Perhaps the most discussed forum topic with regards to World of Warcraft is on or focused on the concept of "balance". This primarily has to do with PVP but can also spill over into the PVE experience. Many of these advocates of "balance" have some legitimate disputes but a larger portion are QQers, asking for a specific class to get nerfed, most likely due to their inability to adapt or the inevitable frustration of losing. In World of Warcraft, the concept of "balance" should be metaphorically compared to Captain Ahab and the White Whale. The lesson being that obsessing over such a glorified ideal to a degree where one begins forsaking everything else will inevitably have this coveted experience be their demise.
For those who are unaware, The aforementioned reference is that of Herman Melville's classic story Moby Dick. The story revolves around an obsessive sea captain, driven to slay the elusive and vicious white whale who maimed him on a previous whaling venture. The whale is named Moby Dick (duh). The captain's pursuit turns to obsession and eventually leads to the destruction of the ship and the death of all but one crew member. The same fate would befall World of Warcraft if many of the forum goers would have their way by the sheer fanaticism some players have with "balance". I am here today to clarify exactly why WoW is as balanced as it possibly can be.
Let's start first with an actual definition of the word, Balance courtesy of http://www.dictionary.com/:
1. a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.
2. something used to produce equilibrium; counterpoise.
3. mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.
4. a state of bodily equilibrium: He lost his balance and fell down the stairs.
5. an instrument for determining weight, typically by the equilibrium of a bar with a fulcrum at the center, from each end of which is suspended a scale or pan, one holding an object of known weight, and the other holding the object to be weighed.
6. to bring to or hold in equilibrium; poise: to balance a book on one's head.
There are several other definitions of Balance (mainly from the world of accounting) but the definition we are interested in is listed here, most notably number 6; to bring or hold in equilibrium. While Blizzard isn't holding a book in balance, the concept of balance in this context is simply a level playing field where both sides involved have an equal opportunity to win. This seems simple but in the realm of MMO's it becomes a massive undertaking. The issue is with MMO's, there are an incredible amount of variables. These variables create disparities between game mechanics and the art of balance is managing these disparities to a degree where one side does not have an overwhelming advantage over another.
The first variable on Blizzard's list would be character level. There is little in the way of regulation with regards to world PVP but from a controlled PVP aspect, arena combat is only available in the live game servers at level 70. This removes the level variable from competitive based PVP.
The second variable is the easiest to conceptualize and sadly remains the most important with regards to PVP in WoW. That variable is gear. Gear is nearly impossible to regulate on an individual basis. Blizzard can't control how much time a player invests into each character. In a sense, the amount of "work" a player invests usually pans out in more options for equipment. So what does Blizzard do for balancing a variable that seems relatively uncontrollable?
As most are aware, Blizzard didn't throw WoW together haphazardly. They took their time and did a fair amount of research. Not only does Blizzard balance the gear issue but in a way, they use it to their advantage. This started with Burning Crusade and it's the answer to a very poignant question that burns the forums frequently. That question being what's the point of resilience? As most know, most PVP gear includes healthy amounts of Resilience. This statistic reduces damage from critical hits and has segregated PVE gear from PVP gear. This statistic provides a distinct advantage in PVP combat but most classes and specs have very limited options with gear that includes resilience. This limitation is done to a degree where most of the geared PVP players are wearing roughly the same equipment. By limiting the options available, Blizzard indirectly balances gear by pigeon-holing every class/spec into roughly the same equipment, effectively neutralizing the gear variable from the equation at high levels of PVP. This culturing of gear has limited effects at the lowest level of organized PVP (battlegrounds) and resonates further as players advance into higher PVP brackets, with the pinnacle of arena combat, sporting players in virtually identical gear.
The third variable seems to be the variable Blizzard has the most control over however the complexity of this variable makes it nearly impossible to perfect. This variable in and of it self is a collection of variables. This has to do with the individual class match-ups in PVP as well as the two versus two, three versus three and five versus five arena metagame. The amount of testing in this aspect is mind boggling with a high degree of personal variance, circumstantial interference and luck. There is no real exact science to this but its apparent that Blizzard does test the metagame. The changes to mana drain and resilience reflect that Blizzard felt mana drain teams were overpowered if done correctly so a change was made to keep the field level.
The final variable has to do with individual skill. Skill in this sense is knowing what abilities to use when and the reaction times and recall memory of keybinds dependant on the scenario. This is the one variable Blizzard doesn't really attempt to balance. Instead of balancing, they simply reward players for success by awarding more arena points. If you lose most arena matches, you just gain arena points slower.
The forums are a bust with players crying for changes, adjustments or flat out nerfs. These days druids seem to be the most complained about class with warriors and warlocks second and third respectably. The issue is that this persistent QQing does nothing. Not only does it do nothing but it makes the average WoW player who posts on those boards look foolish. Worse yet, the balance that these players crave would be catastrophic to the game.
Picture WoW in a state of balance that these QQers want. Either they wish a certain class to be blatantly over powered or another class nerfed into irrelevance. Why not just make everyone on even ground, same spec/same class/same level/same gear? That would achieve the complete and total balance that these forum QQers whine about, wouldn't it? The issue is that taking all the variables out of an MMO render a game uninteresting. WoW in that state would be exceedingly vanilla and would render the game to an incredible bore. Games in the 21st century have options and are complex and with complexity comes small degrees of imbalance. In the long run, these small imbalances average out. In some instances, players will have an advantage and in others, the opponent will have an advantage.
In Moby Dick, Ahab wanted control over nature and his obsession cost him everything. For World of Warcraft forum QQers, craving balance at all costs will ruin the game because it will never meet their self-poisoned expectations. The game is as balanced as it can be. It's a game. Enjoy it. Stop crying for a white whale that's neither attainable nor desirable. Let it go.