A question about balancing and the "meta" in FGO

So to me it’s always seemed like DW doesn’t forcibly inject something into their game as some major act of balancing, barring very obvious exceptions like Merlin and Skadi where they must’ve known beforehand that they would change the way the game was going to be played from there on out. Other than that you have additions like command codes that try to expand on the gameplay depth and maybe attempt to inject a bit of fresh air into a game that’s for all intents and purposes “solved” for the most part and also servants that ensure every class has at least one dedicated support, Arts ST/AOE, Quick ST/AOE or buster ST/AOE for the sake of completion so to say (Voyager being a very good example).
But just a moment ago I realised that both Arjuna Alter and Chen Gong (him first and foremost, being a specialised berserker support than can raise their damage through the roof for one turn, befitting the berserker playstyle) were added at a time where the more seasoned players were growing out of/had already grown out of using berserkers in favor of servants with real class advantages on both ends which gave berserkers a reputation as a very beginner friendly class that doesn’t scale very well as your roster starts getting more diverse.
It just seems too perfect for this to have been a coincidence which got me to wonder if I missed other instances where DW may or may not have nudged the game in a certain direction without me noticing and I wonder what people’s thoughts on this discovery would be.
Not trying to imply that arjuna alter isn’t hopelessly overtuned or anything even though I’m happy to have a viable (read: actually imbalanced) berserker again and even have it be someone I like a lot.

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personally, I disagree that DW thinks things through that much. They’re only human.

Looking at skadi especially, it’s “strange” how DW has simply not released hardly A N Y good quick-NP farmers since her release. That is, the best quick farmers were already available before her release. Skadi fixes some of the weaknesses of quick, but like merlin, I doubt that DW thought through just HOW MUCH of an impact those sorts of servants would have.

I’m not trying to discredit DW. In pretty much all games, no developer can accurately predict all possible ways certain new options would get used, and FGO is no different.

Does DW control the “meta?” Sure. But what even is the meta in this game? Farming? 3T CQs? Story clearing? It all depends on the player and their roster. I think there’s just too many variables at the end of the day for DW to consider exactly what people will glomp on to. All they can do is just essentially try their best to maintain the status quo, releasing servants that are good but competitive with their peers.

OP brings up arjuna alter as a perfect example, but would i say he breaks any meta? Not really. He’s super strong, sure, but he doesn’t just do absolutely all content in the game no problem or anything.

It’s weird. It’s an interesting concept to bring up, whether DW intentionally tries to steer the “meta,” but then you’d have to figure out what the meta actually is. I’m curious to others’ responses on this.

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Hey that’s basically exactly what I wanted this conversation to evolve into.
Skadi is an interesting case because while it’s obvious that they saw quick lagging behind the other two card types in terms of performance and added her to help alleviate that issue, they really have been a lot more coy about releasing AOE quick servants that have good refunding potential, which would indicate that it wasn’t their intention to have 3T Skadi farming become a playstyle that basically circumvents class advantage. Voyager and Sei come to mind but Sei is completely incapable of refunding 50% whereas voyager seems to have a pretty hard time doing it iirc.
To me that gives credence to DW being aware of the game’s balance issues (similar to how they’ve been bringing lackluster SSRs up to snuff over the years, just look at the AoE sabers, plenty of examples for good buffs among them), but also that they are not exempt from making mistakes or miscalculations(if DSS 3T farming was really an oversight that is).
They do after all have data that none of us could ever hope to catch a glance of.
The idea of balancing FGO is a weird one in general, stall is not that hard to set up and can theoretically complete whatever content the game throws at you with certainty.
The game also has to be balanced around F2P players so the difficulty progression between main story arcs doesn’t get too stunted for people who don’t submit to our overlords over at DW and pay their taxes which leads to a lot of 5 star servants being better options to something that could probably already get the job done if you put some thought into it.
I still retain my stance that quite a few of the servants DW adds (nightingale santa, reines, lanling to name a few that aren’t game-changing per se) serve a purpose greater than simply adding variety and that DW knows what they’re doing. Sure, zerks beginning to lag behind the other classes by no means breaks the game but I can see why such a drop in usage among a certain group of players would make a developer unhappy.
Edit: It seems I was highly mistaken when it comes to voyager’s NP refund capabilities, he seems to actually excel at looping.

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I mean just look at kanaus face when he was in stream in na anniversary and when he announced skadi…that was the look of man who thinks we seriously ■■■■■■ up with that one and she should have not being released that powerful.

I mean we thought DW would never release another ssr aoe buster berserker after raikou when they saw how quickly she clears everything but here we are with Arjuna.

So imo I think they know how will stuff change they just don’t know that it will change that much.

Before skadi All caster classes were filled with Merlin and wavers and few tamamos here and there now Tamamos are practically extinct and merlins are extremely hard to find right now we will see with waver down the line i can still find him all the time.

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Well, except for the recent Grands apparently. Or at least Super Orion, I haven’t looked into Maximum ROMA enough to see if he’s similarly broken.

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Wow thank you for bringing that to my attention, that clip is damn funny.

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I strongly doubt DW plans the meta ahead of time. They don’t really have any incentive to do that, as the game is single-player and based on the assumption that not all servants will be accessible to every player. They obviously want their servants to be fun to play, but I don’t think “balance” is really their primary concern. As long as players like a servant, and are willing to roll for it, it doesn’t really matter what kind of l33t strats it does or doesn’t enable. The main concern would be avoiding powercreep while also maintaining relevancy of past servants, but that’s a pretty wide margin of error.

Before Skadi, quick was pretty bad. I am sure they saw that in their metrics–that quick-based servants weren’t as popular or financially successful. So they tried to make a support servant to make quick more viable, and their first attempt (Osakabehime) failed. Everybody talks about how great Merlin’s Hero Creation is, and how amazing Waver’s 50% charge donation is, so they glued them together into a new servant, giving us what we asked for. I don’t think they anticipated DSS, since it’s such a restrictive system. Players didn’t figure that out at first, and Skadi was released to pretty “meh” reviews–they put her around Tamamo’s level.

Basically, since this isn’t a PvP game, they don’t really have to care how we use our servants, as long as we remain interested in acquiring new ones. Having Skadi, Superscope, and NP5 Dantes is good enough for 95% of all content in the game, but it doesn’t seem to dissuade anyone from rolling on new SSRs. You can beat everything with bronze units, if you want to, but that’s not what most people find fun. The fun part is getting new, cool servants to play with.

TL;DR: I don’t think DW cares about the FGO ‘meta’, as long as their customers keep paying for new servants. They care about balance just enough to avoid powercreep, which would erode consumer trust in their product.

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Yeah nothing much to add here, bringing up okki as their way to test the waters for quick supports is a good point though.
I think having 4 big money supports might have been their plan all along(although that doesn’t explain why skadi came so late) but nowadays there really isn’t any demand for big balancing changes as the game has been working well enough at all levels of play for a while and we all know if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I’m mostly on the lookout for scenarios like chen gong where it seems likely that they may have also wanted to throw the berserker class a bone if they were working on another servant anyways and that’s one way to make them unique.
I’m sure the creation of interesting units is always their top priority and that’s all fine and dandy.
Delving into what could possibly go into the process of making a new servant is just kinda fun.

On the flip side, both Merlin and Skadi were released with the greatest of fanfare. Notability being one of the handful of Servants that are introduced into the story before their official limited release. Given that star treatment, I think DW did have every intention for them to shake up the team compositions. Even if fringe systems like DSS did not arise, just being a quick Merlin would have made Skadi a premiere Support and changed the meta.

I think people underestimate the difficulty of balancing a popular gacha game like FGO. Every gacha struggles with balancing against powercreep while make new banners exciting to pull. FGO is among the few that pulled that off that intricate balance masterfully. It’s one of FGO’s few qualities that even its worst detractors begrudgingly admit.

Gacha games are balanced on two ends, the inherent power scaling between units, and the challenges the devs throw them against. To entice players to pull, Devs are incentivized to release progressively stronger units and increasingly more difficult challenges. How many of us have quit on a gacha that fell into the death spiral of shipping increasingly broken units that would become overtaken in mere weeks?

FGO has done a great job in not only keeping the power scaling mostly in check, but also rotate the end game challenges in a way that forces players from abusing the popular meta (boss gauges to counter Merlin buster, wave 2 mid bosses for DSS). Each boss released have been both a challenge for those with the new hotness, while still within reach even if you’re a f2p Master or Luck E- Rank. (the only thing really out of reach is mini turn boss videos, which really are player-imposed restriction) That’s really hard to do for a game designer!

DW’s most important innovation though, is to make upgrading old Servants a regular part of the game update rotation. Powercreep will inevitablely set in for every gacha, but DW cared enough to regularly improve lesser-used Servants to keep them relevant. Consider how Scheherazade suddenly went from zero to hero because of her recent NP battery skill up.

In summary, DW has practiced good game design stewardship with FGO, which they don’t get enough credit for.

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On a side note, Orion isn’t close to broken. His crit damage is huge, but there are speed bumps such as break bars and dependence on favorable card RNG that keep him in check.

We also have to remember that DPS Servants without damaging NPs have an inherent trade off. Critting for millions of damage may be satisfying, but getting a bad hand is not satisfying, and dealing millions of damage when a couple hundred k would have cleared the break bar is lol.

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Maybe if other gacha games added pretty animations, cute voicelines, and a good intro story, they wouldn’t need to worry so much about people not wanting to pull for weak units.

So far the only other game with this pattern I see is Arknights. FEH had potentials in that every character in there or will be in there already has their original game to build their reputation on. It’s a shame the skill balancing goes absolute batshit with them locking good ones behind premium seasonals.

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That falls in line nicely with my own take-away, I can’t speak much for how other gachas handle balancing as FGO has been (and will likely remain) my only foray into the world of gacha games but there’s nothing that stops me from believing you that this is one of the aspects that makes FGO stand out amongst the crowd.

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Since theres no pvp it feels like the meta is either fastest or most consistent teams. I agree with others on how dw probably assumes how a servant could affect the meta but probably didnt expected things like 3turn quick skadi farming. Also servant strengthening quests allows them to add more stuff to old servant, they didnt need to give kiyohime or serenity dot effects but they did and released new servants with dot up effects to give more options to players

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