Cry havoc, and let… oh, wait, never mind

I’ve never really seen the fuss about “nerfs”. I’m sure there are some examples of game adjustments that resulted in previously perfectly balanced, non-overpowered characters becoming much less viable, but the vast majority of “nerfs” I’ve seen forums explode over have fallen into one of two categories.

Firstly there are the tweaks made almost constantly in most MMOGs; balancing adjustments, fixing of minor bugs, generally making things work As Intended. Half the time you’d be pushed to notice the difference in play if you hadn’t been told a rounding error in the code had been corrected, resulting in your Pokey Sword Death attack doing 22.40 points of damage instead of 22.50. Not that this stops someone on the forums producing an incredibly detailed spreadsheet conclusively demonstrating that this utterly ruins the viability of the class, will stop them ever being invited to groups, and note Graph C in subsection 4.1.2 with a significant increase on the “Slap In The Face” axis following the change. Even better, if multiple attributes of a power are adjusted (say the Pokey Sword Circle AoE attack is slightly increased in damage, but affects a slightly smaller area), not only will there be spreadsheets proclaiming The End Of The Class As We Know It, but rival spreadsheets will clearly demonstrate this is a ludicrous, unjustified buff that will result in raids consisting of nothing but that class. It’s just a bit extra noise, though, in the eternal chorus of “Class X is broken”, “Class X is overpowered”, “Class X is riddocqueuelessss”.

Then there’s fixing of big mistakes. These are much less common, but tend to result in really major explosions, even by usual MMOG forum labour-pain numbing standards. Maybe a decimal point error resulted in the Armour of Anti-Poking ability of the Barbassassin class granting 95% damage reduction instead of 9.5%. It gets fixed. Some poor Barbassassins who never knew any different are a bit surprised when they keep dying, but adjust after a while, as the rest of the class abilities are still fine. Some players who knew perfectly well it was a ludicrously overpowered ability grumble a bit and get on with it (or reroll to the next flavour of the month, until they get fixed). Some, though, can’t let it go. They refuse to believe that anything less than 95% damage reduction is in any way acceptable. They threaten to quit the game, organise protests and boycotts, retain lawyers to sue the games company, contact the European Court of Human Rights wanting to know what’s going to be done about this heinous infringement of their civil liberty and start constructing small thermonuclear devices in their garages to hold the world to ransom until their demands are met. Eventually the storm blows over, though a few holdouts will lurk for years in forums, like Japanese soldiers stuck on isolated islands not knowing the war is over, occasionally pouncing on a passing developer to bemoan the loss of their beloved Armour of Anti-Poking…

So the sound and fury on forums about nerfs normally signifies nothing, and I tend to discount it all as groundless whinging. Genuine issues get overlooked like the boy who cried “wolf!”; actually, more like a vast horde of boys, some crying “wolf!”, others saying “I think it’s probably a wolf”, and some strident factions utterly adamant it’s a whole pack of wolves, or tigers, or elephants, or possibly giraffes (which might not sound so bad, but they’re giraffes with machine guns). Yesterday, though, in Age of Conan, I suddenly got an insight into their pain. I realised the gross, heinous injustice of unwarranted game changes. My character was ruined. Playing him wasn’t fun any more. The Tony Harrison outrage-o-meter was off the scale, and the forums would hear of it.

No, I don’t play a Demonologist (no idea what impact the patch note “Fixed an exploit with Demonologists (infinite stacking of certain spells)” has, and I’m not touching the Demonologist forums with a ten foot pole strapped to a particularly long barge pole to find out). I went to do /emote hugefish_m last night, and… nothing! Funcom had taken it out! I was just putting the finishing touches on a petition to the government, detailing how such a change was tantamount to a declaration of war by Norway and that firm military action was the only possible response, when I thought I’d double check the emote list, and found they’d simply removed the _m suffix to make the command /emote hugefish. Phew. That was a close one.