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Background:

In my game there are two teams per PvP match, and those two teams are further divided into air/land fields. Each team has 12 players on the ground and 6 patrolling the sky. The goal of the game is for the air/land units to work together to win the match. Players are matchmade into games randomly, without taking into account skill/field preference/etc (the short explanation is that we don't have control over this).

The problem:

If I allow complete freedom in choosing fields, I might end up with no players in the sky or vice versa on one or both teams. If I don't give players a choice, they won't be happy when they aren't assigned to the field of their preference. Overall I imagine the fields would balance out on their own if they're equally enjoyable, but there's little room for error there -- if either field gets a bad first impression, it'll be difficult to recover from. I want to ensure there are some constraints in place to prevent death by conjecture.

I thought of adding 1 or 2 landing pads at either team's base, and that way players who wanted to play the land field could land, and players who wanted to play the air field could take a parked aircraft on the landing pad. This could breed tension between players where more than 2 players are competing for landing pads though.

What are some approaches I can take to resolve this, which avoid forcing player behavior as much as possible, but still ensure gameplay is predictable and reliable? Specifically I'm looking for what key issues an answer takes into account and how it resolves them. If you're drawing experience from something that's already been put into practice and already has tangible results, those results would be a wonderful addition to your answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your proposal of putting a landing pad at the base sounds good to me on a number of levels. The number of air slots available is very explicitly controlled by the number of aircraft on the pad, a concept players can grasp immediately. You don't introduce any extra layer of UI / role picking on the way into the game, keeping match setup quick & simple. And the ability to land again lets players negotiate among themselves and change roles mid play without needing to die. I don't think it introduces undue intra-team conflict, any moreso than the finite number of air/land slots already imposes. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Jan 8 '17 at 1:05
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You could introduce a first-come, first-serve option so that the first players to join a random match get their favorite spots. (This also compensates those who are waiting longest if matchmaking times are long.) Players can pick an air/ground slot so long as one is available.

If you make it clear to players (such as a mention in the tutorial/loading screen tips) that a 6 and 12 breakup of the team is recommended, and also let them see which roles the rest of the team has chosen, (some) players will choose/switch roles in order to have a better chance of winning. The incentive of winning is strong, and could work even without a hard constraint. This also gives players the options to diversify their strategies, if you want to allow that. (This does loose some game-play predictability of course)

An optional addition is to have a mechanism for players to switch roles during the game, such as the landing pads you suggested. Making the air/ground ratio visible is important here.

With 18 players per game, you are not going to have team-wide coordination for maneuvers in the match, but you also have enough players to have a good probability that someone fills in needed positions. If there are support/tank/sniper/ect. roles among the air and ground players, you will likely have some trouble encouraging players to coordinate, but if the choice is just between two fields, they should be able to work it out using only a few (soft) pointers from you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Blizzard's Overwatch is a good example where it tells players when their team is missing something. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris May 16 '17 at 19:29
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Is it absolutely essential for your game concept that there are exactly 6 air-players and 12 land-players per team? Or is that just the best combination to win the game?

If the latter, you should just allow players to switch roles whenever they want. Players want to win, so they will do what it takes. Many players will be willing to play the role they like less if that will contribute to them winning the game. I would even recommend you to not limit the number-ratio. If everyone wants to play air, they can do that, but then they will likely lose the game against a more balanced team.

But in order for that to work out you need to properly balance air-gameplay and land-gameplay. Make sure that:

  • Both roles are equally fun to play, equally powerful and equally useful in every phase of the game. Otherwise the community will prefer one role over the other and argue about who has to play the less interesting role.
  • You have similar controls and mechanics between both, so that most gameplay skill is transferable. That way players don't get too focused on one role and become more flexible.
  • You encourage players to switch between both roles often, so they train them equally. A good way to do that is:
    • Make switching during the game cheap and convenient
    • Give the player progression goals which require them to play both roles
    • If you have progression rewards, make these useful in both roles. Or even better, have one class unlock progression rewards for the other. Like if you kill 100 enemies as air, you get a new weapon for land.

Another thing you can do to motivate players to balance their teams is directly reward and punish them for their team balance. For example, if a game has only 8 land players but 10 air players, the land players get a bonus and the air players get a penalty. A more careful bonus/penalty would be to the score rewards they gain when they accomplish things. A more courageous but likely far more effective method might be to directly reward or punish them mechanically by making those who are too many weaker and those who are too few stronger. You can explain that plausibly through logistics: When there are twice as many aircraft as expected by your supply and maintenance personnel, they will have to cut some corners, which will result in less ammo being available and parts breaking earlier (represented by having less hit points). Don't over do this, though, because role ration does not matter anymore when 8 land with their bonuses are just as effective as 12 land without.

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