I need to identify a maximum number of characters in a game so that I can provide a high number of choices without overwhelming the player. How do I determine the optimum set of characters to use in this case? Every set I come up with is either overwhelming for players or have too few choices.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To support my argument, I reference an extremely popular question about colors in game design. The answers are as opinionated and broad as possible, and the specifics of answers are related to the colors of units in a game. What is the difference between the color of units, and the variety of units? Game specifics were not required in the color question, yet it is extremely well received. Plenty of opinionated discussion resides in the answers to that "broad" question. I say "broad" in that one need only replace the word 'color' with 'variety' and it would be my question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carter81
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have edited the question to be exactly the same as it was before, but to be identical to another question that is extremely well accepted. The resulting answers will be exactly the same as it would have been before (adjusted based on differing popularity in the question), but fitting the silliness forced upon me by all of you without actually changing anything at all in the question or answers. I am extremely disappointed that 'office politics' and clique behavior do not stay at work and instead flood even websites like this. How silly it is to reword something but change nothing of context. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carter81
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you'd like to discuss the reasons this question is different than the optimal colors question you're welcome to post on meta. I don't agree they're similar. Consider the amount of of data required to represent each. Characters are hundreds, if not thousands of times more complex than colors in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I made a relatively major edit to your post which I think makes it suitable for the site. Feel free to revert if you disagree. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 14:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry you didn't find the site useful Carter. Remember to read the help center pages to learn how to use this site. Feel free to post on meta if you think something about the site should change. Good luck with you game! \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 13:49

2 Answers 2


A simple litmus test: does this new character add anything to the game or is it just fluff?

As a broad guideline on what feels bloated and confusing versus short and under-featured, I use the following:

The magic number 7 plus or minus 2. This is the sweet spot of human short term, working memory capacity. More than this number of fundamental choices at any one time will confuse and frustrate a player. For a character this would be the core archetypes like plate tank, melee dps, ranged healer, etc...

The magic number 3. As a side effect of the 7 rule, combinations of up to 3 elements/features will get you from 1..9 (i.e. within the 7 +- 2 range) end results. Any more than 3 features on any given character will similarly confuse and frustrate a player because choice suddenly blossoms to 16 and up, breaking the rule of 7. For a character this would be the core play style choices like weapons, shield, mobility, or fire, ice, earth.

  • \$\begingroup\$ At first I selected this as best answer due to the litmus test (good answer) but I unselected it because of random assumptions that deal with "magic". Might as well just roll a dice or consult my local astrologist. I'll be leaving this question unanswered and check back next year to see if anyone has a real one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carter81
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 10:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you take a look here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… you'll find the studies on cognitive ability and working memory dating back to the mid 1950's that are describe this magic. You are wise to be sceptical without having a reference. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm assuming this is a well known and well used way of thinking, judging by your comment. This also explains why there are so very few games which provide the player with gameplay which stimulates cognition. Reducing the number of choices forces the player to think less. Which leads to players being more easily confused. Which leads to fewer choices being presented. Which leads to players being more easily confused... \$\endgroup\$
    – nemesisx00
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Gave you best answer, because at least you tried. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carter81
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 0:30

You have to ask yourself, "Is there an optimum set of characters?"

The answer is maybe. The optimum number will be different for every game, genre and developer. This decision is very specific to the design of the game. There are a few ways to go about finding what you believe to be the optimal number, I've ordered them based on the time/effort required to acquire your optimal number:

  1. Random guess, based on what you feel is right. Likely the fastest approach. And once a decision is made, the actual development can get started.
  2. Use the average number of characters found in similar games. A little more research oriented approach. First make a list of similar games, then count the total number of characters in all of those games added together. Finally, divide that sum by the number of games in the list. For non-whole numbers, round up or down, to decide see #1.
  3. Develop a prototype with a variable number of characters and playtest with a various groups of beta testers. The empirical approach. It's a useful one, and will give you hard data about your game. As can be expected, this is probably the most accurate approach, but will take the most time. It can arguably be the best approach as well. Since it uses your game as the testing platform, it handles the situation where there aren't really any other games out there just like yours.

Unfortunately, there's not hard and fast rule for this. The number of characters you require to be optimal depends a number of things, including:

  • The niches they fill (damage, defense, healing, etc)
  • The gameplay strategies your players will use (kiting, tanking, dps, etc.)
  • The gameplay strategies your game allows for (potentially different than the ones players use)
  • If there are restrictions on duplication of characters in a game (a fighting game where characters can't fight themselves)
  • The genre of your game (moba, mmorpg, single player rpg, fighting game, etc.)
  • The skills and abilities of each character (balancing issues galore)
  • What kind of gameplay there is (PVP, PVE)
  • If there are factions or realms (now you might need to fill niches on both or multiple sides)
  • The expected play time per character (if it takes a day to unlock all the skills a character has, vs weeks/months you might need a different number of characters)
  • The price of the game (if the number of characters is a selling point, people want what they pay for)

If you decide the number of characters is 10, here's a question you can use to decide their color.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also add that the number of character should depend on how long it takes to iterate though a character. In an MMO it takes a very long time to explore a character capabilities while in LoL it takes maybe a week of games to grasp the mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great add ClassicThunder. Unfortunately, I flagged your comment as it's too opinion based and should be deleted according to the philosophy of this website. </sarcasm> I believe I am done with this website. Those who give it good credit must be severely mistaken. This is a very strange, almost niche site. Reminds me a lot of the clique-veteran forums of niche gamers, such as the bitter griefers that make up the Darkfall forum, or the emotionally volatile developers of WAR Z, Dragon's Crown, and power-hungry small group moderators. Sad, but creepy members are quite contrary to professionals. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carter81
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 10:26

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