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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cheapness, Part 2

"That move is cheap!"

I said it before, you've said it before, we've all been there...bested by some tactic or move we couldn't get around. To some players, there is no such thing; so long as the player can do it, then it's fair. I take a different stance. There are "cheap" things, but the claim is often a knee-jerk reaction to not understanding what someone just did. Cheap tactics usually fall within the rules of the game, but are often of the type that most players do not want to engage in for one reason or another. Some players attest that nothing is cheap, that so long as it is within the rules that everything is allowed. In a literal sense, this might be true, but that doesn't mean that the accused act should be within the rules.

Lets apply this to video games, being as its my main focus here. Video games are a special kind of beast; where developers can, at will, change the rules.

If there is no such thing as cheap in video games, then what is the purpose of a balance patch? If you think about it, all a balance patch really is, is a list of admissions by the developers of the things that are "cheap". They are abilities, units, moves, depending on the game, that are cheap or otherwise over-performing. Sometimes, things are broken, sometimes moves are being abused. We don't even need to be able to perfectly define something to consider it cheap; we have referees in sports who make determinations based on evidence, we can have them in e-sports.

The gist, the moral, if you will, is that things CAN be cheap.

How do we tell? Are a disproportionate number of players using this item/move/ability/class/character? Is it basically mandatory at the higher end of player? Is there adequate counter-play with similar risk-reward profiles? These questions are not exhaustive, but should give you the idea that the main question is whether the risk/reward of whatever is in question is out of sync with the rest of the game.

Viewers of all competition love risk/reward; we love seeing poker players go all in on a bluff, of watching a football team throw a Hail Mary on a 4th and long, a designer trying a new and different image...the situation can be found anywhere. As players, this should be our same emphasis, we want to gauge risk, and reap rewards as appropriate.

As a result, I think it is important to be able to differentiate between the knee-jerk "That's cheap!" and genuine criticism, and it's never easy, but not good for a community or game to outright dismiss it.

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