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Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

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!

Ruyn writes:

I'm surprised you decided to do this topic when there is a shit storm going on about Blizzard's new WoW RMT model.

Fri Nov 06 2009 3:29PM Report
TheMaelstrom writes:

Uhhh... Jon already did an article about the Blizzard RMT stuff.

Fri Nov 06 2009 4:39PM Report
Caleveira writes:

It is an interesting thread and certainly deserves tthe spotlight. It deals at its core with conflicting views on design, far more substantial than the usual sandbox vs themepark flame wars.

Fri Nov 06 2009 4:49PM Report
brad813 writes:

Let's look at this logically here.  You first need to cover the basics for gameplay styles.  Here you have your basic fighter, ranged, tank, magic user, dps, and healer classes.  You could easily double that, but beyond 15 classes you end up with too many to do any of them well, let alone all.  My preference is that a developer sticks to the main 6 classes and simply allow for hybrid classes as you develop your character like the old AD&D MS-DOS games allowed.  If they were to permit you to build your character in this way you end up with a possible 120 class combinations.  Factor in a system like in Aion where you get to select the class skills you wish to learn and the possibilities for customization would be infinite.  This does not include the various looks, races, and the items you can equip on your character.

Fri Nov 06 2009 5:32PM Report
parrotpholk writes:

 EQ2 is to many. WOW maybe not enough. I would say there is a nice medium between the 2 but it also depends on the game and setting.

Fri Nov 06 2009 5:36PM Report
erictlewis writes:

and lotro has 2 many as well and not enough dev power to make them all work right. so what you get is when they balance something boom nerf to one or more classes.


Fri Nov 06 2009 5:40PM Report
MikeB writes:

Yeah, I didn't cover the Blizzard story because Jon already did. Have a good weekend everyone!

Fri Nov 06 2009 5:48PM Report
ZeroRaptor writes:

While reading this article, the first (and only) game that comes to mind is Ragnarok Online. The game has 3 classes of jobs, but the 1st class only encompasses the basics (Swordsman, Magician, Acolyte, Thief, Archer) and hence has the fewest number of jobs to choose from. However, each character branches into two 2nd class characters, allowing players to progress into stronger and more specialized versions of the characters they started out with. It's a very unique take on character progression that I've yet to see in any other MMORPG.

Fri Nov 06 2009 9:59PM Report
ihaveurnose writes:

I don't think there really is a "sweet spot" for how many classes you can have. As everybody knows, what one person likes another person dislikes. But I'm pretty neutral on this topic, I enjoyed runescape's classless system, and all the skills you could level up (without needing to make alts to max all of them). But I also enjoyed shadowbane's HUGE selection of classes. I don't remember how many classes and races they had, but past that you could select up to 4 disciplines which would give you more skills in addition to the one's you already had. So to me, # of classes/graphics/etc. don't matter, I care more about the actual gameplay than anything else.

Fri Nov 06 2009 11:41PM Report
Yamota writes:

The correct answer is 0, zero. Skillbased with (almost) complete freedom to pick as you want is the way to go.

Asherons Call and Champions Online are the best systems I have seen in any MMORPG.

Sat Nov 07 2009 6:38AM Report
OnyxBMW writes:

Ahh, a never-ending oxymoron.  All the systems, from classless to 20+ classes, have massive flaws.  And yet, despite this, every single version of this system will inevitably have the same problem:  They are all highly susceptible to cookie cutter classes, whether it be a classless or near-classless game such as in GW or SWG or Asheron's Call, where specific abilities were outright necessary for all characters, and everyone ended up playing very similarly because of too much freedom; or in WAR where you ended up having too many poorly balanced classes, and everyone gravitated to the FotM classes in droves because they were just too good by comparison to pass up.

There is no such thing as too many classes.  One could argue that so-called classless games end up having the most classes, since they are completely customizable.  However, the main issue here is that balance is a huge issue, and you can see in all MMO's that balance affects how one perceives a classes power.  If something is too good, it ends up being FotM, which happens in every MMO I have ever played.

Sat Nov 07 2009 9:21AM Report
aurick writes:

I'm currently playing through Dragon Age, which works quite well with just three classes:  Warrior, Rogue and Mage.  

Each of these classes then has a diverse variety of skill chains that they can take, which for the sake of convenience are grouped into categories.  For example, the rogue has general rogue-type skills, dual wielding, and archery.  The mage includes nukes, crowd control, healing, buffs, and other stuff.  Warrior includes dual wielding, two-handed, sword and board, etc.

This approach allows you to choose your basic concept within the holy trinity at the start, and then tune your character as you see fit thanks to your own particular play style.  It results in extremely diverse builds.

Bioware went a little farther, though, by also adding specializations.  Each of these is a chain of four skills that unlock as you play.  Each archetype has four that they can choose from, but they can only take two.  So the rogue can choose to add in Ranger (letting him summon animals), Assassin (specializing in poisons and deadly sneak attacks), and a couple others.  

Then there is also a broad skill pool that all classes have access to.  Trap making comes into play here, which means that a mage could actually learn to make traps that he can set before a fight for a further level of crowd control.  Or a warrior can learn to make potions -- or how to make poisons that he can apply to his weapons.

What all of this means is that the game does great with ONLY the "holy trinity" of classes.  Yet despite this very basic starting point the characters all become highly differentiated as the game progressive.  It works really well and is a lot of fun.

Sat Nov 07 2009 10:52AM Report
Palebane writes:

Blizzard keeps their classes unbalanced on purpose. It keeps players paying subs in hopes that their class is the next Flavor of the Month. They could balance the classes equally, they simply choose not to. If the classes were balanced, alot of devs would be let go.

Sat Nov 07 2009 12:50PM Report
Ayin writes:

This is how I see it:

     There are many factors to consider for each individual game, however, I prefer many to choose from.  The unique abilities of each class give diversity to a game world.  It's even better when each class fits into the lore of the world.

      An important element for success in games with many classes is:  Players need to know what each class is capable of, and how they fit into party dynamics.  Classes need to be balanced beyond simply how much damage or healing they can dish out, or how easy it is to kill them.

      Ideally, all jobs should be what we call hybrids.  No single class should be called "the tank" or "the healer" or any specific role.  No type of class should be "needed" for a group that performs well.  Tankless parties you say?  No healers?  Not exactly.  There should be several classes that can fill each role, differently.  You could have a heavily armored tank, an evasion tank, a pet tank, etc.  You could have a medic that heals with items, one that calls on pets that can heal, one that transfers the damage to themselves. . .  depends on the lore and what stats can be impacted during combat.

     That which separates classes from one another should be how they interact with the battle system.  An enjoyable battle system for me relates directly to having a selection of meaningful strategic choices usable at a frequency of no longer than 1 minute intervals (ideally, no longer than 30 seconds).  All classes should be able to do many things during combat, aside from the basics of dealing damage, taking damage, and healing.

      Since no jobs would be entirely focused on one thing, these "Hybrids" would need their unique aspects highlighted clearly.  There needs to be detailed combat feedback that shows that other classes were impacted by the hybrid's abilities/buffs/debuffs specifically (so credit can be given where credit is due.)  Buffs and Debuffs are notoriously hard to figure into a class's contribution to the success of a group, whereas direct damage or healing give big impressive numbers that are easy to see.

      So, I'd say as long as each class clearly fills a role in a specific combat system, each one having its own unique abilities and traits, the more the merrier.


Sat Nov 07 2009 4:45PM Report
daarco writes:

What exactly does people mean when they say classes muct be balanced? Seriously?

Should all of them craft the same way, fight, heal, live, rest...or what?


I liked the article, ut i would never play a MMO with class/level system! Nothing makes sense.

Sat Nov 07 2009 7:17PM Report
Andarreus writes:

I think it all depends on the type of MMO.   If an MMO is more oriented toward PVP They are gonna need fewer classes to allow room for class balance.  One of the first things I noticed when I played WAR was how unbalanced classes were and It was a huge turn off for a game that's trying to appeal to PVPer's.

If a game is trying to appeal toward PVEer's then their's room for a wider range of classes or classes that can serve mutiple purposes.  Since players will most likely be playing together or need to have many utliles to be able to solo.

There's also Sand box games which use Skill based systems which are great to a certain extent.  But are more complex since developers have to take into account all types of players and realize that players will naturally gravitate toward the most powerful class or most profitable one.  Like for example Darkfall which is a very open game, based on skills but everyone has the same abilities. 

So basically it depends on the game and what the developer's are shooting for;  there is no right or wrong number of classes.  What's important is that the classes feel balanced and the players feel that their playing style is met.

Sat Nov 07 2009 10:43PM Report
mmomeister writes:

I agree with arustyrobot, it all depends on the type of game you are playing, and what play style is appropriate for that game. But if devs can figure out how to get a PvP game with 30 classes balanced, or a theme park with a skill system balanced, then does it really matter? All people really want is uniqueness, fun, strategy, and balance, but that, quite frankly, is hard for any human being to accomplish in a game where so many people play that someone is always bound to figure out something to throw the system off.

I think if any of these MMOs were a single player game, noone would ever complain about balance, because what do people do in a single player game? They pick the class that does the most damage, and supplement them with others, and whale away having fun. Or they just pick the class that they like the most, because the game is still beatable no matter which class you play.

The problem in MMOs stems from the fact that there are so many people just nitpicking abilities and pulling the game apart bit by bit, until someone comes up with a class or specialization that trumps all others, that the devs never really thought about, and that becomes overpowered. Or, the devs put in an ability that they thought would be fun, but that ability, plus another on the class is overpowered, etc., etc. So the power problem in MMOs really stems from the fact that there are so many players, not from the devs, unless they really screw something up.

Sun Nov 08 2009 11:05AM Report
truearquen writes:

 Nice topic to discuss. In my opinion, the Star Wars Galaxies, before combat update, qhen the game began, was the best. You have a pletora of classes and your char could almost handcrafted for you. Doubt it any other game will be so successfull as SWG in it's beggining.  Still can't understand why Sony Online Entertainement decided to destroy it's own game.

Sun Nov 08 2009 2:13PM Report
truearquen writes:

  Nice topic to discuss. In my opinion, the Star Wars Galaxies, before combat update, when the game began, was the best. You had a plethora of classes and your char could almost handcrafted for you. Doubt it any other game will be so successful as SWG in it's beginning. Still can't understand why Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) decided to destroy its own game. By far the decisions they took about their own game were the dumbest in history of MMORPG’s

Sun Nov 08 2009 2:17PM Report
Blazz writes:

I don't think people are properly thinking about balance here - for example, are you in a 1 on 1 encounter, or a 20 on 20 encounter? In WAR Scenarios, things could go either way because, in group fights, the game was reasonably balanced. As an Ironbreaker, I could run in, take relatively small amounts of damage, do some crazy AoE knockback to any enemies nearby, take whatever "object" there was in the scenario, and run out. I would take a fair beating, but as long as someone's got heals on me I was set.

In that instance, being a big ol' meat shield was fine, even when beset with many ranged and melee guys, simply due to my timing of an AoE knockback.

As a Squig Herder I had a knockback morale ability that was ranged! A ranged knockback! It was crazy, and great if I could get the morale up to use it.

I don't know what people were talking about balance for - I was too busy having fun in a video game, but I guess that's just me.


Anyway, class numbers - 9 or less initially, well-defined classes would be good.

Sun Nov 08 2009 5:45PM Report
battleaxe writes:

The problem with these games is that DPS, HPS, or TPS become the only factors in the game.  That creates the FOTM because there isn't anything else to the games.

Tue Nov 10 2009 12:46PM Report
Talin writes:

I've always felt that classes should be the "flavor" of your character, not the "role". I'd love to see a game down into the four typical archtypes - Warrior, Rogue, Priest, Mage, and allow each archtype to spec freely into any of the four roles: melee dps, ranged dps, tank, healer.

Imagine something akin to the following list:

1. Tank - Defender

2. Melee Dps - Gladiator

3. Ranged DPS - Canoneer

4. Healer - Cleric



1. Melee DPS - Assassin

2. Ranged DPS - Ranger

3. Tank - Duelist

4. Healer - Druid



1. Melee DPS - Avenger

2. Ranged DPS - Smiter

3. Tank - Paladin

4. Healer - Bishop



1. Melee DPS - Spellblade

2. Ranged DPS - Elementalist

3. Tank - Conjuror

4. Healer - Necromancer


Each class would utilize a slightly different mechanic to provide the same role. A Defender would rely on heavy armor and a shield to be the tank, while a Conjuror would summon pets to perform the tanking - yet comparably equipped the game would be balanced around them being "equal" in terms of being able to satisfy the role.

The idea here is to allow each player to select their favorite archtype of character, without worrying about which role they will be forced into for the life of that character. I believe in free re-speccing of characters between the roles, although stat-based equipment (or equipment runes) would be used to force characters to collect optimal equipment/stats for each role.

Tue Nov 24 2009 5:29AM Report
battleaxe writes:

I've seen the best and worst of this system.  If you're a dps, you have a 5-10 minute wait to get a dungeon.  If you're a tank or healer, you generally get right in.

I've run into more evil players with this system than I've seen in total over the years playing WoW.  Examples: people rolling need on all drops, kicking players because their dps is relatively low, telling people they expect a certain piece of gear and they'll drop group if they don't get it, dropping group on a single wipe, going afk and not coming back, dropping group when criticized, etc.  The system apparently brings out the worst people or the worst in people.

Mon Dec 14 2009 11:00AM Report writes:
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