Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Don’t Fix Everything

Game developers these days seem to have an urge to fix their game every time that players find a creative way to perform better than they should. Players are collecting a large amount of monsters and then kill them with area of effect spells? Clearly we need to put a cap on the amount of damage that can be dealt this way. Or maybe a percentage based effect on a low level item turns out to be quite strong in high level play? Surely something needs to be done about that, let’s make a patch.

I find that this attitude slowly drains all individuality and creativity out of the games we play because we are only allowed to tread on the paths that the developers intended for us to take. If someone finds a shortcut (or even just an alternate route) she gets hit over the head with a hotfix or even a ban in a few cases.

Clearly not every “clever use of game mechanics” should be left alive. Finding an error in the way a boss works that makes him completely trivial to beat is not a good thing, but finding an alternative way that might be a bit easier if properly executed surely isn’t bad? I consider balance to be a good thing, but balance doesn’t have to mean equality. Bringing up Starcraft as an example again, we can see quite a few tricks that have carried over from the original to the new Starcraft II that, had they been found in World of Warcraft for example, would have been exterminated immediately.

The vertical firewall in Ragnarok Online would surely be considered an exploit in WoW.

Terrans for example used their ability to lift some of their buildings into the air to build walls at the entrances to their bases. Attacking aliens would have to fight through these walls before they could even reach the marines armed with ranged weapons behind that wall. Not only wasn’t this neat little trick not removed from the original game but it was actually made into a core gameplay mechanic in the sequel. Instead of removing this unfair advantage that Terrans had the game was instead balanced around their ability to build a wall and opposing factions were given ways to deal with such a wall.

Another example from Starcraft would be the “extractor trick”. This trick is essentially an abuse of game mechanics that allows Zerg players to make slightly more units than their supply would allow them to. Once again Blizzard could simply have removed this possibility from the game but instead they decided to keep it in and balance around it. Other games, including Blizzard’s own World of Warcraft would have immediately fixed such “exploits” in an attempt to make the game more balanced, yet the original Starcraft is considered to be one of the most balanced real-time strategy games of all time.

Not every game does this as well of course. When I played Ragnarok Online there were many cool tricks around that allowed players to defeat monsters that were of much higher level than the players. These were fun to do and even more fun to figure out, but it got so far out of hand that some classes were just severely advantaged over others. Mages could abuse the very simple movement AI of enemies to endlessly trap virtually any amount of high level monsters in firewalls that would eventually kill them while rogues had to fight monsters of much lower levels in order to be able to survive. Here a bit of balancing would have been nice to have, but it shouldn’t come in the form of fixing the trick that mages could do but instead in the form of giving other classes a way to compete.

I think what many game designers would do well realizing is that not ever little thing needs to be fair, just the overall picture. Also they need to understand that figuring out new, strong strategies is fun – at least to players like me. If you fix everything that has the potential to be stronger than the standard way of playing, you take away our ability to innovate.

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