Nerfs, Difficulty and Nightmare Power

When I was a wee young lad, I grew up glued to my Nintendo Entertainment System. From Duck Hunt to Super Mario Brothers 3, I was molded as a gamer in the prime of the 16-bit generation with an 8-bit console. Maybe this is why I have a distinct love for challenging games. In a generation where games could cost up to 100$ for a single cart, developers needed to make their games have some staying power, and making a game rock solid was an easy way to keep players playing your game. Two of my favorite games of the generation were Megaman 3 and Mike Tyson’s Punch-out. Megaman has long since been hailed for its simple yet difficult level design and mechanics. Every level required replay after replay until I had all the patterns memorized and each path mapped out. Despite the hours and hours of frustration I still have an intense love for Megaman. Similarly, Punch-out is another example of high difficulty in the 8-bit era, but done in a more modern way. Whereas Megaman has a relatively static but high difficulty, Punch-out is a near-perfect example of a linear difficulty curve. Each fight required just a little bit more coordination and left a little less room for error until the brutal encounter with Iron Mike. You can only mash your way so far until the game starts to force you to play better. In my opinion, this is a perfect model that should be implemented in most games.

Ideally SWTOR would have as many difficulties modes as possible. The more difficulty modes SWTOR has, the easier it is to keep players in game spending money and re-subbing. There is the old adage, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Like it or not, PvE content is essentially the same thing over and over. Yes there will be slight variations, RNG and the like but ostensibly operations are the same fights every time. And while there are many “insane” people out there that will do the same content over and over no matter what it is, there are many more who get antsy for something new and fresh every time they finish the “old” content (and sometimes even before). This is one reason I think the timed Nightmare Power removal is a poor decision from a design perspective. BW is saying upfront that they have a fourth difficulty mode ready to go, all they need to do is push a button (or remove a debuff in this case) and it’s live. If that’s the case then why not add a fourth difficulty mode between Nightmare and Hard Mode? The gap between Nightmare and Hard Mode is very steep, so adding a difficulty mode to help players bridge the gap between the two can only help in get more players doing the content that BW is spending so much time and effort creating. In a perfect world difficulty would scale in infinitesimal increments to infinity so that every player has content one step above their current level to progress through . This probably isn’t feasible, but any steps that BW takes to try and make it easier for players to move from one mode to another should be encouraged. This is the safe design philosophy that Valve has used in both Left 4 Dead games with The Director. As you started doing better, the game would actively ramp up the difficulty by spawning more enemies at less opportune moments. The effectiveness of The Director is debatable, but the logic is sound. The easier it is for players to slowly ramp up the challenge, the better they will become with less frustration, encouraging them to do hard content.

As I wrote about in my last article, gaming is different from other mediums because of the ability of the game to push back. Challenge is the spark that gives the sense of achievement that gamers thrive on. Has anyone ever left a movie theatre or finished a TV show and felt like they had accomplished something? Maybe if it’s a series that you’ve been meaning to watch for a long, but for the most part these are passive interactions. The sense of accomplishment comes from overcoming an obstacle, but the same could be said about any form of entertainment. The additional satisfaction a player derives from gaming is due to that added obstacle of the game making it progressively harder to play. In gaming not only do you have your schedule interfering with your entertainment, the entertainment itself is built on making you work to derive satisfaction from it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having different difficulty mode or tiers. I have nothing against players who choose to play everything on easy, that’s the player’s choice to make. My problem is with third parties telling players what and how to play. Has a single player game ever patched out a difficulty mode because not enough people completed it? Why has it become the defacto standard in MMOs? Why do MMO developers feel the need to tell players how and when they should play their game? It’s insulting to players that developers tell you, “you’re not good enough to do this so let’s bring it down to your level.” As I’ll explain below, I don’t even think the, “let players see the content” argument even holds any water. I’m big proponent of player choice: let the player decide how and when they tackle the content.

Here’s exactly what I would do if I would in control at BW:

1. Leave the existing stuff as is, just like they’re doing. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

2. Add in both versions of Nightmare with either a toggle for a fourth difficulty setting or more likely an NPC that allows the buff to be turned off.
2a. Once players have turned the nightmare power buff off prevent it from being turned back on as soon as a boss is defeated. This will prevent the boss skipping nonsense that happened in TFB.
2b. Unbuffed Nightmare will drop non-set Dread Touched gear. This gives players a reason to do the lesser nightmare version. If lesser nightmare is just a practice ground there will be people who just won’t try it. Look no further than ranked PvP for proof that players will try stuff they wouldn’t normally do as long as there is a chance for some small carrot at the end of the stick.

3. Nightmare at release will be much the same as it is on the pts (gear drops, title, mounts etc.).

4. Remove the title from Nightmare as planned but do not remove the buff. Give the cutting edge guilds something to push towards and a reward for their extreme efforts. These are the people who stream the game, these are the people that make guides and test on the PTS. With the two versions of nightmare there is no reason to nerf this version. Players don’t need someone else telling them what they can and can’t do. Let the player decide what they want to do with their time and money.

5. After the next ops tier is released, remove the special mount from both Nightmare Modes. Doing the hardest content when it was at its most difficult should be rewarded accordingly. This is essentially the same thing as a ranked season. Even if there aren’t a ton of people going around with fresh EC tanks, it’s the principle that matters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in MMOs players seek individuality in a sea of millions of people.

I think doing these five things give the highest number of players the most opportunity to do the content while preserving the accomplishments of those who earned them. I don’t see any downside from a player’s perspective to doing things and technically it should only require a small amount of work from BW (and I try to avoid saying that whenever possible). Since the nerf is directly tied in game to a buff they just need to add the ability for the buff to be both on and off in game and voilà.
What do you think? Should end game content always be nerfed eventually? How would you handle it if you were in BW’s shoes?

4 thoughts on “Nerfs, Difficulty and Nightmare Power

  1. I really like the idea of having four modes, but I would only put the most exclusive rewards on the Full nightmare power version. Then like you said remove the special title and add a different title to the new nightmare powered op.
    While I think that’s an ideal solution, I don’t have a problem with the current setup. Bleeding edge teams still get the prize, but there’s a time limit. There’s a time limit on the ranked PvP rewards as well. And I’m okay with the thought of getting content in front of as many players as possible – even if it’s at a reduced difficulty. I’m guessing that end game content consumption is one of their metrics for success (and I want the game to succeed!)

    I think we agree when it comes to content expiration- not all players will get to play all aspects of the game. It creates some exclusivity for those players that can complete all the content and gives newer players something to be jealous of. (Personally, I’m jealous of the Gree prizes since I wasn’t leveled up enough last time the event came around) in my mind, the limited nightmare power rewards fall into that category. If you weren’t able to complete it at the time it was released, that’s a bummer, and try to get ready for whatever the next prize is.

    • I disagree with your comparison of Nightmare content to ranked PvP in the sense that once a ranked season you may not be able to get rewards but it still exists. If you just really enjoy the challenges posed by a ranked scenario you can still do it for the enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Once content is nerfed it’s nerfed forever and no one can ever see that content again. It’s the burning content principle that they seem so against, but they don’t seem to mind doing it here.

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