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Quantity vs. Quality

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"Ah... the sound of dying. When it comes to death, quantity is so much more satisfying than quality."

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. You could choose to put less resources into producing individual products in order to produce more, but the quality of the products decrease. Trying to make more of a product and make them high-quality is generally impractical due to resource and time constraints.


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 usually win out.


Sides with Quantity
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Refers to video game characters who deal relatively small amounts of damage compared to other characters from his or her game but can deal a larger amount of them. How effective this is depends on the game.
  • Explosive Breeder: Giving birth to many offspring at an alarmingly fast rate.
  • Master of None: Trying to do everything just results in sucking at everything.
  • Spam Attack: where the solution when shooting at something doesn't work is to shoot even more of it. This one is obviously rooted in quantity, though people characterized by it are rarely portrayed as sympathetic or intelligent. Further subdivided into Beam Spam, Macross Missile Massacre, More Dakka, Death of a Thousand Cuts and Rain of Arrows.
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  • We Have Reserves: The idea that troops are expendable because there are so many available. This is never shown in a good light.
  • Zerg Rush: Quantity versus quality of Mooks where Quantity wins.

Sides 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. You can see this in each 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.
  • 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.
  • Egao No Daika 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.

    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.

    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 Napoleon 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 know 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 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 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The Starks and the Lannisters, respectively. The Starks can only raise small armies, but being from the wild, dangerous Northlands, they tend to be composed of tough warriors. The Lannisters have access to lots of gold mines and this makes the family exceedingly rich and able to support large armies of cheap troops of questionable loyalty. In the TV series, the Starks win the majority of their battles except for the first one (which is more of a Pyrrhic Victory for the Lannisters; although they defeated the 2000-strong Stark force, they took heavy casualties and it was all a ploy which allowed the Starks to capture one of the family).
  • 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.

  • 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.

    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.
    • In addition to the Orcs/Orks, the settings have the Skaven and Tyranids respectively, whose 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.
    • 40k uses this relationship between the Imperial Guard and the Adeptus Astartes. The Guard is a billions-strong army of normal humans armed with laser rifles and body armor that are frequently compared in effectiveness with flashlights and t-shirts, 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. 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.

      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 Steve Jackson's 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.
  • This is the chief decision when list-building in X-Wing Miniatures. 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • In Pokémon, the more powerful an attack is, the fewer PP it is likely to have, unless it has some other drawback.
  • 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 which 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 disorganised 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.

    Visual Novels 

    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.
    • 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. We will not attempt to decide which side is right.
  • 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 offsping, 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.

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