Balance, Diversity and The Secret World

Balancing and Diversity

As I mentioned almost a year ago in my The Balance Myth post, I’m not sure gamers really want complete balance as much as they want to make sure that no powers / skills are so overwhelming that there is no defense against them. Likewise they’d like to make sure that whatever character they are playing always has a way to be useful in the situations they’re playing in.

Funcom has talked extensively about the freedom of progression in the way that skills are handled in their upcoming The Secret World MMORPG. From time to time, people have asked on the public forums about balance issues with this type of system. My standpoint is if the above guidelines are adhered to (no overwhelming / no counter powers and make sure I don’t totally gimp myself with my choices) that the shear diversity of options will handle the overall balance “issue”.

I’ve posted a few times in these threads about the math behind my stance, but I figured I’d add it here as well so people can truly see how diverse your choices will be.

First the Facts

Funcom has said that they plan to have over 500 skills in the skill tree. Players can freely choose to purchase whatever skills they would like to have. There is a progression of sorts within the branches of the skill tree. So if I’m purchasing skills in the Fire Magic branch, I have to buy the first skill before I can buy the second skill, and so on. These skills are unique; so I’m not talking about buying Fireball 1, then Fireball 2, then Fireball 3. A fireball is a fireball whether you’re just starting out or have maxed out your skill points. It will be possible (given enough time) to earn enough xp and skill points to purchase all the skills in the game.

Now, even though you can have up to 500+ skills, you can only have 7 active and 7 passive skills that are selected at once. They have compared this to building a deck in a trading card game. You’ll be able to save these templates and load them again; so if you have a tank build that you really like, you can save that, swap to DPS for the PvP battle you’re entering, and then reload the tank build for the raid this weekend.

Now the Math

Although Funcom has said there will be over 500 skills (and word from the current beta is that there are more than that right now), let’s go with the 500 number. It’s daunting enough.

We don’t know exactly how those will break down between active and passive skills, but let’s say that it is 50% active and 50% passive. That means there are 250 potential active skills and 250 passive skills.

While you have to purchase skills in order, selecting them for your build is not order dependent; so from a statistics / mathematical standpoint, we’re talking about combinations, not permutations.

( If your statistic math skills are a little rusty, this site does a good job of explaining the difference and how they are calculated: Combinations and Permutations )

Let’s take each active/passive combinations first. Selecting 7 of 250 potential skills means that there are  11,126,241,217,000 different ways to select your 7 active skills and  11,126,241,217,000 to select your 7 passive skills.

Since the selection of active and passive skills are independent, we multiple the two numbers to arrive at how many potential builds are possible. Ready for this?

There are  123,793,243,618,870,000,000,000,000 different ways that you could select 7 active and 7 passive skills from the pool of 500!


Ok, I know what you’re probably thinking. What if I select 7 shotgun skills, but all my 7 passive skills do is buff cold damage.  I’m really wasting that build. So that number is crazy.

I agree with you.

So let’s say that only 1% of all those builds are actually viable and effective. Then we’re left with only  1,237,932,436,188,700,000,000,000 potential builds.

Still too high? Yeah, probably so. So let’s say that only 1 millionth of 1 percent (0.000001%) of those builds were effective. What do we have now?

1,237,932,436,188,700,000 potential builds!

In words, that’s 1.2 million trillion builds you could choose from. That’s a number even bigger than the government understands!

So Are We Balanced?

With that staggering number of potential builds, I find it hard to believe that there will be one killer skill deck for which there is no counter. But I acknowledge that the belief stems from my premise at the start … that there are no skills created which do not also have effective counter skills. In other words, if I stock up on fire magic, my opponents should be able to stock up on fire resist skills.

But How Do I Choose?

My concern in this system is not balance. It is how do I build one of these skill decks without building one of those 99.999999% of the builds that aren’t considered viable? This is where I hope that Funcom is going to help us out. I’d like to see things work in 2 ways.

In-game when I’m selecting skills, it would be nice if the UI suggested complementary skills for me. Don’t force me into those choices. I may be choosing passive skills that provide defensive bonuses even though my active skills are all fire damage. But help me by pointing out that if all I have are shotgun and fire magic, choosing a passive skill that buffs cold damage output wouldn’t be a good idea.

Secondly, Funcom has said that we’ll be able to save these “decks” as templates and reload them later. So if I create a good tank build, but my party needs DPS for the upcoming PvP battle, then I can save my tank, load my DPS and party on. Then on the  weekend when we’re going to do the new 10-man raid, I can reload my tank build without having to remember how it works.

This is great, but I hope that they go one teensy step further. I’d love to see it that when I save that build I can either take the build file and upload it to a forum or website, or even simply if there was a code assigned to the build that other people could type in to load the same skills on their character, that’d work too. This would let the community work together on creating effective builds for the various situations they’ll find themselves in.

Balanced Diversity

I think the math stands for itself in saying that the amount of ways that you’ll be able to build your character in The Secret World should allay most concerns about the balance of power. As long as Funcom helps us control the beastly levels of diversity, players shouldn’t have any concerns about their character’s ability to participate in whatever aspects of The Secret World they choose.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this work in practice as it has the potential to change how game developers view our character’s progression.

What If?

If you’d like to play with my numbers (adjust the numbers of skills, the split between active and passive, the percent of viable builds), I’ve uploaded the Excel spreadsheet that I used to do the math for me. Feel free to have fun.

TSW Skill Builds (Excel 97/2000/XP)

TSW Skill Builds (Excel 2007/2010)



  1. Thanks for a nice read 🙂
    We will have something called templates, which is comparable to premade decks in ccgs. Players can click a template, and the UI will tell them what skills to purchase in order to full fill that role/template.

    Keep up the good work!


    • karl3d Said:

      Thanks Martin. I remember hearing about the templates, and I’m sure that’s going to help a lot when we’re all getting started and figuring this whole freedom thing out!

      So then only additional suggestion would be to allow players to create and share templates too.


  2. […] is actually an update to my previous post Balance, Diversity, and The Secret World. Please take a look there for the basic information about how character abilities are built into a […]

  3. […] Balance, Diversity, and The Secret World […]

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      Hi Javier. If you’re logged into WordPress, you should have a Follow button at the top of the page, in the upper left corner.

  6. […] Balance, Diversity, and The Secret World […]

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