Jeff Kaplan: "The perception of balance is more powerful than balance itself"


This weekend, Jeff Kaplan took to the official Overwatch forums and posted a thorough explanation of his thoughts on the state of game balance. In particular, Kaplan took the time to differentiate between perceived balance and actual balance. Kaplan argues that what players think is imbalanced is more important than what is statistically imbalanced and that understanding this perception that is vital to his role.

The likely reason for Kaplan's public voice on the matter is the communities consistent complaint about the "dive-meta" and how powerful it is. As it stands now, heroes like of D.Va, Winston, Genji, and Tracer can coordinate their mobility options to assassinate one key enemy hero. It is an effective strategy and has grown to be the most popular team composition at the highest level of tournament play. Many fans grow tiresome of the strategy and naturally look for Blizzard to make a change.

But Kaplan won't make any such changes. Rather than forcing the meta to change through intervention, Kaplan strongly advocates letting things fall into place naturally and trusting his team's decisions on balance. He cites the recent nerfs to D.Va and the subsequent complaints that followed as an example:

"I think we also need to be careful about demanding drastic change. A few months ago we nerfed D.Va and we faced the ire of many very upset players who thought we “ruined” the hero and she would never be played again. There was mega thread after mega thread demanding she be buffed. We held our ground because we believed she was fine. We did not touch her. And now she is one of the dominant heroes in the dive meta – clearly not in need of a buff."

Kaplan plants the obvious thought: what would have happened in Blizzard listened to the community and buffed D.Va? Thankfully, Kaplan and his team have the statistics and discipline to do what is right for the game and not respond to the knee-jerk reaction of a hero loyalist. As loud and vocal as these community voices may be, they don't have all of the data needed to accurately call out game imbalance. Kaplan mentions this early on in his post with statistics that show who is "really" imbalanced in Overwatch:

"Statistically, the things that are most unbalanced aren’t what you think they are. Symmetra and Torbjorn's win rates are not balanced. They are too good. But this is why we don’t balance on statistics alone. I don’t sense a great community uproar over the fact that Torb and Symmetra are “overpowered” right now (at least, statistically)." 

▲ According to Kaplan, competitive players face more Soldier: 76 and Mercy than any other hero. Yet, this isn't perceived as a problem.


Kaplan covers a wide array of topics and even acknowledges how players don't appreciate being told Quick Match statistics on hero picks because Competitive is considered more important. With that said, Kaplan introduces the actual top picked heroes in Competitive mode and uses it to once more combat the perception that the dive-meta is out of control:

"looking at Competitive only… here are the top 6 picked heroes: Mercy (by a long shot), 76, D.Va, Lucio, Ana and Genji. Interestingly, number 7 is Reinhardt. Next tank after that is… Wi… no Roadhog. So in the past month in Comp, that’s what you’ve been actually playing."

Kaplan ends his open letter with the weary acceptance that there will always be dissenters while also acknowledging how skilled his team is at balancing the game. Kaplan dimisses the idea of nerfing Winston and D.Va "into the ground" and reminds anyone reading that his team already balances a fair number of heroes "more frequently than you give us credit for".

Whether or not you agree with that last part, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of such a long letter coming directly from the Game Director himself.

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