Fairness and Balance in Fighting Games


Balance became a hot button topic with SFIV and SSFIV, some claiming that in pursuit of balance Capcom was damaging the game. The debate over this raged on, and then took a very different turn when Ono was reported having said this:

No Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition in the Home (andriasang.com, 02.24.2011)

And the debate rose up again.

Recently I came across notes from Zhan Ye, a leading game designer who runs Free-to-play games in China. His job essentially is to not only to get people to play games, but to get people to pay for what is otherwise a free game. He illustrates some “old and outdated” notions that need to be abolished so this can be actively achieved, one of these being Fairness.

Zhan Ye - What US Game Developers Need to Know about Free-to-Play in China

Now I have never had the liberty of living in an area that had a viable arcade, but can easily see the correlation between arcades and pay-to-play games. At the very least, the designer has the same role in both: how do I get someone to continue to pay to play this game, or pay to play it in the first place.

This design philosophy of intentional unfairness has lead to a great success in China for Zhen, but, does this work in the arcade setting as well? And what of the competitive community, much of the complaints about the lack of powerful and exciting options in SSFIV, thus leading to a boring game might stem from the apparent lack of conflict that the inherent fairness has brought, according to Zhen’s design ideas.


In fighting games it’s an absolute must to have great balance, because then you can just pick your favorite character in the game, and with practice and overall improvement, you’ll win. No other factors, a balanced game has no “matchups”, because every character will win 5 out of 5 games with equally skilled players. That said, people think this would make the game dull, but I don’t find it dull if everyone in the cast is used and with skill. Nothing’s worst than a game where only 4 characters of a 30+ cast are used, and are effective. (Not saying such a game exists. Because I don’t think it does.)


Balance is not important in a fighting game. It’s a perk, but a secondary one. Diversity in viable playstyles is important though. The key difference here is that balance is purely a relative concept, while diversity is absolute.

In SSF4, balance is arguably achieved at the sake of some of the excitement and fun. You have lots of characters who are varying shades of mediocre, creating a very balanced product, but arguably not the most exciting one.

One thing SSF4 does have in that unfairness/drama department though ( more exaggerated in games like ST ) is a heavy emphasis on matchups. Does the drama of meta-gaming, counterpicking, and countercounterpicking make the game more exciting? I think it does, though some people argue games where matchup charts are less jagged are better, I think that can make a game more boring.


When that game does happen, it’ll be the most boring fighting game ever made, since it will have only 2 characters, with one of the characters being a simple pallet swap of the other with the exact same moves.




That’s a common misconception of a balanced game. Characters can be diverse and different while the game can be fun at the same time. I guess people don’t realize that more damage =/= fun. Take TvC for example, it’s a really balanced game with only a few bad characters and only a handful of good characters. Say you buffed Frank West and V.Joe to be as good as Batsu, and nerfed Zero, and Tekkaman Blade slightly so that they were as good as, say, Ken the Eagle. A more balanced game while being diverse, fun and interesting. Everyone uses every character in the roster and they can actually pick their favorite character in the game without setting themselves up for failure. There’s too many games where there’s like, this really fun character to play with, but he’s shut down by higher tier characters.


All i’m going to say is Vampire Savior. Jedah, Lilith, and Anak have been getting good positions in tournaments since 1997.

Most current match up chart


Yeah but not Victor. T_T


[Darkstalkers Combination Cup :: _[NXg[J[YRrlVJbv 2006 DCC a victor in second.


A more balanced game will always be better than the same game with less balance, as long as it has the good kind of balance (everyone is hella powerful). Imagine if most characters in MvC2 were as powerful as the big 4 / the rest of the top tiers. The possibilities would be nearly endless and it would be hands down the deepest fighting game ever.

It’s when the characters become weak and boring for the sake of balance as in SSFIV that people bitch.


But the point is that there’s never going to be 5:5 matchups across the board since, as long as there are differences between characters, players are going to find ways to make a certain character better than the others.


Character diversity vs universal mechanics homogeneity is hard to manage. On one hand there are unique character quirks that make them interesting over others, and on the other hand universal mechanics attempt to even the playing field by giving the same tools for everyone. Making everyone so unique tends to hurt the overall balance of the game, but having too much universal mechanics dulls the variety to approach opponents. Like most people said, attempting to ‘perfectly’ balance the characters will end up having x number of copies of one character. That doesn’t sound so fun now does it?


um this may not be on topic, but I’ll like to ask what makes a character unique? I always thought it was up to players to make them unique


balance would be nice in most fighting games, but there’s always going to be characters who are +/-(more than others).


Having different types of moves and mobility options and defense values etc. Players can only do so much with the design of a character.

I think its refreshing that people are questioning the notion of whether balance is essential to a fighting game. I understand why a lot of people think its the most important thing. It’s interesting to think that before SF4, the big three fighting games (3s, CvS2, Marvel2) were all pretty unbalanced when compared to the 4 series in general. I’m not going to debate which games were better, but I think weak characters have their place. Certain character archetypes are a lot more boring to see on the finals stage than others, and it doesn’t bother me if they are intentionally made weaker. It’s also very exciting to see a character that is obviously low on the tier chart perform very well in a tournament.


4 is balanced if you disregard all of the extremely unbalanced matchups. Rog vs. Blanka is one of the most lopsided matchups I’ve seen in a fighting game.


without balance, the game simply plays as if there were less characters at a sufficiently high level of play. IE in Marvel the game plays as if there were what, 4 to 8 characters. Balance is part of uniqueness, which is the heart of the idea of having different characters. Without balance, the people who might be interested in teh weaker characters (in ways other than their weakness) will eventually simply not play. In fact a game has less uniqueness WITHOUT balance than with it.

Quote Originally Posted by d3v View Post
When that game does happen, it’ll be the most boring fighting game ever made, since it will have only 2 characters, with one of the characters being a simple pallet swap of the other with the exact same moves.

No. In a unbalanced game the weaker characters are (at a high enough level of play) simply not played. In a sufficiently unbalanced game, what you said is true; people only play the strongest character and therefore everyone is the same!


Everyone will eventually not play. Either way, I don’t think there are many people out there who will only play a fighting game competitively if their favorite character is strong in that game. I don’t even know that many people who play 1 character exclusively.


Tager vs Nu-13 in BB:CT says Hi.


Bringing Marvel into this makes this more complicated, since people didn’t play individual characters in Marvel but rather teams. At the same time, the team nature of the game means that some individually low tier characters can get bumped up once they start getting used in a good team.

Who’s to say that most aren’t. I believe that there’s some consensus that some characters could be as good as the 4 gods if the game were simply given enough to evolve and for people to learn them (if shoultz is to be believed, characters like 'Sim, Mummy and Ruby Heart have the potential to be part of the new god tier in a few years).

I’ll agree with that last statement though. It’s almost as if Ono’s team were afraid of letting people be strong in case folks found out stuff.

Happilly though, at least we aren’t seeing the same inclinations from Niitsuma’s team. Then again he is working with Neo_G who’s responsible for gems like A3, CvS2, 3S, MvC2 and most importantly VSav.