be usually patched after the fact and are expected to have a longer window to continue to make sales than games are, it's very important to polish the game design up front rather than having the chance to constantly refine it in response to feedback.

And there absolutely should be a variant of chess where you only get to use the knights after making a certain number of captures, now there's a gamebreaker.

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