The Daily Grind: How would you solve the RvR MMORPG balance problem?


One of the forever problems facing RvR MMORPGs – really any multi-sided PvP MMO, but three-way RvR the most – is the inevitable population imbalance. This week, classic RvR MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot brought back one of its tested methods for dealing with that imbalance. Broadsword calls it the Dynamic Population Bonus feature.

“This system will reward underpopulated realms with bonus realm points to help offset and stabilize population imbalances,” the studio explains. “The current bonus status will be displayed to players when viewing the realm selection screen and in-game on the /realmwar ‘bonuses’ window.” The more you’re outnumbered, in other words, the more realm points you earn, and so the faster you rank up.

Of course, you could argue that’s merely incentive to swap to a server with a more favorable balance – not necessarily something that helps the underdog actually win in the short term. How would you solve the RvR MMORPG balance problem? What’s the best way you’ve seen it done in a live MMO?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!


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Back in my time with DAoC we handled it by having the two weaker factions collude and team up for coordinated attacks on the majority faction. Down with the Hibs!

Worked pretty well too.

Oleg Chebeneev

Who said this needs to be “fixd”. Who said sides should be equal? Just make good balance between classes and leave the rest to players

Jon Wax

Truth. If you can get the rock paper scissors correct, population should level organically


By having the realms designed to be uneven and unbalanced in the first place rather then treating everything as being equal
A galactic empire that has the best ships and controls over half the map would be a big target for everybody else because of these things. It would also create play that is very different between factions as empire players try to police large swaths of territory while their smaller enemies sneak around causing trouble

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Tobasco da Gama
  • Players get permanently assigned to a side and can’t switch.
  • There’s a specific end-state, either goal-based or time-based.
  • After hitting the end-state, players are reshuffled between the sides.

That’s the only way to make RvR balanced, but any MMO that tries it is probably dead on arrival.


Could you imagine?

“Okay I installed the game. It put me on Faction A.”
“Oh, I’m on Faction B.”
“This is dumb, lets go play something else.”


I’ve only ever seen two ways that open PvP was somewhat balanced by the games mechanics, and both ways came from LotRO’s first year of operation. I’m not saying these are the only two ways, simply that they’re the only two ways I’ve seen working first hand.

1) NPCs
I know, I know – NPCs in PvP?!?! Ugghhh. Yet, in LotRO the NPCs added to the keeps in the map acted like a balancing mechanism. When the sides were balanced, players could and would PvP everywhere on the map. But if one side got too big, the smaller side would retreat somewhere with friendly NPCs and the fight would balance out. It did mean the PvP could get a little stagnant as everyone kept fighting in the same place, but it at least meant everyone could have fun.

2) Give the winning side a reason to bugger off!
In LotRO, this took the form of the Delving of Fror: a large dungeon underneath the Ettenmoors. Only the winning side that occupied 3/5 keeps could enter the dungeon, and the dungeon contained materials required to improve your character in PvP (gear for the good guys, traits for the bad guys).

When this was first introduced and everyone had a reason to go there, it meant that if one side was winning at any point, as soon as they hit 3/5 keeps half of them would disappear into the dungeon, flipping the balance back. The downside was that 2 months later, all the regular PvPers had everything they needed and so the dungeon fell into disuse, but for those 2 months I had some of the best PvP I experienced in the game. [You could also PvP in the dungeon, so when the other side got access, anyone inside had to prepare for an invasion]. I believe this idea was loosely based on Darkness Falls from DAoC, but can’t remember for certain.

Jon Wax

Through the legal system first and failing that use force?

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Randomly assign people to factions like FFXI did to servers.

With in game paid passes so friends can join same factions. Exactly how FFXI did it. That way random players are always put on low pop factions and the guilds on those factions can snap them up

Anything else is a dead in the water solution and even that above is really pushing it. Faction based PVP is just to hard to balance

Dean Dean

Increased rewards for low-pop is often exploited, and isn’t even possible in some games. Debuffs typically work best, as they actively push players to balance the teams themselves.

However, numbers are only one factor in determining balance. Player skill, character levels, gear, class composition, etc… all factor heavily into how a battle plays out.

It’s always better to reward individuals for their levels of participation than to try and balance sides. Games that give ‘kills’ to players that finish someone, or fail to reward things like healing, are utter garbage and should never be taken seriously.


Appraise siege leaders and move them to losing faction.

Exactly in DAoC I’ve seen a single person shifted RvR balance completely back in 2002-3: the most populated Merlin server was a playground for Midgard and Hybernia factions and then previously unknown player with character named Boltar led (an underdog) Albion realm to absolute victories where faction controlled all 20+ RvR keeps at once, for weeks. It’s then I’ve realized how much leaders matter for success or failure of whole societies and how they can overcome even badly balanced game classes (Albion melee classes lacked crowd control and burst DPS).

Note: we didn’t even use in-game voice communications back then, only text chat.


I would go with:
– Horizontal progression. In PvP a better character should only mean more options, and never more raw power. In particular, make every. single. PvP. reward. that depends on results be more about bragging rights than character effectiveness.
– Varying rewards for both winning and losing, taken to an extreme; if one side ever got so weak that it would be guaranteed to lose, then it should gain more for losing than the other side could gain for winning.
– Rewarding actions as much as results, if not more. A player that goes out to fight a dozen skirmishes, and loses every single one of them, should gain more (and much more) than one that sits back and only join skirmishes that he or she is guaranteed to win. Incidentally, this would reward the weaker side more because the weaker side typically offers more chances to fight.
– As soon as this resulted in a measurable incentive to join the weaker side, make defecting and changing factions as easy as possible. Barriers to faction changing basically serve to slow down how fast the faction balance changes; if your game is inherently prone to faction imbalance then slowing how fast faction balance can change means more time until faction balance is permanently broken, but when your game is actually self-balancing then speeding up that change means a more balanced game.


All you basically did was describe a FPS which if I wanted to play FPS games I have plenty of those available to choose from.


Not a FPS, but instead a game where faction balance was built as deep as possible into the design. Meaning it would offer little to no opportunity to dominate your opponents, by forcing the conflict to become as even as possible.

So, yeah, I don’t think it would please those that play for dominance (though those players will leave anyway as soon as they find themselves on the losing side). Instead, the focus would be on pleasing those that enjoy hard fought battles between even forces where the winner isn’t known until the end, even if it means they could find themselves on the losing side as often as not. Indeed, it would actively encourage good players to shift to the losing side in order to progress faster, as well as sharply reduce the rewards to be reaped without effort for just being on the winning side.


Again if you look at all the characteristics you described and look at what kind of game fits the description you’re talking about the FPS already fits your criteria. Not only is combat equalized and class has minor impact on outcome, but also forces are even and regularly shift/reorganize themselves at the end of matches to make more fair and balanced teams. You don’t want a MMO, you want a FPS game from what you describe.

More over your lack of experience with PVP game systems (as you’ve admitted in the past you refuse to play games with forced PvP in them) and the nuances that are there beyond the skin-deep bloodshed. For example you entirely ignore the most principle issue with MMO PvP which is that players use the social aspects of a MMO game in order to dominate via politics and diplomacy since MMOs come about. Most forces that have dominated the last few competitive games have done so entirely via social organization via alliances and diplomacy and organizing manpower/guilds together with zero care towards game balance what so ever.

Also rewarding losing to be as equal to or more than winning just means you’ll end up with a game of people who intentionally throw matches by going AFK, playing poorly on purpose or otherwise. You see this in numerous past and present game systems where losing is rewarding and people just take huge advantage of those systems for personal gain.