Volume vs Margin

I have been forever fascinated with numbers, all shapes and sizes.  How they apply to so many situations. I never wanted to be a mathematician, but that was for practical reasons – no one really gets to see how the back end stuff works.  Numbers in spreadsheets though – that’s second nature.

When I was younger, I worked in a grocery store.  The computer system in the 90s was rudimentary – DOS based and made for ordering.  I thought it could be improved and allow for sales projections.  I made a deal with the owner to work full time on an new inventory system, just for the deli side of the business.  Going from paper inventory (every month) to digital was a big change, but it did open my eyes to some parts of the business.  Specifically that a deli was running 30-50% margins on the products because they had a shelf life.  We bought something for $1 and sold for $1.50.  Things with very long lives had ~10% markups.  Things with high volumes had even smaller markups, around 5%.  Each category made a similar amount of gross profit at the end, but through different means.

Games and Damage

Games are similar.  I played some D&D and the numbers for damage were always intriguing.  At level 1, it made sense to take a large weapon for the single swing and damage.  At level 4, well dual blade attacks were possible and mages had a large amount of spells at hand – meaning the single large swing wasn’t as useful.  Armor complicated things, but mages never really worried about that…

Enter computer games and the speed of dice rolling.  In the majority of cases, armor was turned from an absolute number, to a flat %.  This meant that rather than lose say 10 damage per swing, which impacted daggers much more than a greatsword, every attack was now losing 30% damage.  There are many such exampled, but let’s use both EQ and WoW to make the point.

Base weapon damage was “harmonized” to a great degree.  The damage per second was relatively equal per weapon type (ignoring spells for simplicity).  The difference makers were skills and passive benefits.  e.g. using a staff provided a defensive boost, while using fists provided more chance to provoke a status effect.  The choice was in the effect, not so much the damage.  This was a class-first approach.

Development eventually focused on items, and the age of weapon procs came to be.  They were originally % based on the number of attacks, but it was obvious that multiple fast attacks were preferable.  Harmonized again, and the procs then became capped per minute (PPM), and eventually fell out of favor in development practices as they were nigh impossible to keep relevant/balanced across all classes.

Back to magic users for a second… in nearly all cases it’s preferable to take a lower damage skill that can be used quickly (or in movement) versus one that takes a while to trigger.

This is a common thread in other game types as well.  FPS games certainly have sniper rifles / rocket launchers but they require time to set up and great skill to use effectively.  These large attacks need support from other groups to line up.  Card games are similar, it’s a long set up to get a payoff, compared to continually chipping at health.  In most cases, it’s better statistically to go for volume instead of one large attack.

Monster Hunter

The concept of volume and margins applies here, at different points in the game.  It wildly impresses me that all weapons are fairly well balanced, depending on the role that is played.  Dual Blades are all about volume, and they are amazing at applying status effects.  They recover quickly from missed strikes, and therefore favor a very offensive playstyle, and generally reward a critical based attack (affinity).

Charged Blade (and the Heavy Bowgun) are very slow but can deal tremendous damage – if you hit.  They dramatically favor strategic attacks and defensive play.  They have poor crit chance, and instead focus on raw attacks – high margins.

I’ll give two examples.  The Juyratodus is a rather slow water monster.  Easy to hit with the Charged Blade, and will drop over really quickly as there’s room for error.  Dual Blades still deal damage, but since it’s like hitting a barn, they don’t really shine.  The Odogaron is an extremely quick beast that jumps all over the place.  You need to memorize the patterns in order to get a slow/telegraphed strike to hit, or find a way to make him stop moving.  Barring that, Dual Blades can zip all over the place, avoid getting hit, and find flesh to strike the majority of the time.

There are plenty of videos showing what a fully mastered Charge Blade can do.  They all have the Rocksteady Mantle, meaning that you don’t get knocked back.  They all focus on stunning the target to reduce movement.  Reducing the number of variables so that the only thing that matters is damage margins.  Heavy Bowguns are the same… stop the target from moving.

In all honesty, I find it quite fascinating that a game is able to provide that level of flexibility and still maintain balance throughout.  In the majority of games that we see today, there are cookie cutter builds that work in 95% of the situations.  Sure, there are outliers (e.g. Warlock tanks) but when’s the last time we honestly saw true flexibility?  In a world of min-maxing…it is a breath of fresh air to try something and know that it’s more than likely viable.

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