Different Player Types: Why Game Design and Balance are so Hard.

Different Player Types: Why Game Design and Balance are so Hard.

Today, I want to take a break from my usual series, Gaming Like a Gentleman. I had a plan for it, but I want to make it better than I could have by today. Instead, what I want to talk about is an issue that affects both game design and balance, and may even be the cause of a lot of the idea of Elo Hell: player motivations. People play games for vastly different reasons. This is sort of an obvious claim, but it is one with rather over-arching results. Magic: The Gathering, one of the most established and long-running nerd-sports, uses the terms ‘Timmy’, ‘Johnny’, and ‘Spike’ in their R&D department in determining what sorts of new cards to make. For an in depth explanation of these types, read this article.

However, for the sake of this article, all you need to know is that there are three types of players that they consider, when creating new content.

First, there is Timmy. Timmy is in many senses, the casual gamer. Timmy wants to win big; big creatures, big spells, big attacks. Timmy may remember his losses and be annoyed at them, but what Timmy really appreciates is the dominant win. Timmy is the type of person (and we all know them) who will buy a new champion on release, and play 10 games, win 4 and only really do GREAT in 2, but post those two games to whatever forums he is a part of and say ‘NEW CHAMP SO OP’.

What champions in LoL are designed with Timmy in mind? To over-generalize, melee carries and assassins are classic Timmy champions. They may not always be the best picks, but when they get ahead, they get WAY ahead. On the other hand, some classic Timmy champions are those who have strong, incredibly notable abilities:

Everybody has that friend who only plays Katarina/Yi/Tryndamere, and who doesn’t seem that into the game when he’s not ahead. But when he goes 20-0? You hear about it for months: remember that time I went 10-2? Yes Timmy, we remember that once, you went 20-0. We also remember all the games you’ve lost for us, and we also remember that your W-L is -50. Congratulations on your one-time 20-0, now

  because

. When Darius came out, the collective orgasm from Timmy players caused a worldwide 5.0 magnitude earthquake.

What items does Timmy buy? 3 Phantom Dancers and 2 Bloodthirsters, of course; how could you possibly get more damage?

Second, there is Spike. In many ways, Spike is the opposite of Timmy. Spike originally was just known as ‘the tournament player’, in Magic R&D. Spike only cares about the viability of a strategy; if it wins him (on average) more games than other strategies, he loves it.

Spike is buying (and playing) whatever champ is OP that week and playing him all week. Morgana’s unbanned? First pick her for Spike.

You left Shyvana open? The game may as well be over already. Why didn’t you pick Yorick? You don’t have fun playing him?

You’re not good at him? No problem

What items does Spike like? Whatever items will get him the win.

The third player is Johnny. Johnny is all about creativity. Sure, he wants to win, but he wants to win in a unique way. When Johnny says:

he means it as an insult, not a compliment. Why play a champion who is simple and has no nuance? Remember when Orianna came out and a few players insisted she was good? Or the few Cassiopeia players who stuck with Cassiopeia for months while she was considered UP, only to suddenly surge up? Warwick top, Cho jungle, Nunu support; these are all Johnny ideas at heart. Spike or Timmy may come across them and play them, but most of them will come from Johnny.

What items does Johnny like? Preferably ones that nobody uses, or which have creative uses available.

So how do you balance the game for all of these different types of players? Obviously, as an e-sport (and Riot has put a lot of money into making LoL one), LoL needs to be balanced at the highest level of play. In a game like Magic: The Gathering, this is easy. Put in a lot of generically strong cards. These cards will drive the set. However, since mirror matches are impossible, this sort of balance is weaker in competitive LoL. As well, people grow attached to champions, so it’s not a viable option to simply leave most of the champions in the game too weak to be competitive. So it’s important that a lot of champions be balanced at somewhat similar levels, to allow for equal footings.

Worse, however, is trying to balance the game for Timmy and Johnny. Johnny wants interesting effects and abilities that have interesting and unforeseen consequences. The problem with unforeseen consequences is that it’s pretty hard to balance them in advance. So when Johnny discovers them, if they are too strong, Riot needs to nerf them, disappointing Johnny. If they are too weak, and Riot doesn’t buff them, Johnny may feel he can’t express himself well enough. If Riot buffs them, Johnny may feel cheated, having not really FOUND an OP strat, so much as having had it given to him. Finally, in the sweet spot, they are just right. If anything, Riot may go a bit heavy on the nerfing of Johnny’s ideas; there seems to be little waiting around for meta-shifts. This may be frustrating for Johnny, but it stops the other players from feeling unfairly dominated when a new strategy comes out.

Finally, there’s Timmy. If his ‘big effects’ are too big, they will dominate high level play, especially once Johnny innovates and Spike mines for optimal use, making the game about gimmicks. If they are too small, Timmy won’t be satisfied. The easiest response is to make the effects big, but unreachable with consistent counter-play. However, as the level of play rises, and people get better and better at coordinated strategies, this becomes harder and harder. Nunu’s ult may have been hard to pull off, but with work from Johnny (Empire), it became overly powerful, requiring a nerf of sorts.

Riot’s approach has been largely the latter. Think about how many champions or abilities they release which are strong, but are followed with ‘but they have this weakness/counter-play’. This is a good approach, except when players learn to counter the counter-play (or when it turns out not to work).

However, just think of all the conflicts we have here.

Xin Zhao may be great for Timmy, but Johnny will find him boring, and Spike will find him uncompetitive. Either he will be too weak at competitive play, but just right for Timmy, and Johnny will be disappointed at the lack of options, or he will balanced at competitive play, and be awful for Timmy whenever he chooses not to play him. This is how perma-bans arise; people want a champion only to be played on their team. Eve, Twitch, Tryndamere, Singed, and many other champions have been Timmy's perma-bans over time.

Spike may love Yorick, but Johnny finds him simplistic, and Timmy doesn’t feel enough immediate strength to want to keep playing him. To be likable by Timmy, he will have to be too strong, with all of his intangibles. This is how Yorick has been thought of as a nearly unbeatable laner since after his post-release buffs, even being tier 1, and yet is severely underplayed. Rumble is another strong example of a champion who was super strong, but uncreative (unappealing to Johnny) and hard to see the strength of (unappealing to Timmy).

Johnny may love Orianna, but Timmy will find the complexity of her kit needless, and Spike would rather play a champion who’s just as good, but simpler. Timmy isn’t going to like aura items (too hard to notice the effects), whereas Spike will load up on them. Many tanks and supports fall into this category, requiring a bit more finesse and knowledge to play well, but being very rewarding and having unseen power levels. This is why supports have been nerfed so many times.

This creates (essentially) two meta-games; one for Timmy, and one for Spike. As Riot’s experiments with Dominion and Twisted Treeline have shown, it’s very hard to balance for multiple maps. As such, Riot has mostly focused on balancing for Spike, with a few notable Timmy-oriented balances (Xin Zhao, for example). This is, in my opinion, the optimal route. It keeps the game balanced (for Timmy), it keeps the game competitive (for Spike), and it keeps the game fresh (for Johnny). Recently, Riot has even been doing smaller patches, allowing more meta-game development to take place as a result of playstyle, not power level.

So which are you? Me? I'm a Johnny with Spike tendencies. If I were more Spike oriented, I'd be out there playing every day whenever I'm theorycrafting or writing articles, and for me, this is the perfect balance.

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Comments

  • #17 Dub_Rio

    This is a good article, but I think you're confounding two distinct concepts. You talk about how it's hard to "balance" for multiple player types. What you really mean, is that it's hard to make champions that are popular with all player types. This in itself is kind of confusing cause champions are NOT supposed to be universally popular. Designers make champions (or MtG cards) specifically for specific types of players. That is not a bad thing. That is a good thing. 

    In regards to balance, that's really all about a champions abilities and optimal state. The three player types you listed don't affect balance at all. What will happen though, is Johnny will innovate and spike will dominate given those innovations made by Johnny. If a champion becomes OP based on those innovations then that's what happens, but that really is sort of unrelated to there being three distinct player types. 

  • #18 GentlemanGustaf

    Quote from Dub_Rio »

    This is a good article, but I think you're confounding two distinct concepts. You talk about how it's hard to "balance" for multiple player types. What you really mean, is that it's hard to make champions that are popular with all player types. This in itself is kind of confusing cause champions are NOT supposed to be universally popular. Designers make champions (or MtG cards) specifically for specific types of players. That is not a bad thing. That is a good thing. 

    In regards to balance, that's really all about a champions abilities and optimal state. The three player types you listed don't affect balance at all. What will happen though, is Johnny will innovate and spike will dominate given those innovations made by Johnny. If a champion becomes OP based on those innovations then that's what happens, but that really is sort of unrelated to there being three distinct player types. 

    The problem as I see it, comes in elements of the game which are big and flashy, other elements which are more subtle, but quite big (CC or Auras), and elements which are more creative (counter-jungling). Timmy is going to see the first group only; these are the 'Darius OP' people. Spike is going to see the numbers (Sona auras OP), and Johnny is going to see the coolness/interestingness aspect. And each of these these things draw nerfs from Riot.

    Champions like Evelynn or Xin Zhao, despite having no viability in competitive team play, have been very nerfed. This is a perfect example of the game being balanced by the rubric of Timmy.

    Riot tries to avoid, on the other hand, aura nerfs (nerfing Sona's auras only as a last resort), because Auras feel like they give less than they do, and Riot wants the game to 'feel' rewarding (sort of the opposite of balancing around competitive play).

    Finally, you have nerfs of ideas that may or may not be counterable, but require some thought or innovation to do so. Often, these ideas may only be strong because they are new.

    I should think that, LoL being a competitive e-sport, the game should be balanced for Spike, but it is not always. This is the problem I see; Riot wants to balance for their community as well as the e-sport.

  • #19 Dub_Rio

    Eh, I'd argue that the Xin and Eve balancing was more about attempts to balance the game at both low and high skill levels, not necessarily Timmy/Johnny/Spike. 

    I actually just made a big post about a issue you brought up here... If you're interested here's the link below. One of the writers, I think Hashinshin took one of my ideas from the forums and tried to turn it into an article topic, but he called it "invisible benefits" instead of using actual terminology... 

    http://www.fantasystrike.com/forums/index.php?threads/saliency-in-game-design.6979/#post-203509

  • #16 Jolan

    Too much of a Spike, I guess. I only focus on winning, knowing everything and how to counter it, and how to counter that, etc. But I still find some champs unappealing, even if they are OP and will win me the game.

  • #15 Stetto

    Nice article. Nice to be reminded of this awesome TDC-game. :-)

    But I can't really tell my player type.

    I got raged at and played Cassiopeia, when they first started to buff her range. I recently started to play Karma once again, but I'm still struggling to make her work. I don't like to play Yorrick, Shen and Morgana and I stopped playing Cassio when she got FotM. Am I a Johnny player?

    While playing niche champions, I enjoy nothing more than beating my lane opponent into the ground and then killing someone 1v5 and making it back out alive with Poppy. I enjoy feasting on top laners with Cho'Gath and bullying/denying them with Jayce or initiating with a perfect Amumu ult as a jungler. Am I a Timmy player?

    Last but not least, I enjoy to play every role in the game and I'm willing to adapt and pick what needs to be picked to be able to win. I even enjoy playing support more than mid lane, because I have an easier time to get my carry fed. If I need to choose between the champion that I want to play and the role that needs to be filled, I usually adapt for the sake of the win. Am I a Spike player?

    Last edited by Stetto: 9/30/2012 4:19:01 PM
  • #14 Khoral

    Spike/Johnny, evolved from Timmy some months ago (and let's admit it, still Timmy when playing unranked)

    Really nice article :)

  • #13 Sreimund

    I'd say I'm a spike based on my usual preferences aligning with current popular picks rather then going the unconventional route. Perhaps Spike/Timmy would be fair because I also believe in keeping things simple to optimally secure a win.

    It's very hard to categorize people in league by this standard because very few people stick with one of the three, one moment someone will like nasus, yi or tryndamere for their simplicity but make a surprising 180 degree turn in also wanting to play something more complicated in a different lane.

    At the 1750 ish elo I play at I will mostly see people pick based around counterpicking and much less around personal preference. I guess this attitude of counterpicking could be seen as spike behavior but that would completely leave out the question of what champion was picked.

  • #12 upgray3dd

    I've never liked the idea that Spikes play only what is the best. While I don't think a hardcore spike would play a champion that was bad or unviable, that doesn't mean spikes don't have likes and dislikes like the other player types. What spike likes are champions with a lot of play to them. In LoL, I imagine that spikes love champions that can build incremental advantage by consistently outplaying the opponent.  They like champion's with weird resource systems that a good player can game for a LOT of extra power. Spike's like the long game, playing optimally, and most importantly winning. Timmy likes winning in a cool way, Johnny likes winning his way, but Spike likes winning. Period.

     

     

  • #11 floum

    Johnny/Spike, nothing more rewarding than winning as a support with a bunch of auras and landing the good passive at the right time with Sona, whil the Timmy in my team is all like "Penta Kill, I'm so carrying you guys" :D

    Great article, ty Gustaf (and thanks to every guy posting on RoG)

  • #10 Vakril

    Primary Spike with timmy/tommy as a secondary.

    I love my research and I love executing it well. I love winning. But at the end of the day, I want to play to have fun. I love auras, but at the same time I don't like feeling like I'm not contributing. I want to feel at least some of my contributions. Champions like Jax are perfect. He feels like he hits hard, but you have to be able to combo him just right. He has a variety of builds-you can build him tanky, bursty, AD, AP, whatever, but either way you can have an impact on the game, be it by chasing down the runners, assassinating the carry, or initiating with a jump/stun. 

    But at the end of the day, if my entire team is fighting to see who gets to play top/mid/etc I'm the one who will reluctantly step up and play support whatever is needed to fill in the team weaknesses. The team strategy > all

  • #7 HazbotRA

    I guess I'm a Spike/Timmy.

  • #6 Tortferngatr

    Johnny (I love playing Orianna, Zyra, and even Syndra) with occasional Timmy tendencies. I like things which make unique combinations playing to the strengths of each, like Karthus+support bot lane (with Lulu, Soraka, or Blitzcrank perhaps?), but I also like playing "satisfying" champs like Xin Zhao, Karth, and Ryze.

  • #5 arthurmauk

    Great to see the Magic player types applied here so well, well done! :)

  • #4 TheBirdOfPreyRoG

    I'm a timmy with johnny haha. great article

  • #3 KultoDeSkaro

    You forgot Scott, who enjoys trolling with AP Caitlyn more than anything

  • #2 Fluffykiinz

    Loved this one Sir Gustaf. I'm a mix between Johnny and Spike. Keep up the awesome posts!

  • #1 Yangus101

    Adc zilean is my main.  

     

    that is all.

    Last edited by Yangus101: 9/30/2012 11:48:41 AM
  • #8 Thaddeusmike

    I've seen people attempt to apply the player archetypes to LoL before. You, good sir, are the first I have seen do it well. Excellent read.

    I definitely have some Timmy tendencies, but there's a lot of Spike in there. I used to be more of Johnny, but that's died off somehow. I remember when I played Rammus through the nerfs and Heimerdinger. Interestingly, I'm far more of a Johnny in Magic (Izzet pre-release was so fun!)

  • #9 GentlemanGustaf

    It makes sense; different games have different purposes. LoL is free and very much potentially fast paced, especially at lower levels. I can see how Timmy play would be very satisfying. I think most Johnnys are going to be more of a Johnny in Magic simply because the combos are so cool. In LoL, it's more just about unique/difficult champions, or (occasionally) team compositions. Also, there's mechanical skill involved in LoL which may make Johnny play contingent on a certain amount of physical training people aren't willing to undergo.

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