An effect of Competitive Balance, this phenomenon arises in a game with what might be called "multiple axes of conflict" — primarily, a game which contains both Player Versus Environment and Player Versus Player content, though other conflicts (such as balancing solo player versus player AND group player versus player) can fall into the similar traps. PVP Balanced describes the state where the needs of two different environments — usually PvP and PvE — conflict, resulting in a major headache for the developer as they attempt to balance the game.
In order to create greater diversity, characters have different strengths and weaknesses — a rogue might be very good at dealing damage but not so good at taking it, a wizard might be excellent at debuffing enemies but have difficulty dealing damage, a healer may be excellent at healing and buffing their allies but terrible at dealing damage, and a warrior might be good at drawing aggression from enemies and taking punishment, but mediocre at anything else. So what happens when these characters, often designed for group PvE experiences, get thrust into solo PvP combat? How does the healer fight back against the rogue? Can anyone kill the warrior, or is he just too tough to bring down before his damage overwhelms the opposition? Is the wizard utterly useless, or can he perpetually stunlock his enemy and prevent them from ever acting at all?
All of these are possible issues which arise when powers intended to be used against massed groups of enemies and AI controlled bosses instead are brought into PvP combat — what is fair against an AI may not be fair against a player character. Oftentimes PCs have utterly different stat arrays than NPCs — NPCs often have vastly more hit points than player characters do, and deal very different amounts of damage. A NPC doesn't get bored if it gets stunned repeatedly or otherwise severely impaired by debuffs, nor does it mind if it gets shredded in a few seconds by a high-damage character. An NPC often attacks in a scripted manner, meaning that a tank can draw "aggro" that forces NPCs to attack it, but which doesn't necessarily work on human-controlled characters. And NPCs don't necessarily go for the healer first, whereas humans are very likely to do so every single time. Ranged PCs may be able to run away from melee characters all day, preventing them from ever engaging, or alternatively start out so close to the melee characters that they gain no benefits from their ranged attacks, or might even endanger themselves with their own abilities when fighting an enemy up close.
As such, what works for PvE often does not translate well into PvP — stunlocks are severely unfun, healers may go down in mere moments due to the sky-high damage of characters relative to PC hit point total or have such good healing as to be unkillable, or the tank might have counterattacks that instantly kill or otherwise severely cripple anyone who attacks them. It's even worse when the PvP environment is different from the PvE environment in scale — solo PvE characters have very different needs from group PvE characters (needing to be much more well rounded), which may translate poorly into group PvP combat where everyone having a role makes for a stronger team, while the opposite — the standard PvE group of 4-5 people of three to five roles doesn't tend to translate well into one on one dueling.
The unfortunate end result of this is that if a power is weak in one environment, but strong in the other environment, correcting its balance may be impossible — making it stronger for the weak environment may result in it becoming broken in the environment it is strong in, while weakening an overpowered power in one environment may render it worthless in the other. Any buff or nerf affects both PvP and PvE, resulting in players from the environment where the power is negatively affected complaining about how it is too weak or too strong now. If powers are separated by environment, a different issue may result where a character might funnel all of their power into PvE or PvP, rendering them very bad at the other environment but potentially overpowered in their own — neither of which are desirable outcomes. And if powers don't behave identically in PvE and PvP, it often leads to a steeper learning curve while transitioning from one to the other, causing player frustration at the inconsistency of the effects of their powers. Woe betide the world where PvP is global, thus further adding to the confusion of which powers to use where, or what they do in what situation.
This problem is most prevalent in MMOs, where PvE and PvP both tend to be major concerns, but can arise in any other form of multiplayer game where both environments exist — games from Mass Effect 3 to Tabletop Games are affected by such issues. Note that these issues are not restricted to class-based games, either — in any game where player characters are not identical, and both PvE and PvP exist, this can be a potential issue. This isn't even necessarily have to be restricted to games with combat content — any game wherein there is both competition against the computer and competition against other players, where those two types of competition are not nearly identical, can be affected.
- Anarchy Online consistently has problems in this area, since while PvP was intended to be a major part of the game, PvE was also a big part, and considering the vast level differences between any two given characters (at launch, 200 levels were implemented, and as of this writing, about 320) as well as the vast differences between the theory and practice of how various professions engage in PvP, as well as the very open-ended skill system where anyone can in theory equip anything, just not as well as a profession that the item/weapon falls under, and you wind up with a PvP system where it's not only hard to figure out what, if any, balance exists (some professions were purely dog meat in PvP for a while, Meta-Physicists being bottom of the heap here), but also figuring out where your profession stands after the massive game changes implemented by the devs. (Fixers used to be top of the heap in PvP, now they're middle of the road at best.)
- World of Warcraft:
- It unsurprisingly has problems with this as well, for the simple reason that there are at least four different setups that need to be considered when balancing classes: Solo/small group PvE, raid PvE, Arenas (small group Player Versus Player), and Battlegrounds (big scale Player Versus Player). For starters, PvE and PvP have vastly different priorities and rules (hard crowd control skills have lower durations in PvP, for instance, while raid enemies often shrug off light crowd control), and some abilities work better in small groups than in big ones. So if something is overpowered in a duel but mediocre in a battleground, it's hard to change it so that it becomes more balanced in the former without it becoming useless in the latter. Moreover, the player base itself is strongly divided between the four groups identified above, with each group clamoring for its own vision of balance, often at the expense of the others.
- Much of the developers' effort is spent on addressing these issues, but even they have thrown up their hands with respect to 1v1 and 2v2 PvP, claiming that it's impossible to fairly balance the game at this level without removing nearly all distinctions between the classes.
- Another problem they had early in the game's life was lack of gear. The function of most damage-dealing classes in PvP was to get people down as fast as possible... but the function of them in PvE? Simple... Deal Damage. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of trouble in PvP — because, while it did help to have PvP-specced gear, a lot of Damage-dealing classes could simply get their PvP sets by running PvE instances, and during the battlegrounds, they'd be able to kill the poor healers & tanks who were trying to get PvP gear by doing PvP and still had blues as a result. (It didn't help that the PvP specs for Druids was Feral or Balance... neither of which had gear in Vanilla WoW). This created a rather huge imbalance, and fans were screaming on the forums about how with every Tier of gear the developers added, they were further destroying PvP. (And rightfully so — several DPS classes who actually had Tier 2 gear were often on their side, or were all for PvP-specific gear). One of the few things most of the Unpleasable Fanbase actually agreed on was the addition of PvP-specific gear obtained solely through PvP. (Of course, this only applied to most of them... there were still raiders who complained about how they couldn't decide to PvP and already have their set.)
- This has been further rectified by different stat focus between PvP and PvE to help differentiate the gear. As PvP gear has high health and defense values, along with set bonuses that reduce PvP ability cooldowns and further reduce stun durations, PvE-geared PvPers all become glass cannons with high damage and no way to mitigate it.
- Of course, it doesn't help that the developers are their own worst enemies. Certain classes are given ways to mitigate their weaknesses whilst others are expected to deal with theirs etc etc. It's probably due to a lack of communication between the different departments, but it does feel like classes are all set to different standards on how powerful they should be.
- As of Cataclysm and onward, Blizzard seem to have finally caved and started working in the aforementioned 'Warcraft' direction, first with giving all classes of each archetype the same categories of skills and then condensing the skill trees drastically. Actual gameplay still varies from class to class but everyone now has an official shared terminology if nothing else.
- A source of never ending frustration for SOE MMO Star Wars Galaxies. Each class has a loyal gathering of players, and each wants to become the Flavor Of The Month (i.e. the class everyone wants to be in because it owns the other classes). Would not be a problem, were it not for the developers' constant tweaking and balance passing, resulting in nerf cries being thrown back and forth forever.
- Has a problem-within-a-problem: Given the timeline that Galaxies is set in, Jedi are not supposed to exist, excepting Luke Skywalker, between Episodes IV and V. Yet they do. This makes just about every Jedi player The Scrappy in the eyes of the other classes.
- Blah blah, something about Kyle Katarn, blah, training, blah blah.
- Problem-within-a-problem-within-a-problem: Prior to November 15, 2005, Jedi was an unlockable experience. As of aforementioned date, Jedi was then changed to be available as a starter class. THIS caused a lot of animosity toward the "clicky Jedi" by the veteran Elder Jedi players.
- Has a problem-within-a-problem: Given the timeline that Galaxies is set in, Jedi are not supposed to exist, excepting Luke Skywalker, between Episodes IV and V. Yet they do. This makes just about every Jedi player The Scrappy in the eyes of the other classes.
- Avoided, to an extent, by Guild Wars. After much trouble over the fact that changing a skill because of PvE reasons would unfairly make it useless in PvP, and vice versa, they decided to make some skills function differently in PvE than they do in PvP. Unfortunately other MMOs can't do this because they don't keep PvE and PvP separate.
- City of Heroes has tried the same thing in its endless struggle for PVP balance.
- Guild Wars actually did not originally do this — when the game was new, you simply had default abilities if you started a PvP-only character, and unlocking abilities was much easier when running through the PvE campaign. Thankfully, they remedied this relatively quickly (As in, before they added four more professions) with the addition of Balthazar faction and putting in some pre-made character builds in, so it was much easier to do it. And even then, while there was still a PvE and PvP segregation in regards to builds and abilities, they didn't specifically nerf or buff abilities for quite awhile, which unfortunately lead many people to scream how often they nerfed their favourite build(s) when it was a nerf made for PvE/PvP and they did the opposite. Now while it is still highly possible to play PvE and unlock some stuff like inscriptions, abilities, runes, and the like for PvP characters (and heroes), it's just as possible to do the same through PvP. However, they don't (as of this update) have the PvP-premade characters anymore; so arguably it can still be easy to unlock abilities for PvP through PvE, you just have to know what they are. (Guild Wars has loads of abilities)
- Another way Guild Wars has PvE-PvP Balance was with gear. One of the problems in a few games was "Tiered Gear Sets", so while that person who has had the character since 2006 may have all the cool looking sets and that nice looking weapon, a PvP character with generic equipment skins could hold their own against that character because they are virtually the same outside of aesthetics; since that PvP character may have all the same inscriptions and runes, and everything else. Some games may not actually have this kind of gear segregation, meaning a PvE character would get gear that's better for PvP, or PvE is the only way to get gear that can be used for PvP. (Some games would specifically make PvP/PvE-only gear and not just specs, this was one of the ways Blizzard and Vivendi helped remove the PvE-characters-performing-better-at-PvP-than-people-in-PvP-gear situation of "Vanilla WoW")
- Later campaigns remedied this further by adding (very powerful) skills that only functioned in PvE and scaled based on campaign progress rather than stats. Going into a PvP area with one equipped would gray it out and spawn a dialogue box warning the player that it was effectively an empty slot.
- Guild Wars manages to be relatively balanced due to the massive amount of skills and the fact that a player is capable of only taking 8 skills with them at a time.
- Perfect World International has an interesting way of working with and around the inherent problems of PvP vs. PvE. First, they have two kinds of servers: 4 servers that are PvE intensive and 2 that are PvP. In each, the way one goes about committing PvP acts is different. On the PvP servers, once a character reaches level 30 they are open for the slaughter, but can in turn attack anyone they wish. This adds an element of chaos and paranoia that some people grow to love and others tend to shy away from. On the PvE servers, one has to activate PvP mode, and it shows on their name, so everyone recognizes when someone is in "killing mode." This makes people who enjoy the madness caused by PvP to think of PvE players as "Carebears." Additionally, there is a large difference in damage inflicted on mobs and player characters. In fact, the amount of damage done to player characters is only 1/4 of the damage done to monsters. This keeps Nukers from raining fiery doom down and one shotting everyone with area of effect spells. It also keeps every other character type from one-shotting every other character type. However, a wide spread problem occurred with the Petmaster class. A certain pet that must be bought with real money (or ridiculous amounts of in game coins)can learn a certain damage over time attack. The problem is that the attack does PvE damage in PvP. And the monster that uses is so strong that one can get "bled" for 4-9 thousand damage a second. (The toughest class in the game usually doesn't have more than 12 thousand hit points. And that's near level 90.)
- Air Rivals is a primarily PvP game. So much so that some job classes are much more PvP friendly than PvE friendly, and vice versa. The Healer of the game constantly find themselves in center point of any conflicts, but levels the slowest due to their quirk (amongst others, the innate disability of having a really low offensive power). The literal Tank of the game, similarly, needs to find specific maps that has a lot of ground for them to land and unleash mayhem. Same case with the Nuker bombers, who needs decent ground enemies (or large, slow, flying ones) to cash in exp. The only one least affected by these is the equivalent to the Fighter class, which, unfortunately, is the least PvP balanced of all four and dies very, very often (unless you tune it to a specific build).
- Final Fantasy XI relegates PvP to the "sports" of Ballista and Brenner (which are vaguely similar to Basketball, and Capture the Flag, if killing opposing players were required to score), and is generally agreed to be ludicrously unbalanced, favoring the two fighter-mages, then pure mages, then damage-dealers, then tanks, and lastly the pet jobs. A sufficiently-prepared Red Mage or Blue Mage (the aforementioned fighter-mages) can easily lay waste to 4 or 5 melee attackers at once, and Red Mages/Blue Mages on opposing sides tend to employ the Foe-Tossing Charge to get at one another, each being the other's only real threat.
- The disparity in power is so great that in a widely-read Red Mage forum, the advice for defeating each class will be given in great detail for defeating another Red Mage or Blue Mage, then moderate details on dealing with mages, a general strategy for obliterating melee attackers, and then a disclaimer for pet jobs (this comment in regards to Puppetmaster): "It should be a universal understanding amongst all PvP participants to let PUPs run around and humor themselves in peace. Don't enfeeble them, don't engage them. It's just a courtesy thing; I don't think I need to elaborate much. Maybe toss them a "Blind" or something so they have an exciting story to tell after the match."
- That said, PvP is a very small part of Final Fantasy XI, which many players do not ever take part in, with almost all of the game's focus on Player Versus Environment gameplay.
- Final Fantasy XIV tries to offset this issue by having certain weaponskills and abilities function differently in PvP areas. For example, Summoner's Deathflare has only 300 potency (normally 400), Ninja's Shadow Fang reduces the healing received by the target. Additionally, most stuns, binds, and movement slowing effects are half or less effective in PvP than in PvE.
- Additionally, each job has access to certain PvP Skills that aren't available in PvE. Some of these are global (Purify to remove all debuffs), some are role-specific (healers get Divine Breath to instantly raise a player without a respawn debuff), and some are job-specific (Machinist has Between The Eyes to deal heavy burst damage to disabled targets). These undergo balance changes in their own right from time to time.
- Eventually the dev team realized that balancing PvE skills into a Pv P environment was probably never going to work, so instead now whenever you enter an area that allows Pv P (which most of the game areas don't as the game is mostly PvE focused) you get a completely new set of skills which act in a similar fashion to your PvE ones but generally have a much faster cooldown and/or don't use any resource to activate. You also have your HP set to an amount depending on on your class which is not effected in any way by your gear, meaning anyone can participate regardless of what type of progression they do. Finally, damage in Pv P has no random element to it: There are no crits, and if a skill has a potency of 8000 then it will deal exactly 8000 damage every time.
- EVE Online's developer, CCP, in general takes a conservative approach, releasing new ships in a pre-nerfed state to avoid wild fluctuations in strategies. When they conclude that certain ships are too rarely used, they'll carefully bring them up to par with the rest. Ships which went through this process include Black Ops Battleships, Stealth Bombers, the Falcon's cousin Rook and the Caldari & Minmatar Dreadnaughts.
- No matter where the nerfbat swings, this will always be true in EVE: Caldari. PVP. Solo. Pick two.
- Atlantica Online has issues in this department as well. Because of its unique system of hiring up to 8 comrades of wildly different classes, in any combination a player wants, there are a huge variety of possible tactics and builds; it's almost impossible to fully balance them. Like WoW, there are multiple "basic" setups: Hunting PvE, Raiding PvE, Free League PvP, and King's Judgement PvP.
- For Hunting PvE (typical questing/grinding), using lower level gear is fine if it has higher grades on it (+1 through +10). A typical setup uses 3 tanks, 3 damage dealers, and 3 support units.
- Raid PvE tends to be more compact than Hunting PvE, and therefore cuts some of each type of mercenary. Most people tend to use either multiple healers or NO healers, and more melee power combining tank with DPS. Again, lower level armor is fine with high grade.
- Free League PvP tends to have builds centered around single strategies, for example, a bow-rich formation for quickly dispatching critical opponents' mercenaries one at a time, or multiple wide-shot mercenaries (artilleryman, gunner) to build stun counters. Higher level armor of low grade is preferred in Free League than lower level high grade gear because of the unique nerf of weapons/armor in that mode of PvP.
- King's Judgement is a tool that high-ranking players can use to essentially force PvP on other players; losing a King's Judgement (Or KJ for short) causes the player to lose a random piece of equipment. None of the Free League nerfs are in place for a KJ so virtually any build will work, so long as a player's gear is superior in every way. High level, high grade gear is preferred for KJ. (A side-note: For those wondering how anything gets done in Atlantica with the possibility of KJ — Doing so repeatedly or with malicious intent can be reported to GMs for review.)
- Inverted in Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE as it wasn't created with PvP in mind, and it was only implemented later due to the player-base asking for it. Most of these people now complain how unbalanced it is. Later on, a patch that tried to remove some features from being used in PvP to make it more balanced ended up breaking half the game, and having half the devs fired. Granted, in a game where players hit Over Nine Thousand damage while having around 400 HP, PvP was doomed to fail. Sure, everyone has increased HP in PvP, but it doesn't help much to have 3000 HP when it's possible to hit 30 thousand damage in one hit. It's basically a matter of who hits who first.
- Dragon Nest tries to avert this, with almost every skill behaving somewhat differently in PvE and PvP (generally, the difference is in how much damage they do and/or how long the cooldown is, although some skills, usually buffs/debuffs and/or ones with buffing/debuffing secondary effects, have other changes). Player consensus is that despite this, the game is still unbalanced in PvP, with certain classes stronger than others (engineers and acrobats stand out in this regard; the former is able to summon a small army of computer-controlled allies against their foes, but both her and her summons have relatively low HP, while the latter is capable of incredibly long combos and has a large number of invincibility frames, but is very weak to electrocution knocking them out of the air and breaking all their combos). Certain Game-Breaking PvP Bugs contribute to this as well, although those are usually fixed within a month or two of discovery.
- The Matrix Online blundered its way into a very instructive example of this. They had a purely PvE problem — players got around by super-jumping everywhere, just like the movie, and the single playable city had high level and low level "neighborhoods" distributed across it basically randomly, rather than enemy levels increasing as you went north or something. Which led to a problem where low level players just trying to travel around the city or get to their next mission could jump from somewhere safe and land somewhere way above their level and get immediately dogpiled by instant-death enemies. As to why they couldn't just jump away again immediately, MxO had a system where enemies would pull you into a 1v1 combat state where all your actions became contested rolls (to allow all the cool martial arts and gun fu stuff). Players would lose their rolls to break away, be stuck in combat, and get punched to death. So Monolith fixed the problem; breaking away now succeeded automatically and prevented anyone from pulling you into combat for 15 seconds, to prevent an endless chain of breakaway/next enemy grabs you. Players could now shake enemies off and jump away to safety. Easy, simple, and broke PvP irreparably. Hackers who focused on debuffs and stuns were countered in PvP by pulling them into direct combat, where they had bad rolls and you could interrupt their tricks with a kick in the face. Except now whenever you tried, they'd break away automatically, and 15 seconds of immunity were more than enough to lay on enough debuffs and stuns to incapacitate an opponent. Oops.
- The iOS/Android MMO Book of Heroes has had to carefully refine its class balances ever since a PvP option was introduced. A PvE game at its core, class balance quickly became an issue once PvP came along. The three classes available (Justicars (fighters/paladins), Shadow Walkers (Rogues) and War Mages (ice/fire wizards)) had unique abilities that hadn't needed to balance with regards to each other while the game remained a PvE affair. To get around the problems of extensive playtesting, the developers released the PvP arena as a 'beta' version, allowing them to gather real data on the performance of each class vs the others (and against others of the same class). Problems such as the extremely powerful debuffs that Mages could inflict, or the health stacking tactic (meaning some players faced chewing through an opponents' 50,000 health while their own could be half that number), were eliminated once PvP was released as a finished article. Though Nerf Cries still ring out on the game forums and chats, these are virtually always class hate rather than legitimate concerns as of September 2014. The game's primary issue now is the effect PvP has had on PvE raiding. The Justicar class performs poorest in raids overall and is not capable of disposing of enemies with the speed Shadow Walker and Mage players are. This means Justicars have to work harder even to achieve parity. While the problem existed before PvP was introduced, the tweaks to the Justicar skill set aimed at bringing balance to PvP exacerbated the issue.
- The Starcraft series continually wrestles with this issue due to the prominence of competitive play. The original game and its expansion pack are widely considered to be as balanced as they are purely by accident and each race is only on even ground with the others by virtue of having its own Game-Breaker strategies. With the sequel Blizzard has decided on a method of constant refinement based on the feedback of dedicated and high profile players but certain issues like the Terrans' raw versatility, the supremacy of Protoss micromanagement and the Zerg tendency for runaway economy are persistent thorns in their side.
- The sequel (unlike the original) also introduces some explicit differences between the tools at your disposal when playing multiplayer (PvP) compared to playing the single player campaign (PvE), differences that take advantage of the fact that computer opponents don't complain about imbalance. As a rule of thumb during the campaign your faction is noticeably more powerful than the others (you'll appreciate that extra power when they throw more difficult objectives at you than "build an army and smash the enemy bases", which is something that happens more often than in the original game). The method they use does vary between races though, in Wings of Liberty your Terran troops have access to units and upgrades beyond the multiplayer standard (and on higher difficulty levels computer Terrans have some of these too), in Legacy of the Void your Protoss troops get support from your flagship in orbit (in both subtle and not so subtle ways) and in Heart of the Swarm your Zerg get, well, Kerrigan.
- The 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons's focus on PvE balance means that certain roles are now weaker in PVP environments, particularly the Leader, Defender, and Controller classes. Controllers, who are designed around crowd control, still fall behind other roles in PVP settings and are rarely used outside of stunlock builds. Defenders and healers fall behind in PVP due to having nobody around to defend or to heal. This basically means that 75% of the classes are automatically subpar in PVP.
- The Old World of Darkness had problems with this, as several supernaturals had long-standing grudges that went back millennia. In one case, this was vampires versus werewolves... where one werewolf could likely wipe the floor with a handful of average vampires. And then there were the Tremere vampires versus the Forces-happy Order of Hermes mages. When the New World of Darkness rolled around, supernaturals were retooled so that a) they stayed in their own relatively different worlds, and b) if their paths did cross, each type would either have a one-on-one fighting chance or the ability to escape relatively unharmed.
- However, straight combat almost never happens in the World of Darkness. Vampires will kill you in your sleep, Werewolves kill everyone in the general area- not just the players, and Mages tend to be too busy fighting against the general forces of the Abyss to bother kicking anyone else's ass. If you do kill a vampire, you're playing into another vampire's plans, and he'll have you shot by someone else as soon as he doesn't need you anymore.
- Played straight in the New World of Darkness, however, especially when Hunter: The Vigil comes out to play and the hunters are Conspiracy members with Endowments. Virtually every trick every supernatural entity has can be countered by a certain piece of equipment or Tactic, which is appropriate considering how near-helpless a normal human is, and Hunter is all about turning the tables on the supernaturals — if you do kill a vampire, you've spat in the darkness' face and lived to tell the tale... unless the Storyteller wishes otherwise.
- Exalted plays this remarkably straight. Most of every single namesake superhero is basically expected to be a competent combatant Plus competent something. In a world where Aggressive Negotiations are almost the default method of discussing matters (with actual diplomacy ensuing in the event of some kind of stand-off in the initial effort at fast and pragmatic solution) this is naturally to be expected.
- This led to the funny and unusual effect of "dedicated combatant" subtypes (Dawn/Dusk/Slayer for Solar-tier) being widely criticized as getting the bad deal, because there's very little they do more efficient then other subtypes and usually much in the "other something" area they do worse. The little help could come from the fact that mass combat is a different game then melee in Exalted, and that mass combat is normally their "other something" and from the fact that a Dawn/Dusk/Slayer has the side benefit of versatility in combat. It doesn't matter if that Twilight is a better Archer if you disarm them and beat them to death with their bow.
- The old-old start of Drowtales when it was based on Dungeons & Dragons sessions. Deliberately averted in favour of story over balance in the current main comic and something new readers should keep in mind/be aware of.