No matter how well you conceptualize an online game, there will always be certain gameplay elements which will turn out to be vastly overpowered and dominate the gameplay.

The obvious solution in that case is to do an update and make that gameplay element weaker (to "nerf" it).

But when developers do this, it often causes an outrage among the player community. Player liked to dominate the game by overusing that overpowered gameplay-element and are now angry that their game now plays differently and is thus ruined forever. The game might be objectively better after the nerf, but the natural human resistance to change outweighs this positive effect for many players.

How can you correct balance mistakes without causing a player outrage?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If your game is only fun for players just because they can exploit this inbalance, maybe you should make it more fun? \$\endgroup\$
    – Thomas
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 13:54
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas What if the hypothetical game would be more fun when people would actually use the fun gameplay elements but nobody does because that one boring gameplay element is a much easier way to win? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 13:58
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a far deeper and more general philosophical question: How do I please everybody? Common wisdom states that you really can't. It's a choice you have to make: Please the abusers of your system (<5%) or please those who play by the rules. Bearing in mind that many of the abusers are likely to be power gamers who spend a lot in your economy, especially pertinent for microtransaction games. \$\endgroup\$
    – Engineer
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 14:00

5 Answers 5


You don't nerf, you balance. Like someone mentioned earlier, is it fun because it's overpowered or are players simply using the overpowered functionality, albeit boring, to push their progression?

If it's the former, balance everything else UP instead of pushing your one fun gameplay element down. Once things are more on the level you should be able to balance things in such a way where the nerf bat doesn't hit so hard (a.k.a. you're able to scale something down 1-5% in essence instead of 25-50%).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Speaking as a player, balancing other things up is usually the way to go. An example, a game I play has this "overpowered" ability, and if you want to be competitive you must use it, but it is only overpowered because the rest of the abilities are boring and most of them have no use, if they were changed, people would probably use other abilities too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke B.
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 15:45
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I can kinda see this being done in the mod/map/game Dota. And as an avid player, I can tell you it's working quite well for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – akaltar
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 16:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good example is like when EA/Dice decided to "nerf" all the rocket launchers in Battlefield because players were using them like crazy. Instead of providing an incentive to not use the rocket launcher, they just made it do considerably less damage than before. The gamer population was outraged because a lot of people had spent a lot of time getting good at using the rocket launchers, unlocking them and their upgrades, etc... now suddenly the one aspect they loved, isn't there. I completely agree, Balancing Up is the way to go. Don't ever take away from your game, only add to it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:10

first thing: don't nerf it into being totally unusable, so that they can transition easily to other strategies if they desire without dieing to critters 10 levels lower

one way to do a nerf is to add something so it requires more skill to use effectively, on a spell add a longer cast time/longer cooldown, require a timing mini-game to get the most out of it

you can also implement counters, this way the OP layout isn't as effective against bosses; for example stun being resisted by a new resist stun stat so that stun-spam will be broken sooner or later


One option that I would love to see implemented is an automatic self-adjustment system.

I am going to use, as an example, a game from the MOBA genre because that is structured in a way that makes it fairly simple to see exactly how each hero compares to other heroes.

Basically, for each hero, all the stats for that item should depend on a handicap value, that the server automatically changes depending on the win rate for that hero. Then, whenever a new game starts, it uses the most recent handicap value for the duration of the game.

    attackSpeed = 50 + 5*heroType.adjustment;
    moveSpeed = 100 + 5*heroType.adjustment;

Then, at the end of each game, the server modifies value for each hero by a small amount depending on if that hero won or lost, by how much they won, etc:

for(Hero hero: game.winners)
for(Hero hero: game.losers)

The exact adjustment formula could be something like this, although more complex statistics stuff might be better:

nerf: adjustment[heroType] -= 1 / globalNumberOfGamesPerWeek
buff: adjustment[heroType] += 1 / globalNumberOfGamesPerWeek

This way, if a certain new hero is added that is considerably overpowered, i.e. having that hero significantly increases a player's chance of winning, then the game server will automatically correct it over time.

In fact, this system will also correct for other reasons that a particular hero might become overpowered, like someone finding a new meta that actually works really well, or some terrain modification that gives a particular hero some new advantage. And the correction would be able to take place even as knowledge of the new tactic is still only spreading.

A third thing this can help with is actually discovering the fact that something is seriously affecting a hero. If heroes are designed so that the adjustment value stays near zero, then when the value for one of the heroes changes significantly, the developers will know that there was some problem with the hero, so that they can go over and do some more intelligent balancing to the hero in question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Players would abuse this by deliberately loosing with their favourite heroes using their sock puppet accounts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 10:31

The best way to convince players of the benefit of these changes is by allowing them to observe AI games, and how the changes balance things out between two machine players.

This way, they can see for themselves that the changes served the interests of the game at large, rather than the desires of one or another group of human players. No-one is butthurt.

Of course it may take considerable effort to have your AI adapt well to new rulesets. I would go so far as to say that your AI architecture should be designed with this in mind.

Also see "How to deal with (bad) player suggestions" as it may have relevance here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ this won't work for a lot of game types out there. for example, a FPS can't be "simulated" really at all, AI are either dumb, don't act human like, are scripted, etc. Also, it's very boring to watch other people play games, especially when it's two computer players enacting a pre-set "battle" script. \$\endgroup\$
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:25

I like the Balance approach. I know if I'm playing a game and say if I have a super charged weapon that's easy to mo down a bunch of zombies or space aliens. All of sudden the game developer released a sequel with that super charged weapon removed - then I can relate to feeling hopeless when being attacked by with hordes of monsters. However, if I had to progress to a certain limit and have enough resources to get the super crazy charged weapon then I'll be more to believe that hey, this is something to work for and to obtain. This sets in a feeling of accomplishment than just easily obtaining the super crazy charged weapon without any hassle. If players feel like they've accomplished something than getting things easily the more the better and more interest. If the super weapon had 12 rounds of super plasma rounds and now it only has 6 rounds and get's intensely hot. Well, I better look for more rounds and keep the super weapon with me than having to ditch it. So, this brings up the whole; if I want this bad enough I gotta make sure I have ammo rounds for it.

Change isn't all necessary bad though; mostly change is a very good thing in life. However, as you noted that people are reluctant to change because it's outside their comfort zone then yeah; you may get some complaints. However, like most people that has answered your question I believe that if you can balance things out making the change to be a better idea for the player - they'll appreciate it. It's almost like when the father says to the son, "You may not like what I tell you to do; but it's for your own good." Son grows up remembering that statement and goes, "Dad was right - if I hung out with the wrong crowd then people will assume I'm a bad person." That's just a philosophy statement but it's very true.

So, I really do approve of the whole balancing elements out in matter of fact; I think everything in life should be at least balanced and not over used in general. If I'm too dominate and too assertive - people will avoid me. If I take take take then people will avoid me. However, if I BALANCE everything out and listen to the other person and not over dominate too much - I've found a correct balance in life.

So, balancing gameplay elements are a healthier approach and people can't be satisfied all the time then they turn spoiled and think they deserve everything. So, instead make them work for it like a cat chasing a string.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "mo down"? you mean mow down? as-in lawn mower... \$\endgroup\$
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 22:24

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