July 05, 2010

Game Changer

Back in 2004 and 2005, I spent several months playing Star Wars: Galaxies, and I had a blast doing so, because I played by the rules and made my way up through the ranks, including grinding out all the mind-numbing "Camping" requirements to become a bounty hunter.

Players of the game gradually sorted out little exploits and hacks within the game to carve out powerful little niches for themselves, so you eventually had spaceports populated with doctors who, for a price, would offer "buffs" which would improve other players' vital stats for a couple hours, basically making people virtually un-killable by in-game enemies.

The game developers didn't like that, so they kept tweaking the rules, yanking the rugs out from under the players who had invested considerable time building their characters.

Doctor characters became useless, while other characters found themselves with all sorts of new, unearned, skills and powers. This, obviously, made a lot of people mad, while also making some other people very happy, so a transition period ensued during which people settled into the new roles, discovering new exploits and hacks. Weapon makers, for example, created some seriously powerful guns that could mow down in-game enemies with ease.

The game developers didn't like that, so once again they kept tweaking the rules, yanking the rugs out from under the players who had invested considerable time building their characters.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Whenever characters started getting a little too comfortable playing the game, the developers kept intervening to get the game's economic model working the way they envisioned by knocking down the incentives for characters to truly excel.

All of this culminated in 2005 with the much-reviled "Combat Upgrade," which marked the point at which I began to lose interest in the game. Rather than a tweaking of the rules, the combat upgrade completely overturned the applecart. For a good 20 minutes after I logged in and experienced the effects of the combat upgrade, I couldn't even get my character to move around, because my once-awesome armor was suddenly too heavy for me to maneuver within. This was followed later in the year with a New Game Enhancements surprise that was inflicted on players with only 24-hour notice.

So why do I bring all this up? Well, I stopped playing SWG in 2005, because the constant changes just drove me nuts, and it was ridiculous how poorly-thought-out some of the major changes were. I loved the game I originally started playing, but those damned developers just couldn't resist messing it up in an effort to attain a fair and balanced system. In the end, they just totally blew up what was originally a really awesome game.

And I can't help but see a lot of parallels when I look at how governments also butt in and try to fix things they deem broken. Just when people get comfortable playing the game under familiar rules, everything gets messed up when government steps in to try to make things more "fair," whatever the hell that means.

Eventually, the people simply aren't going to like the product being sold, and they'll find ways to leave the game.

Posted by Ryan at July 5, 2010 09:26 PM | TrackBack

It's the same all over.

That's the way they did it in City of Heroes, and I have heard similar things about World of Warcraft. They were/are fun games, but devs on "constant game balancing" crack tend to suck the life out of them.

Posted by: Troy at July 13, 2010 03:05 PM
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