In games such as World of Warcraft, the imbalance between factions is often a matter of controversy.

To compensate, WoW applied the Tenacity buff to the outnumbered faction to balance PvP.

However, this only applies to PvP and I wonder if this kind of bonus can be used to encourage character creation in the least populated faction.

Something like an XP bonus for the least populated faction? For example, 5% XP bonus if the faction represents 45% of the server. The bonus would be highlighted when creating a character and it would be 0 when the two factions have the same size.

Or a bonus on the economy by lowering auction fees proportionately to the imbalance?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It would help to include some details about how your particular faction system figures into your fiction and your intended player experience. Do you expect players to run characters across multiple factions? Is it important to be in the same faction as your friend group? Can/is it desirable or problematic for established players to switch factions? Is there some time horizon within which you want faction memberships to be reasonably stable (eg. a weekly tournament between factions makes sense if stable for a week+, less so if everyone changes factions to the winning team on Friday) etc... \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Apr 3 '18 at 12:51

Encouraging people to pick the underrepresented faction when they start playing is not going to work. Faction imbalance isn't static. It changes over the history of the game, it might be different in different locations, it might be different in different level brackets (if these are relevant in your game), it might even be different depending on the time of the day. Player Allegiance, however, is often not. If you force players to choose a faction at game start, they will often stay loyal to their faction. And faction allegiance only starts to matter when the players reached a level high enough that they actually have an impact on faction warfare.

So when a newbie creates a new character today, they will have a weak character and they will lack skills and metagame knowledge. It might take months until they have the competence to gain significant influence in the faction-vs-faction gameplay. Some might in fact never play faction warfare on a high skill level. So the faction you wanted to boost will soon look good according to player numbers, but still gets their ass kicked because a lot of their players do not contribute effectively.

Regarding your idea to solve this problem with giving an Exp bonus to the underrepresented side. Let's assume that your game is similar to World of Warcraft, where you have separated PvE and PvP content, with the PvE content being the main way to earn Exp points. An Exp bonus will not be a good incentive for faction warfare in such a game, because it would be primarily an incentive for PvE gameplay. The main beneficiaries of this would be those players who don't participate in faction warfare. So you would make the situation even worse. It might, however, work in a game where faction warfare is the primary source of Exp in your game. When the underrepresented faction receives more rewards in faction warfare, it would incentivize more players to participate in it... but only if the reward actually outweights the penalty for fighting on the losing side (both material and emotional).

A better approach than to force players to play the faction they don't actually want to play is to look at your faction-vs-faction gameplay and look for how you can design it to mitigate a numerical advantage. See how you can design it in a way which makes it fun and fair to play even if one side outnumbers the other. Also look for ways to make the game fun even if you are losing. But this task would be highly game-specific. Doing it like WoW and giving a stat buff to the side with less people is a simple and effective solution, but far from the only one. If you post a new question with more information about your faction-vs-faction game mechanics we might help you to balance them better when the factions are asymmetrical.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a very interesting point. You completely changed my mind on the XP bonus! I'll post a new question giving more details about my game mechanics. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – charlestati Apr 3 '18 at 14:46

As RL has done, create plagues, town fires, social sloth, and organisational inertia to balance these out. ;) That'll teach people to stay away from large groups! And if that doesn't do it, suicide bomber attacks will! There have been many stories about how the small group is more agile than the large organisations it faces... take the Three Musketeers, for one (OK, they worked for the King, but still).

Have you ever seen a crowd of people running for a fire exit when things get hairy?

(Irreverent) jokes aside, the bottom line is that there should be sufficient downsides to being in massive groups that it makes gathering in such mobs a non-trivial decision on the player's part. Giving players non-obvious / non-trivial decisions is one of the cornerstones of good gameplay.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In my game, there are only two factions which means not many small groups… But I see your point: adding downsides to the majority rather than bonuses to the minority! Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – charlestati Apr 3 '18 at 14:09

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