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Quantity vs. Quality

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"Quantity has a Quality all its own."
— Attributed to Josef Stalin

In fiction, when it comes to almost everything that comes in multiples, there's an inverse relationship between quantity and quality. The more there is of something, the lower the quality of those individual things and vice versa.

This has roots in basic resource management and production. Assuming you have a constant supply of resources, the more resources you put into producing a product, the higher quality the product will be in the end. However, as a drawback, the less of the product you will able to produce. Conversely, you could choose to put fewer resources into producing individual products in order to produce more, but the quality of the products decreases. Trying to make more of a product and make them high-quality at the same time is generally impractical due to resource and time constraints unless you can find a different, more efficient process to produce the products.

At times quantity and quality are used as the basis for An Aesop. Most aesops take the side of quality, saying that it's best to put effort into the individual creations.

In Real Life, however, unless there is a sizable technological difference, quantity will often win out. Quality remains a large force multiplier, however.


Deals with Quantity

Deals with Quality


  • Faction Calculus: "Powerhouses" tend towards quality while "Subversives" are more inclined towards quantity.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: Militarized soldiers fighting in unison can defeat superior numbers of warriors fighting purely for personal glory.

Subtrope of Necessary Drawback.

Examples (put examples that fit subtropes on their respective pages)

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    Anime and Manga 
  • This trope was discussed by Uesugi in episode 13 of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note. As the cast heads home, Wakatake asks Aya how he can get as many Chocolates of Romance as possible, and he made it clear he doesn't care whether he likes the girl in question, nor whether the chocolates were just given out of courtesy, as long as he gets tons of it. Uesugi then facepalms, saying Wakatake probably can't help it, since "guys have a 'quantity over quality' vector"—while he himself doesn't. This is somehow justified; the cast are 12 years old and may not understand the idea of romantic commitment.
  • This is most especially true when, in the Real Robot Genre of anime, one-off models like Super Prototypes and Ace Customs go up against waves of limited or mass-produced Mook Mobiles. This can be seen in many of the various Gundam series, where the titular mecha are given reasons as to why they could take on mass-produced armies alone, whether it is Unobtanium in the case of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, or black box technology in the case of Mobile Suit Gundam 00. However, "In Real Life, however, unless there is a sizable technological difference, quantity will often win out" note in the trope description above also applies, as in some series it is not unusual for factions to have bridged the gap with the titular Gundams at which point their quality advantage is negated.
    • In the original series, the Gundam represents a quantum leap in Mobile Suit development, being completely impervious to the 120mm machinegun fielded by the Principality of Zeon's mass production Zaku II. A major plot point is the Earth Federation creating mass production Mobile Suits of their own due to recognising that as powerful as the Gundam is, a small number of powerful Mobile Suits will not be enough to win the war. By the end of the war, the situation proves this: Zeon's new Gelgoog Mobile Suits are equal to the Gundam in terms of specs, but are completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of GMs deployed by the Federation. Ancillary material set in the same era will bring up that the Federation spent a long time trying to find a good balance between both quantity and quality, and that while the RGM-79 GM that appears in the original series leans on the "quantity" side, there were GM variants that offered performance comparable to the Gundam while being more cost effective. The GM Sniper II from Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket is described as actually being slightly superior to the Gundam itself while only being a fraction of the price... but still too expensive for actual mass production.
    • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the Gundam Mk-II is meant to represent quality over the mass produced Mobile Suits fielded by both sides and thanks to a midseason upgrade is able to match even the powerful experimental Mobile Suits deployed by the Titans. Come Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, however, and the Mk-II is sorely pressed by Axis Zeon's mass produced Mobile Suits, which are more advanced than those used by the Titans.
  • Lyrical Nanoha applies this on a planetary scale. It's mentioned in the second season that mages from Earth are very rare compared to other planets, but the few that exist (like the title character) tend to be insanely powerful.
  • The Price of Smiles leans toward quantity, while the Kingdom of Soleil has higher quality mecha, the Empire has a far greater quantity, and the tech edge is not enough to overcome the Zerg Rush.
  • One Piece:
    • Despite being one of the smaller pirate crews seen, the Straw Hats have proven to be one of the most dangerous crews in the world. When Luffy declared early on that he wanted at least ten members for his crew, he knew he wanted them to be on par, hence the reason he chooses highly specialized members instead of just anyone he comes across (even though he proposed this to several zombies in Thriller Bark, but just because they looked flashy; Chopper, Franky, and Brook are both flashy and specialized).
    • Post Time Skip gives us SMILE Fruits, artificial Devil Fruits of the Zoan type. While actual Zoans have the power to transform partially or completely into an animal at their choosing, people who eat SMILEs are permanently mutated into a bizarre person-animal hybrid in a completely random way. These transformations range from being somewhat useful, barely manageable, or downright bothersome. Oh, and getting powers at all is a 1-10 chance. That said, before the Straw Hats put an end to the SMILE factory, Kaido had managed to outfit 500 of his pirates with these fruits, and a mook with minor powers is better than a powerless mook.
  • In the backstory of Fullmetal Alchemist, the Amestrian-Ishvallan war dragged on for years, costing each side dearly both in soldiers and civilians. Then the Amestrians sent in the State Alchemists, a small handful of no more than a dozen soldiers. The war was over in a few months.
  • Sword Art Online: In the War of the Underworld, the Human Realm has Quality while the Dark Territory has Quantity. The Dark Territory's armies vastly outnumber that of the human realm, but the humans have the Integrity Knights, elite fighters with special weapons. Of course, the Dark Territory has the Emperor Vecta superaccount(used by Gabriel Miller), the dark knight used by PoH and several powerful leaders, but the heroes have the three goddess superaccounts- Stacia, Solus and Terraria, used by Asuna, Sinon and Suguha, respectively. Both sides start getting outside players involved, with Gabriel getting tens of thousands of American, Korean and Chinese players as mooks, while the heroes get 2,000 players to convert their high-level ALO accounts.
  • My Hero Academia
    • When Tomura Shigaraki and the League of Villains attack U.A. High School's U.S.J. training facility with a horde of minor villains, most of the villains get captured rather easily, although the Nomu he brings in puts up a good fight against All Might, having been tailored to the latter's Quirks. When Shigaraki attacks the training camp in the mountains with a handful of infamous villains, he's far more successful, resulting in several students being hospitalized and Bakugo being abducted(albeit partly because the attack was better planned and All Might wasn't around).
    • In the Meta Liberation Arc, the eponymous organization, which has tens of thousands of members, fights the League of Villains, which only has a handful present for the actual battle. The League emerges victorious, and the Meta Liberation Army joins them.

    Fan Works 
  • Sudden Contact: Discussed in Nova's Q&A on Biotics vs Psionics. The first question is "Which is better?" A: "You're a moron." Nova then proceeds to explain that while high-level biotics have a comparatively limited range of uses compared to psionics, basically comparing hammers to Swiss Army Knives, high-level psionics are few and far between, whereas the Citadel races have a LOT of hammers at their disposal. She characterizes this as an arms race, with Terran and Citadel governments trying to get biotics and psionics respectively. The problem here is that a biotic has to be exposed to Element Zero in utero. Citadel research entities are already looking into psionics and Nova predicts that they'll have one long before Terrans manage to produce a functional biotic.
  • Communication: For the Third Battle of Newcastle, in order to counter the enemy's incoming twelve airships - one first-rate ship, four second-rate ships, and seven third-rate ships -, Louise summons five first-rate airships to join her flagship, the Void Whisper in the fight. Louise's air forces manage to destroy all twelve enemy airships without losing one of their own.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: Discussed early on. As Page notes, the Apple Clan's product is nowadays focused on mass production, resulting in tasteless apples and other farm products. Later on, Applejack tells Wind Breaker that she's not happy with them over this.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls: This is the dynamic that keeps all sides fairly even.
    • The Quincies are heavy on "Quantity". Individually their warriors are the weakest fighters, with even their Sternritter often needing to pair up on Espada or Captains. You'd also be hard-press to find a Quincy who's lived much longer than an average human lifespan outside of Sombra or his elites. But they have the advantage of numbers, their technological prowess is the most advanced of all the factions, and their birth rates boom pretty well to replenish their numbers and even Sternritter, of which there are 26, can be replaced as easily as Sombra finding a sufficiently strong candidate and giving them a fallen member's Schrift.
    • The Arrancar are heavy on "Quality". Most Arrancar are decades, if not centuries or millennia old, and have honed themselves on the Death World of Hueco Mundo to survive. Individually, Arrancar outmatch most Soul Reapers and Quincies for raw power, and the Espada are noted to be on average the strongest of the individual elite factions of the war. However, Arrancar due to low birth rates (even if not quite so low as it might seem at first glance since fornicating is probably one of their favorite pastimes when not fighting), low survival rates of said children in said Death World, and the long time it takes Arrancars of any worth to be created from Menos Hollows means they can't easily replenish their losses, and even though they can and will bolster their ranks with lesser Hollows and Menos it only helps so much.
    • The Soul Reapers are in-between. They have a larger army and elite faction than Arrancar if not possibly not quite as much as the Quincies and can replenish it fairly well both due to birth rates and recruitment souls coming into Soul Society. Individually they can surpass Quincies for power and hold their own against Arrancar, and again the average age and experience of a Soul Reaper is between a Quincy and an Arrancar. However, they can't as easily replace someone of Captain level or even Lieutenant level as the Quincy can their Sternritter, and on an individual level, an Espada could still likely surpass a Captain.
  • Joff makes a complete joke of Renly's rebellion in Purple Days by countering his colossal 100,000 "strong" army of conscripted, barely-trained peasants, with his professional fighting and exquisitely mobile fighting force of 5,000. Nothing Renly's Quantity does can overcome Joff's Quality.
  • All over the place in Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K.
    • In general, the Imperial refugee fleet is the Quality to the Galactic Republic's Quantity. Cut off from the Imperium of Man's billion-worlds supply network, the refugees have no reinforcements or logistical support other than what they can capture through conquest or recycle, whilst the Republic has virtually an entire galaxy's support in manpower and raw resources. However, the Imperium's forces and weapons technology are, as a general rule, stronger than their Republic counterparts. This is exemplified in the space combat scenes; despite outnumbering the Imperial ships hundreds to one, the Imperial ships are vastly superior in size, power, durability and range, racking up tens or dozens of kills before going down.
    • At the same time, the Imperial refugee forces are also massive in their own right, with thousands of Space Marines and ships, and millions if not billions of Imperial Guardsmen.
    • Republic Clone Troopers may be outnumbered and technologically outgunned by the Imperial Guard regiments, but they generally have better tactics, morale, battlefield innovation and unit cohesion.
    • One of the Republic's subtler strengths, however, is that they are far faster builders and vastly superior at innovation compared to the Imperials. An Imperial battleship may be larger and more heavily armed than any of the native ships currently in use, but it would also take decades if not centuries for the Imperials to repair or build a new ship even if they had full access to the Imperium's industrial supply line. For comparison; in an early chapter, it's mentioned that it would take several months to do a complete retrofit of the entire Republic Navy — the Imperium would struggle to even fix a single ship in that timeframe, even if they had a fully functioning forgeworld to dock it at.
  • Zigzagged in This Bites!, where while this version of the Straw Hat Pirates is nearly three times the size of the canon crew thanks to the Self-Insert's actions, the main requirement of the members being exceptional fighters is still in play, making the crew almost in line with a Badass Army.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars tends to give the evil factions Quantity and the good factions Quality, as typified by comparing Imperial and Rebel Space Fighters in the original trilogy. TIEs come at you in endless hordes that seek to swamp the enemy with sheer weight of fire, but they're poorly armed and quite fragile: "Expendable vehicles for expendable pilots" as Wedge Antilles puts it in a Star Wars Legends novel. Rebel fighters are slower and fewer in number, but have missiles, Deflector Shields (though Armor Is Useless in the films), and their own hyperdrives, which means Rebel pilots tend to be much better since their relatively higher survival rate means they can improve over time. It's reversed with capital ships, though: the Rebels are stuck with whatever they've been able to find, buy, or steal, whereas the Empire can build Star Destroyers from scratch. In a Standard Starship Scuffle the Imperial capital ship usually wins, but in an Old-School Dogfight the odds are more even.

  • Honor Harrington:
    • This trope is played both ways. There are tradeoffs between more effective missiles and being able to spam more and more missiles. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other wins.
    • Also the war between the Empire of Manticore and the Solarian League. The Solarians have more superdreadnoughts than Manticore has cruisers, but their technology is several centuries out of date because no one has dared fight them until now, while the Empire has been dealing with pirates and Haven for a long time so they've got a healthy R&D program. Manticore's tacticians are more concerned about running out of ammo than ships (in fact, Solarian commanders are willing to sacrifice entire task forces to make the Manties use up their irreplaceable high-tech missiles). Both sides have remained fairly even.
    • Haven itself was also a version of this in the early books. They were much larger and had a bigger navy than Manticore but Manticore's technical edge kept them afloat. Things evened out in later books as Haven's tech base began to catch up and Manticore discovered less manpower-intensive ship designs letting them get more ships into combat. Throughout all that Haven maintained a mantra that quantity was a quality all its own: in early books Haven countered Mantie superiority in electronic warfare by simply adding more equipment to its ships (meaning the dozen or so Haven superdreadnoughts Manticore captured and gave to Grayson in Flag in Exile were beasts at it after the Manties upgraded the circuitry), and when Manticore built dreadnought-sized LAC carriers, Haven built superdread-sized.
  • The breakdown is much the same in David Drake's RCN series. When the Tide Rises discusses this in detail: The Alliance Fleet tends to build more and often bigger and theoretically more powerful ships than the Republic of Cinnabar Navy, but Cinnabar crews tend to be more skilled and more instinctively loyal. Alliance dictator Guarantor Porra (loosely based on Napoléon Bonaparte) relies mainly on conscription, frequently from conquered worlds, to fill out the ranks, so while the Alliance doesn't have the manpower problems the RCN often does from having to compete with the merchant marine, many Alliance spacers aren't as good or motivated as their RCN counterparts and will sometimes even switch sides given the opportunity. Alliance admirals also tend to be more cautious since the penalty for failing Porra is sometimes execution. The end result is that numerically superior Alliance squadrons will sometimes lose to lesser Cinnabar squadrons on the sheer skill and balls of the Cinnabars. In protagonist Daniel Leary's case, he's helped along by the fact that thanks to deuteragonist Adele Mundy's hacking and data-crunching skills, he nearly always has better intelligence than any opponent.
    Daniel: The second advantage is even less tangible, Adele, but it's more important. It's the fact we are the RCN. We know it and they know it. Every Alliance spacer from [Admiral] Guphill to the Landsmen in Training knows that no matter how many ships they have, they've always got to expect us to go for their throats. Deep in their hearts, they're afraid and they know we aren't. We're the RCN.
  • In the Belisarius Series the anti-malwa alliance has the quality for the most part and the malwa have the quantity. This is modified somewhat because some of the Malwa vassals are proud warrior race guys.
  • In the short story "Superiority" by Arthur C. Clarke, this trope is fully analyzed. Two societies fight one another, one of which uses the newest, most up to date weaponry... and invoked fails to conduct adequate testing before deployment. As a result, the new inventions have prohibitive logistical requirements or cause more damage to their own side than to the enemy. The other side sticks with tried-and-true technology that reliably works exactly the way that it should, and is much easier and faster to produce than the more advanced version... and they just keep plugging away on the production lines until they have numerical superiority. Guess which side wins.
  • In The Expanse Earth has a larger navy but Mars is more technologically advanced. On the other hand, Protogen's private navy is even more advanced than Mars', fitting railguns onto frigate-sized ships, but they can't field anything bigger than a few frigates which rely on ambushes, and even then it takes six Protogen ships to take on a single Martian battleship.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Babylon 5: The Vorlons go for Quality, the Shadows for Quantity. It's much harder to kill an individual Vorlon than an individual Shadow, but the Shadows are nearly always found in groups while Vorlons are usually seen on their own, or at most two together. The same applies to their space fleets; an individual Vorlon ship is much stronger than its Shadow counterpart, so the Shadows compensate with bigger fleets.
    • This also happened during the Earth-Minbari War: Earth ships were more numerous and made much faster, while Minbari ones had far greater firepower and were almost impossible to be hit. By the end of the war, EarthForce was almost annihilated and the Minbari had ships ready to wipe out Earth before they surrendered without explanation.
    • The backstory has the Centauri-Orieni War, with the Orieni going for quality and the Centauri going for quantity: the Orieni had a slight technological edge in all areas except jump drives and trained their forces better and were uncompromising with their training, while the Centauri had the larger economy and manpower and could field more ships and troops, and were willing to cut a few corners in the training. This ended up winning the war for the Centauri once their pre-war incompetent officers were killed in battle and replaced by ones who had earned their rank: the time it took to train Orieni troops and officers meant they couldn't replace battlefield losses quick enough, allowing the Centauri (who in the meantime had improved their technology and caught up to the Orieni) at first to simply overwhelm them with increasing numerical superiority and then to strike at their worlds and cut off the supply of new ships and crews altogether.

  • Five Iron Frenzy referenced this with their EP Quantity Is Job 1. It had 17 tracks, more than either of their prior CDs, but only seven of them were proper songs. The remaining ten songs are all nonsense the band improvised while goofing around in the studio—eight of these comprise "These Are Not My Pants (A Rock Opera)", which was deliberately intended to be a joke at the listener's expense.

  • Red Panda Adventures: Supervillain the Mad Monkey has as his basic power mental control over baboons, but in later appearances he expands his powers to allow for limited control over humans, too. The key is discovered to be how many baboons he has with him at any given time. With multiple baboons, the Mad Monkey has a small army at his beck and call, but the presence of so many monkeys in one place overwhelms him too much to be able to do anything else with his powers. If he has only a single monkey to stimulate his powers, usually his most trusted minion Beauregarde, he can use his powers on a smaller number of human targets for more complicated plots. "The Golden Idol" features the Red Panda releasing several baboons in proximity to the Monkey to break his hold over humans he had hypnotized. Another episode, "The Missing Link" features the Mad Monkey trying to achieve a middle-ground by combining several Awesome, but Impractical inventions to devolve humans into ape men that are stronger and more highly evolved than his baboons, but still low enough he can control an army of them unlike with full humans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The transition over from tabletop wargames like Chainmail to Tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. In Chainmail, each player commanded quantities of soldiers in his own army against the opposing side's quantities, namely to ensure balance and symmetry between both sides. Dungeons & Dragons, on the other hand, was an asymmetrical cooperative game, where each player controlled only one character, ensuring that the quality of each playable hero overcame the quantity of enemies.
  • Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
    • This is one of the calculations pretty much every player must make when selecting an army to field on the tabletop. Each army has its own Warhammer Armies book (called a Codex in 40k) with an army list detailing the abilities of the various troop types, war machines, characters, and monsters that make it up and assigning each a points value based on how powerful and effective it is in game terms. Most games are played between two armies of a fixed equal points value (say 2000 points, for instance), so if you want to pack your army with large numbers of troops you will have to take lower quality ones and skimp on the powerful stuff, and if you want lots of elite troops, heroes, wizards, and powerful monsters then your army will be smaller overall. Different races or factions in the games tend to occupy different portions of the quality-quantity spectrum, with some specialising in higher quality troops, others specialising in cheap but numerous troops, some in the middle of the spectrum, and a very few offering the choice of playing to either end.
    • Certain factions — the Orcs, Skaven and Beastmen in Fantasy, and the Orks and Tyranids in 40k — rely heavily on sheer quantity of troops and ability to replenish these to deal with enemies that are superior on a strictly soldier-for-soldier basis. In particular, their main tactics are to send waves of easily-destroyed critters at defenders to blunt their attacks or get them to waste their ammo before sending in waves of stronger units. By contrast, the Elves and Dwarfs in Fantasy and the Eldar and Custodes in 40k lean heavily on the Quality side, as they tend to be numerically few and thus forced to rely on small armies and strike teams that compensate for their low numbers by a combination of extremely good equipment, rigorously trained soldiers, and innately superior physical abilities.
    • 40k uses this relationship between the Imperial Guard and the Adeptus Astartes. The Guard is an uncountably huge army of normal humans armed with laser rifles and body armor that are frequently compared in effectiveness with flashlights and t-shirtsnote , and often act as the Redshirt Army in fluff and novels. The Space Marines, on the other hand, are made up of Super Soldiers genetically altered to be roughly seven feet tall with Healing Factor and various ancillary abilities depending on chapter, and dressed in Powered Armor and wielding fully automatic rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And they all undergo training so severely harsh that it kills most of the aspirants. But since their chapters are limited in size to about a thousand men apiece, they don't have the numbers to fight full-scale wars by themselves. Thus the two armies frequently work in tandem in fluff and literature: the Guard provides the numbers and acts as the hammer, while the Space Marines perform surgical attacks and act as the swordpoint. But there are also intermediate specialist forces the Guard employ like Tempestus Scions (who are more conventional special forces in space - still baseline humans, but with the very best equipment and training the Militarum can provide), abhumans like Ogyrns, and other unique regimental elite units like the famed Cadian Kasrkin and the Death Korp Grenadiers, that bridge the gap.

      Most human worlds in 40K also have planetary defense forces, who are the Redshirt Army to the Redshirt Army: collectively outnumbering the Guard, but generally so weak compared to their enemy that their only purpose is to hold long enough for the Guard and/or Astartes to get there. In ascending order of competence and descending of numbers, a rough approximation for the three groups is National Guard → regular Army → SEAL Team Six.
    • This is enforced for the PDF, as their best members are always selected for Imperial Guard service. The guard has become less of a Red Shirt Army over time, avoiding Conservationof Ninjitsu, although they still use quantity to their advantage (entire squadrons of tanks). The Space Marines have subdivisions that focus on quantity more (like the tens of thousands of Black Templars, or the Space Wolves, who refused to spin off successor chapters and remain at the strength of the original Space Marine Legions), and others that are even smaller and more elite than normal, such the 1000 strong all-psyker Grey Knights.
    • In 8th Edition, for the same points cost of one absolutely barebones three-man squad of Custodian Guard, you can take two, ten-man squads of Imperial Guardsmen with a Sergeant and some points spare to give them a couple of special weapons too! However, those Custodes warriors are absolutely worth the points.
    • When the Adeptus Custodes, the Praetorian Guard for the Emperor of Mankind, Games Workshop leaned heavily on their reputation as peerless warriors. The weakest Custodes unit is comparable to an Ork Warboss (i.e. the pinnacle of a Asskicking Leads to Leadership faction), but also has a points cost to match. In other words, the Custodes in a one-on-one fight can probably slaughter nearly anything in front of them, but they can only ever be deployed in small numbers.
  • OGRE: One player has a bunch of conventional tanks, infantry, and artillery. The other player has the Ogre.
  • The Hobbit Card Game uses this with its divide between good and evil characters: the good guys always outnumber the bad guys, but the bad guys get better hands.
  • X-Wing Miniatures: This is the chief decision when list-building. Whether you favour a small group of elite pilots or a massive swarm of cheap ones can seriously influence your strategy — you can get a Rebel band consisting solely of Poe Dameron, Garven Dreis, and Kyle Katarn in order to abuse focus tokens, or a massive blob of Z-95 Headhunters, while on the Imperial side you can get a fairly elite list of upgraded, named pilots from ships like the TIE Advanced or TIE Phantom, or a swarm of dirt-cheap Academy Pilots in TIE fighters led by an ace like Howlrunner with Swarm Tactics.
  • Battletech:
    • As sides use a Point Buy System this comes into play. Smaller, lighter 'mechs and vehicles are cheap in Battle Value; large and heavily armed heavy and assault 'mechs cost a lot. A single Lance of Awesomes (meaning four very heavy artillery/sniper 'mech) can be put up against a Company of Urbanmechs (meaning twelve angry easter eggs with laughably big guns) and end up basically at the same cost.
    • The Clans vs. the Inner Sphere often comes down to this in an actual game. Clan battlemechs are individually superior to Inner Sphere ones and their mechwarriors have better stats (3 gunnery and 4 piloting vs 4 gunnery and 5 piloting for an Inner Sphere), but they are also far more expensive. A Clan player will usually end up facing twice the number (or tonnage) of Inner Sphere opponents in a balanced game, but the Clan 'mechs will be far superior to anything the Inner Sphere player can bring to the table. In terms of lore this was also broadly true, with the Clans invading the Inner Sphere with a laughably small army of extremely elite and motivated warriors, but this got further complicated by the Clans' honour code and most of them fatally misjudging the scope of invading such a massive piece of territory.
  • In Nomine: This is a major contrast in Heaven and Hell's approaches to arranging their forces. Archangels prefer to invest a fair amount of resources and training into new angels and thus create them fairly rarely, opting for a smaller number of high-quality servants. By contrast, Demon Princes prefer to create vast numbers of weak, nameless imps and demonlings, some of which manage to survive and grow in power enough to become full demons. The result is that the forces of Hell greatly outnumber those of Heaven, but the average angel is usually stronger than the average demon.

    Video Games 
  • Halo: Dr. Halsey's SPARTAN-II program is the Quality to Cl. Ackerman's SPARTAN-III program (Quantity). The first SPARTAN-II's were recruited from Child Prodigies from a young age, people who would have become extraordinary people even if they never became Super Soldiers. They are enhanced with Bio-Augmentation to give them unbreakable bones, enough muscle to lift three times their own body weight, superconducting fibrification of neural dendrites (SPARTAN's can literally think faster), Innate Night Vision and more. A single SPARTAN-II is stated to be worth an entire sector fleet in terms of combat effectiveness, and this is readily made apparent; in The Package, a mere five SPARTAN-II soldiers raid a Covenant fleet and carve their way through Covenant forces with such contemptuous ease that the fleet's commander starts jettisoning parts of his own flagship in a failed attempt to slow them down. But only 75 were ever made, and only about half of those ever saw active service. Whereas the SPARTAN-III's were conceived as more producible and disposable soldiers, recruited from around over a thousand revenge-driven war orphans, given more stable bio-augmentation procedures and a weaker version of MJOLNIR armour (the SPI suit), and sent on Suicide Missions that the UNSC were unwilling to risk losing SPARTAN-II's on but far beyond what ordinary human soldiers could handle.
  • A good example exists within the Starcraft franchise: Zerg (quantity) vs Protoss (quality). Zerg units typically require less control than the Protoss units need psi-links, and are the Trope Namer for Zerg Rush. Protoss units are good at what they're warped in to do but require more resources. Which means if only given the same amount of resources, the Zerg can field a massive swarm of weak units while the Protoss can muster a platoon of strong warriors.
  • A common mechanic in Paradox Interactive games:
    • In battles in Crusader Kings, higher-quality troops (i.e. troops with greater technology points backing them, as well as professional army retinues instead of levies; the Martial skill of the realm and the commanders leading the troops also factors in) can often win battles decisively despite being outnumbered. This is especially true against Viking raiders (who frequently have no commander at all, or only one, and favor light infantry) and peasant, liberation, and heretic revolt armies (large numbers of weak troops). Sheer numbers can still make for an insurmountable opponent, however.
    • In Europa Universalis II and III nations can opt for a quality policy, getting better troops or for a quantity policy, resulting in a higher manpower pool and cheaper troops. Neutral or mild stances are possible since the internal policies are gradually set by a slider. IV turns it into idea groups, which mostly removes the versus aspect (it means there is only opportunity costs to having both a quality and a quantity policy).
  • Neverwinter Nights 2 has Crossroads Keep. Woe to those who find out too late that the entry requirements for troops can only be lowered, from a few good men to any drunk who wanders in accidentally.
  • In Dawn of War the Orks have an upgrade that allows their cheapest unit to be produced for free (except food costs). Meaning you can have 25 squads of melee units constantly pouring into an enemy's base, and while it will take a while, this will eventually win.
  • Warcraft III's necromancers' basic skill raises two weak skeletons from a corpse, quickly snowballing into a tide of skeletons. Dark Rangers can Animate Dead, too, but create a single, stronger skeleton instead, and Crypt Lords summon a permanent, Beetle that, corpse for corpse, is more powerful than the Dark Ranger's skeletons. Death Knights however truly take the cake with their Short-lived yet invincible minions that are just as strong as they were when they were alive.
  • Pokémon:
    • The more powerful an attack is, the fewer PP it is likely to have unless it has some other drawback.
    • Pokémon Sword and Shield has a pair of NPCs called the Digging Duo, who you can fund to go on item hunting expeditions. One of the brothers boasts about having high stamina and being able to find more items before the expedition finishes, while the other boasts of having more skill and being able to find rarer and more valuable items.
  • This is most particularly true in an online multiplayer shooter like Overwatch as compared to Doom (2016). Team Deathmatch would have likely encouraged quality over quantity, due to the emphasis on earning high killstreaks with little-to-no regard to the rest of the team. Team objective, on the other hand, would encourage quantity over quality, because there is only one target for the entire team to either attack or defend, encourage said team to coordinate and communicate to complete the objective. Overwatch would represent the latter, while Doom would represent the former.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • The Great Offscreen War between the NCR and the Brotherhood of Steel: the Brotherhood fielded small teams of Knights and Paladins with great training and very advanced technology like Powered Armor and energy weapons; the NCR fielded large armies of conscripts who can expect nothing more than a rifle, a metal helmet and maybe a couple grenades and a little body protection if they're lucky. The Brotherhood initially inflicted heavy losses on the NCR, but the NCR could maintain these losses, and their isolationism and stringent standards started to bite as the war dragged on and their small armies were whittled down. Eventually the Brotherhood were nearly annihilated at the Battle for HELIOS One - their leader, a scientist with no military experience, demanded the Knights hold the line at all costs while he delved inside the base for a supposed superweapon that would turn the tide of the war, a gamble that didn't pay off and decimated the Brotherhood.
    • This happened again when the NCR first encountered Caesar's Legion, this time the NCR represented quality to the Legion's quantity, and this time quality won out: The Legion had only previously warred with disorganized tribals who relied mostly on personal melee combat, so human wave tactics were very effective: against the NCR, an effectively industrial nation with widespread access to automatic firearms and explosives, human wave tactics were much, much less effective.
  • In Battle Brothers, the "Peasant Militia" starting scenario not only gives you twelve men to start with but also allows you to field more men and maintain a larger company - the tradeoff is the starting twelve have terrible equipment, and you are restricted to hiring only lowborn dregs, no nobles or professional troops. On the other side of the coin, the "Lone Wolf" start gives you a single veteran hedge knight with great equipment right from the very start... but you have a lower cap on your company size and the campaign ends if the knight ever dies.
  • In Red Dead Redemption 2, the feuding Van der Linde gang and the O'Driscolls gang represent Quality and Quantity respectively. The Van der Linde's all come from different ethnicities and backgrounds but they are (except for Micah) a tightly-knit band of comrades, they have ridden together for years and will die for each other. While the O'Driscolls are The Irish Mob, picking up anyone who is Irish American and at least knows which way to point a gun, ride a horse, and "kill without thought". Dutch suggests that Colm O'Driscoll doesn't even know the names of half the guys who ride with him.
  • Control opposes two forces: the Hiss, the mysterious entity invading the Old House, and Polaris, Jesse Faden's power. While the former corrupts countless employees into Elite Mooks at best and undead Mooks at worst, the latter only focuses on Jesse but gives her incredible powers.
  • Total War: Shogun 2: All clans (with the exception of the Ikko Ikki) can recruit samurai and ashigaru units. Ashigaru are peasant levies, with larger unit sizes, lower recruitment and maintenance costs and no reliance on special prerequisite buildings and technologies. Samurai units are professional warriors and noble troops, smaller in size and more expensive, and usually need a dojo or other building before they can be recruited. However, samurai will nearly always cut through ashigaru like a warm knife through butter, and ashigaru tend to rout the moment things start going south whereas samurai will keep fighting on unless the situation is clearly utterly hopeless. Generally the meta of the game favours the Boring, but Practical ashigaru, but different clans have their own approaches: Oda for instance is strongly for quantity, as their ashigaru units are even cheaper and actually superior to ashigaru from other clans; on the opposite end, Uesugi can field Warrior Monks and equip them with proper armour by building a Master Armourer (and preferably an Encampment with an Armoury too) to negate their fragility and field a Badass Army that even samurai would struggle mightily to put up a fight with... but boy will that kind of army burn a hole in your treasury.
  • Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord plays this both ways. In early game, sheer numbers of low-level fighters tends to beat out small numbers of elite troops. This dynamic changes when ranged units come into play; Battanian Fian Champions (their top tier archers) are the best archers in the game with their longbows, and they also wield two-handed swords and have decent armour too, so a mere ten of them can wipe out dozens of lesser enemies before even melee is joined, then they mop up the survivors.
  • Red Alert 3: The AI will usually favor large amounts of units thrown at the enemy while building up to more expensive, less numerous units, but there are exceptions:
    • Late-game Soviet A.I.s will often send a single unsupported Kirov over an enemy's base. This is less suicidal than it sounds, as even one Kirov will do a lot of damage before it finally dies if the base isn't brimming with Anti-Air.
    • Late-game Empire AI, on the other hand, will gleefully spam Giga Fortresses, monstrous flying Siege Engines that outrange Anti-Air defenses and are often sent in large numbers.
    • The AI also rarely builds more than one production building of any type, meaning that once an enemy force is sufficiently numerous to defeat their standing forces, they've pretty much won due to massively outnumbering what few units the AI will slowly produce. "Defeat their standing forces" being the operative phrase, because they'll have a lot of them, with better micro, and laugh at Fog of War.
  • Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous: Army recruitment in Crusade mode lets you buy units ranging from mobs of conscripts with spears and slings all the way up to small numbers of Hellknights and paladins and even angels, azatas, and dragons. Understandably, higher-quality units are more durable and do more damage, but are more expensive to recruit and replace.
  • In the mainline Fire Emblem games, the player is usually outnumbered 2 to 1 or worse. However, the enemies are often weaker than the player's units. Most games have a minimum damage of zero, so a bulky enough unit is effectively invincible no matter how many enemies attack it. Better yet, with enough strength/magic the unit can kill every enemy in one round of combat to open up space for even more enemies to attack it, potentially resulting in the One-Man Army removing half of the enemy's forces in one turn. If defense is low, the unit can resort to dodging instead and achieve the same results. In summary, quality often beats quantity, despite what enemy commanders might think.
    Lombroso: The outcome of a battle depends solely on the number of troops in the field! Tactics and skill are nothing in the face of sheer numbers!
  • The Sapling has a simplified version of r/K selection. While all animals only produce a single offspring at a time, pregnancy/hatching time is derived from a species' size and the amount of complex body parts it has. As a result, more powerful species tend to have much smaller populations because they simply can't reproduces as fast as weaker ones. Later updates would also add more K type parenting options like nest building and carrying young, though just like everything else they increase the time until the offspring are born.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 
  • In the Archdruid Report article The Thermodynamic Economy, John Michael Greer discusses this trope with relation to energy sources. His argument is that the concentration, not the quantity, of an energy source is the relevant factor in deciding whether it can be used to perform useful work. On this basis, he notes that, while solar energy can be used for a great many useful things such as boiling water, heating buildings, and cooking food, its diffuse nature means that it's not a replacement for the highly-concentrated energy derived from burning fossil fuels.
  • In the Virtual Youtuber space, the two big names are hololive and Nijisanji under Cover Corporation and ANYCOLOR Inc. respectively. In terms of success, they're considered fairly close. However, it's often pointed out that Cover Corp. has less than half the number of talent ANYCOLOR has (roughly 80 members to 200 members across all branches), making Cover the quality to ANYCOLOR's quantity. This is clear even to those outside the VTuber space: this article from 28th March 2024 from industry trade magazine Toyo Keizai points out that while Cover's HoloFes 2024 was a resounding success (having 86,000 visitors compared to 45, 000 for HoloFes 2023), the same couldn't be said for NijiFes. The article also specifically notes that despite ANYCOLOR having a much larger roster, Cover Corp. had managed to tap into the lucrative overseas (i.e. non-Japanese) market in a way ANYCOLOR had failed to.

    Real Life 
  • World War II:
    • The European theatre was almost a case study in this. Nazi Germany's war machines were frequently quite advanced for their time, from the well-known things like the Me-262 Schwalbe jet fighter and Tiger tanks to lesser-known things like the Bf-109 prop fighter featuring an engine with fuel injection (more reliable during certain maneuvers than the carburetor engines in Allied planes). Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler had an obsession with creating more and more of these Wunderwaffen ("wonder weapons"), and in practice, many proved unreliable, ineffective, and/or resource-intensive. Their Allied counterparts typically went for good enough, with designs meant to be practical and readily produced in large numbers, and often using existing, proven technologies in new ways. One such case was the British creation of the Sherman Firefly as a hard counter to the Tiger by simply mounting an existing anti-tank cannon (originally a carriage artillery piece) to an American Sherman chassis (one of the most-produced tanks in history).
      • Popular culture tends to portray the Soviets as using nothing but the Zerg Rush, but in truth Soviet tactics, codified in the 1930s as "deep operation" (Глубокая операция, glubokaya operatsiya), also called "deep battle", sought to take advantage of Soviet strengths in manpower and industrial capacity when compared to Western countries, and are argued to be a forerunner of modern military operational theory. As demonstrated several times on the Eastern Front, on offense they favor attacking enemy lines across a front sometimes over a hundred kilometers long, and then committing the reserves to deeply exploit any breakthroughs and destroy the enemy's reserves and rear areas; defensively it favors defense-in-depth, forcing the enemy to overcome multiple lines of defense while under continuous counterattack. In practice, this was initially severely hampered by Stalin's 1937 purges (which cost the USSR most of the theory's designers and trainees) and Executive Meddling during the first half of the war. The Soviets also had quality weapons, as the T-34 tank is frequently cited as one of the best overall tanks of the war: it was prone to transmission problems especially early on, but it had a good gun (upgraded mid-war to an even better one) and the effectiveness of its armor directly prompted the German development of the Panzer IV and Tiger to counter it.
      • In contrast, the Wehrmacht was better trained and had better tactics (at least initially), but had a disadvantage in numbers. Their own "Blitzkrieg" tactics favored a massive attack on single points to break through enemy defenses (rather than striking across a wide front), with tanks used as a critical force multiplier.
      • One place where the Wehrmacht did have the advantage of quantity (as well as quality) was in its artillery: In at least one major battle Germany enjoyed a 2.5 to 1 advantage in artillery (not in terms of raw numbers, but in how many shells they were actually able to fire during the battle), and Germany generally produced far more (and higher quality) artillery shells for the entire war. The Germans did however get beaten at their own game, and badly, once the US entered the Western Front: In terms of tonnage, the Soviet Union shot 12 tonnes of artillery shells and bombs for every 1 ton of small arms ammunition in 1944. The Germans at the time shot 18 tonnes of artillery shells for every 1 ton of bullets. The US? 42 tonnes.
    • The Pacific theater is more complicated, as Japan switched from favoring quality to favoring quantity. While Japan had initially planned to best the numerically superior Americans with superior training and equipment, after the Battle of Midway they focused entirely on making up for losses. It didn't work as America was able to produce both quality and quantity.
      • The Pacific theater could also easily be seen as a deconstruction. When the Japanese tried to have better quality they failed to account for the fact that it's very hard to practically best all of the enemy's capabilities all of the time. For example, the Yamato-class battleship was the most heavily armed of their type but had poor radar and depended on optical sighting to aim. American ships of all types (except some carriers and escort destroyers) used radar-aimed guns from the war's outset. This means that under the right conditions a single WWI-era American dreadnought could have forced both Yamato-class battleships to retreat simply because the former had one critical advantage that the latter did not: greater effective range.note  In practice, Allied planes also turned out to be significantly more survivable, which meant more pilots lived to tell people what worked and what didn't, while the fragile Japanese planes meant a significant depletion of experienced pilots reared its head starting at about Coral Sea and Midway; it only got worse from there. To make matters worse, the Japanese Army didn't think full-size tanks could be used effectively in the Pacific, whereas the American island-hopping campaign incorporated the M4 Sherman from the get-go, and the Japanese mentality of all-out defense at the water's edge until late in the war, to say nothing of the "no surrender" doctrine, meant that the high command received very little information from the front lines that could have helped plan a better defense.
      • Similarly the western front of Europe could be viewed as another deconstruction. The Germans once again went for quality but in practice used a High-Low mix (see below). For example, while Tiger I and IIs could utterly destroy anything the Americans had and most of what the British could throw at them in a straight fight, Shermans could in turn devastate the older panzers that most armored divisions used. And while the Germans equipped some of their soldiers with the highly advanced STG-44, most soldiers were still stuck with bolt action Mausers. American soldiers were all equipped with self-loading rifles, one of which (the M2 carbine) was almost as capable as the STG-44. Thus most of the time the Western allies could evoke quality-of-quantity and just get creative when they were outmatchednote .
  • An unexpected place these arguments pop up is in debate about minimum wage. It's been heavily documented that when there is a minimum wage hike companies invariably lay off workers. They either find a way to do the job through automation or with fewer, better-trained people. Thus the higher minimum wage is, the fewer people have access to a minimum wage job, but it becomes much better for the ones that do.
  • The difference between conscript and volunteer militaries in the modern era can be summed up as this. Conscript armies are invariably larger than volunteer ones, as most people won't willingly choose to go into the military, but conscripts get less training than volunteer troops and have a harder time maintaining a proper NCO force. Further, the mass of troops often requires less sophisticated and thus often less capable equipment (or in some cases holding onto vast reserves of obsolete equipment) to avoid breaking the bank arming everybody. Assuming equal budgets and population base, a volunteer army will be smaller than a conscript army, but better-equipped and more skilled.
  • Averting this trade-off is the basic idea behind a High-Low mix in military procurement. The idea is that you cram all your best capabilities into one model, and then have a cheap, basic model to fill out the numbers. The F-15/F-16 mix is the most prominent example, though one that increasingly subverts the idea; current-model F-16s cost the same as current-model F-15s.
  • r/K-selection theory states that species can either choose quality or quantity as their reproductive strategy. r-selected species go for quantity: They have lots of offspring but don't invest much in each individual so that many of them never reach adulthood. K-selected species choose quality: They have few offspring, but invest heavily in the few that they have, so that most of them survive. Humans are extremely K-selected (and more so the richer they are); most species of fish are strongly r-selected, and rodents are somewhere in between.
  • Played out between Sweden and Tsarist Russia during The Great Northern War. From approximately the reign of Gustav II Adolf on, Sweden had one of the best armies in Europe, but they had little choice: Sweden's low population meant they had to compensate with quality. This proved the undoing of Carolus Rex at the Battle of Poltava: with his army weakened by Peter the Great's scorched earth tactics and King Charles unable to personally lead due to prior injuries (allowing the rivalry between his two top commanders to surface), he lost the battle and took around 10,000 casualties (accounts vary on the exact number), almost a third of his army, and surrendered three days later. Russia also took significant losses but, being Russia, had almost twice as many troops to start with and could better absorb such losses.
  • Played straight at the Battle of the Arar where Julius Caesar defeated an army of Helvetii over five times the size of his own thanks to superior discipline and tactics.
  • Rome itself is on the Quantity side of this at multiple points in history, most notably during the Pyrrhic and Punic War. Even if they suffered consecutive defeats at the hands of a superior foe, Rome's huge population meant that they can write off the losses and simply raised new soldiers. It's telling that Rome was still in fighting conditions after getting repeatedly hammered by Pyrrhus and Hannibal, but it only took a single victory for them to completely turn the tables around and defeated these two generals.
  • This is generally the reason the Aztec (or any other Native American culture) doesn't rule the world. When the conquistadors came, they were far fewer in number compared to the Aztec, but the Spanish steel armor and weapons made the stone and obsidian of the Aztec look like paper mache. The Plague also helped.
  • A dynamic at play during the various Arab-Israeli Wars. While the various Arab coalitions generally outnumbered the Israelis, the Israelis were far better soldiers than their opponents, which more than made up for the numerical disparity.
  • Beer versus Cider. Two of the world's most popular alcoholic brews, have had many different origins and variations over the centuries. Beer is typically brewed in vast quantities, it's cheap with a hearty, malty taste in it's simple form. Cider however can be a little more expensive, but it's flavorful, lightly-filling and brewed with fruit over grains (meaning it's healthier).
  • When it comes to the competition between Virtual Youtuber agencies, Nijisanji versus hololive is this in spades. Although Nijisanji certainly has the edge in raw numbers of their talents/Livers, being the biggest Vtuber agency worldwide, Hololive makes up for it with high-quality productions of theirs who constantly racks up hundreds of thousands viewers in their streams and routinely dominates Vtuber charts worldwide. To compare, while Nijisanji only has around 7 Livers (of total 180) with more than 1 million subscribers (Hyakumantenbara Salome being the highest with around 1,700,000 subscribers), Hololive has more than 35 talents (of total 87) who has passed the same milestones, including Gawr Gura who has beaten Kizuna Ai as the most subscribed Vtubers worldwide with whopping 4,400,000 subscribers.

Alternative Title(s): Quality Vs Quantity, Quantity Versus Quality