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Community Spotlight: How Many Classes Are Enough?

Posted by MikeB Friday November 6 2009 at 2:04PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on a topic started by user Eronakis which poses the question: how many classes are appropriate for an MMORPG? The thread is entitled “Acceptable amount of classes in an mmorpg” and features a poll with ranges from 9 or lower, to 20+ classes. The topic is fairly straightforward, but responses in the thread indicate that most users definitely do have some pretty specific preferences in this regard.

User Lansid offers his take on more is better:

“I'm in favor for as much as possble... then you won't have as many cookie cutter builds. I think Guild Wars in a way has done some nice things regarding class/skill use making many viable "builds"... and with all the constant nerfing of powers people are always coming up with the next Flavor of the Month build. The more I look at CO it looks like it has a bunch of potential regarding this subject, but I can't say because I have not played it yet.

I guess my main point is, the more variables you throw in, the more individuality you get. Uniqueness is good, imho, regarding MMO's. I don't wanna be the same Healer or DD toon, just with #2 hair, #6 face.”

On the other end of the spectrum we have the user Axehilt who makes a compelling argument against having many classes:

“I tend to like games with fewer classes. It gives the developer more time to ensure each of the classes is balanced and (more importantly) fun.
However I definitely prefer the advancement system to open up more opportunities for different playstyles (at this point WOW's 10 classes are worth 2-3 distinct classes each; but that's not really realistic for an on-release game.)

The playstyle count is more important than class count, and how many alts you need to roll to reach all of those playstyles. As much as I disliked FFXI's interface (so much that I only gave it 30 mins of play) I eventually realized that being able to access all your playstyles with a single character is a pretty cool approach to things (although I suppose you basically are still "rolling an alt" if you have to go back to fight newbie things to level the new job.)”

Overall, however, opinions are pretty mixed. I’m generally in agreement with Axehilt’s sentiment that less is more, but this is purely coming from someone who has spent a lot of time designing classes in MUD’s and realizes how hard it can be to juggle that balancing act while making the classes interesting at the same time, and I feel this translates for MMOGs, as well. Having 100 classes that are really only unique in name and frankly impossible to balance isn’t really good idea. Even if you take World of Warcraft as an example, which many in the thread cite as an MMOG featuring few classes, its been almost five years yet even still most would argue that the classes are unbalanced. It’s pretty much expected at this point that various classes go from underpowered to overpowered all the time. If it can’t be done by an A-list developer like Blizzard with only a handful of classes it seems pretty unlikely that a game with 100 classes would achieve both balance and variety.

And of course, we can’t have this kind of discussion without the mention of classless MMOGs as an option, as user Madeux chimes in to make a simple point:
“I'm gonna have to go with... 0
Zero is the only acceptable number of classes in an mmorpg.

As many of you may know by now from past spotlights, I got my feet wet in a classless game: Star Wars Galaxies. And these sorts of games aren’t without their issues either, as user heremypet (has since deleted their account) says, “…The complete opposite for classless games, where someone with melee and healing skills isn't really a paladin. And everyone gravitates towards tank-mage or the FOTM.”

Using Star Wars Galaxies as an example, different skill sets or specs became must have’s anyways and so you still saw many cookie cutter builds. At one point everyone was either x/Combat Medic or x/Master Doctor for example. Now, I don’t feel this necessarily means that the concept is invalid, but I don’t think it has been perfected quite yet. Funcom’s next MMOG, The Secret World, will be entirely level-less and class-less, so I suppose we should all keep on eye on that one and see how it pans out!

The jury is still out on the sweet spot, or whether to have classes at all in Eronakis’ thread. As of this writing the poll is at 26.9% for 9 or fewer classes on the lowest end and 26.9% for 20+ classes on the high end. Quite interesting results!

So what do you think? What is the sweet spot for the number of classes? Should we really focus on the number at all? Or do you not care for classes outright and prefer a skill-based system like Ultima Online? Let us know in the comments!

Also, congratulations are in order for user Eronakis, as he’s received the title “Spotlight Poster” for being featured in this week’s Community Spotlight!