In Online Games, A Sweet Spot Defines Perfection

As technology rapidly improves, it has become easier for developers to add more detail to their video games. However, there is an equilibrium that contains the perfect amount of content.

“Apex Legends,” released earlier this month, strikes a perfect balance through a variety of weapons. This harmony is refreshing at a time when games are often oversaturated with materials or offer so few options that the game feels repetitive.

The development process of a video game focuses on several factors — including graphics, plot and soundtrack — but one that developers continuously prioritize throughout development is material, such as maps, equipment and abilities. Developers painstakingly tweak their games to be graphic masterpieces, altering damage rates, movement, map designs and more, to appeal to gamers.

Online multiplayer games provide a particular challenge, as developers must find the sweet spot between too much variety and a lack of content. In “Apex Legends” there are only about three weapons per category. Developer Respawn Entertainment has paid close attention to diversity; while the R-99 submachine gun has a high fire rate and low damage, the Alternator submachine gun has a low fire rate and high damage. This balance holds for every weapon and makes for varied matches. The variety of weapons, equipment and special abilities encourage players to continue joining matches while ensuring each experience is unique.

Gamers might feel like a game was either too rushed or not well thought out when there is too little content. This was the case for “Call of Duty: WWII,” which, at release, embarrassingly gave players only nine maps to choose from. In addition to the overly frequent appearance of maps in rotation, developer Sledgehammer Games suggests that players must pay for downloadable content to enjoy the game at its fullest.

In contrast, too much content yields components that are unbalanced and redundant. For example, “Call of Duty: World at War” offered too many perks, or special abilities, and became redundant. Perks like shades, which reduces flare effects, and greased bearings, which increases turret rotation speed, are overly specific. They are completely outclassed by more useful perks such as stopping power, which increases bullet damage, and steady aim, which improves hip-fire accuracy. The repetition perks are far from game-breaking, but the effort put into these useless additions could have instead been redirected to improve game mechanics or weapon-balancing.

In fact, players may ask why battle royale games, such as “Fortnite Battle Royale,” constantly vault (or remove) weapons and equipment when introducing new ones. Simply put, developer Epic Games understands that there’s no point in having, for instance, five sniper variations. Rather, they’ve vaulted the semi-automatic and bolt snipers, and opted to keep the silenced bolt sniper, heavy sniper and crossbow. Keeping the game fresh for frequent players, vaulting and introducing weapons also avoid redundancies. For example, the regular bolt sniper and silenced bolt sniper only differ by a suppressor, meaning there would be no reason to include both in the game. Some may argue against this. However, by continuously adding weapons and equipment without removing anything, the game becomes oversaturated; veteran players and newcomers alike would have trouble choosing an ideal loadout, slowing the gameplay and making looting less efficient.

There are, however, rare occurrences in which the amount of material has no upper bound. In racing games like “Gran Turismo Sport” and sports games like “NBA 2K19,” players welcome the addition of as many cars, tracks and athletes as possible. The reason for this is simple: content comes straight from reality. Gamers who are invested in basketball or cars may find enthusiasm in playing as James Harden or driving their favorite Aston Martin. These games offer a simulation of a reality that most people cannot experience. Although the same can be said of a history aficionado about a World War II game, in online shooters, item balance and redundancy can be an issue. In a public online racing or sports game, rules can be set so that balance is not an issue, whereas online shooter games rarely offer such specific settings for fear of diluting each game mode. Due to the comparatively simple formula that has served racing and sports games for years, there is little incentive for developers to stray from this pattern.

Online game developers, whether battle-hardened by years of experience or new and vulnerable to gamers’ chaotic criticism, must be careful to stay within the correct amount of material or risk tainting their game.