I’ve been thinking about balance a lot. We all say that we’d like a balanced game, but there are a lot of different potential meanings behind “balanced.” Final Fantasy XI, for example, is balanced around the idea that every single job has a roughly equivalent pool of tricks. That means that classes like Red Mage and Blue Mage are considered balanced because Red Mage is more flexible and has access to more tricks constantly… despite the fact that Blue Mage, in every practical sense, is better at doing everything and is far more desirable in content.
By contrast, World of Warcraft is fond of across-the-board balance changes wherein a given class or spec gets 20% higher damage or 20% lower damage. The problem with that form of balancing is that it doesn’t really address tricks (or lack thereof), and a 20% damage drop just makes a spec 20% worse, while a 20% increase doesn’t make a bad rotation any more fun to play. You could also balance things by trying to tune or adjust specific abilities… but that runs the risk of having a cascade effect or having no effect at all, and sometimes you remove or weaken an ability that isn’t really at the heart of any power issues.
In short, any approach has issues. But what do you think, readers? What form of balance is best for MMOs?