There is a fine line that developers try to walk when it comes to game balance. When it’s time for nerfs, there is very little chance the community around the game will wholeheartedly agree. Balance is a very fickle and subjective part of video games. The slightest tweak in the wrong direction can send any element of a game into a negative, or overly positive light.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let us turn to Call of Duty Modern Warfare. In Modern Warfare, the 725 is widely regarded as the best shotgun. It has insane kill potential, and is the most used shotgun by players due to its high damage and range. The 725 had been this way since launch, and as more players found out it became more and more popular. Knowing this, the gun was nerfed… And nerfed again… And again. The 725 is underwhelming now, compared to what it was, but it had to be nerfed for the good of the game.
Having one weapon or item be so much more effective than the rest makes for an unhealthy game state, and may ruin the game for a large portion of the playerbase. In their attempt to balance an overpowered weapon, Infinity Ward nearly pushed it into oblivion. Naturally, balancing issues can come from something being statistically better than something else, but there is another side to balancing.
In a game like League of Legends, there are a lot of variables. You have the champions themselves: Riot’s MOBA currently has 147, with number 148 set to be released by January. But there are also abilities, runes, items and occurrences and objectives throughout the map. With that many elements to manage, there is no way you can conceivably keep everything relevant at all times.
To play into this, Riot tends to make changes to seemingly random champions and items at any given time. These changes happen for the purpose of shaking up the meta, when and where it is required. The biggest changes come during pre-season, which has come to serve as a period of experimentation between ranked seasons. Every pre-season, Riot adds in a few new features and items, changing multiple aspects of the game in huge ways. From time to time, these changes can pull underused champions back into the spotlight, making them viable again. However, some changes push champions or items so far out of meta it could be months until they are seen again.
These methods show two different approaches to game balance. Where Infinity Ward alters elements and in turn shifts the meta, Riot Games makes alterations specifically to shift the meta. Ultimately, each approach puts a different amount of emphasis on the role of players in affecting balance.
Sometimes it’s you who is unbalanced
An element of a game can undergo rigorous testing, and get accepted and released, only to have to be “fixed” almost immediately. Sometimes the item itself is fine, but the community finds a way to take it to the next level and deems it “OP”. Sometimes rather than play around it, players will keep doing what they are doing and hope it gets better.
In some cases the meta is all up to what the players decide is right and the game shapes around that. League of Legends‘ lane meta is incredibly rigid, but it also entirely dependent on players following it. Going off script – by sending an assassin in top lane, for example – is entirely possible, as chaotic as the results may be.
Game metas are formed by how aspects of the game are balanced. In turn, balance is subjective and is influenced by the players. This does not go for every game however, as some are able to balance better than others. In the end, if you feel like something is OP and you find yourself on the wrong side of it, there are alternatives to exploit besides flaming the devs or uninstalling. Try to figure out ways around the issue, or to divert your attention to another tool the game provides, or to another objective entirely. Or you could just play the same thing you find is broken. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, as they say.