The problem with Power Creep and is it intentional?
Updates in video games aren’t always ideal. Sometimes they’re perfect and bring just the right amount of balance to a game. Other times, they add new items or characters that make their old counterparts pointless to use. That is the concept of Power Creep. Sometimes intentional and sometimes on purpose, it has caused debate around social media ever since the term was coined.
What is power creep?
According to TV Tropes, power creep is “the process in which newly-added-content can be played along with the old-content, but with the new content being far more powerful/useful in every sense.” Power Creep is usually gradual and affects a game over time.
In a game like Hearthstone, this is like introducing a card that has the same mana cost, same attack but more health than an already existing card. The health difference makes the old card useless when compared to the new one.
As long as new content is more attractive than old content, people will switch over regardless of how used they are to the old content. Doing this can get out of hand real quick and usually has a negative connotation among fans.
How does power creep affect a game?
In a game like League of Legends, the developers are always struggling to keep power creep at bay and keep the game as balanced as possible. When a game has over 140 champions to choose from, power creep seems almost inevitable. New heroes and items releasing constantly can make old heroes and items feel points or redundant if the new ones are just better.
As Riot Games’ Lead Content Designer “Morello” said, “This leads to a problem where power gets in the way of decision-making and counter-play by creating an arms race between competing factors (champions, in many cases).” In other words, players just pick whoever is stronger without thinking about counter-play or any other factors.
If power creep starts to set in, it can make the game feel like it has pointless content with no reason to be used. It can also give the impression that the developers ran out of ideas and just recycled old content but made it slightly better.
In some cases, like the introduction of the R8 Revolver in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), the power creep is instant. The gun was so overpowered when introduced; it made every other weapon useless in comparison. Thankfully, Valve was quick on this one and fixed the R8 Revolver just two days after its initial introduction.
Here’s an interesting overview of how power creep affects Overwatch regularly – courtesy of Stylosa:
Is power-creep intentional?
There is no surefire way to know whether all instances of power creep are intentional. Sometimes power creep can be intentional just to introduce an item in place of another item that nobody plays. Back in 2014, the ex-Hearthstone Game Designer at Blizzard admitted that they introduced new cards in place of ones nobody played.
Intentional power creep also results from making paid new content more potent than old content to entice players to buy it. An example of this is with Hearthstone’s Magma Rager and Ice Rager. Magma Rager was part of the Basic set and available to all. The Ice Rager belonged to the Grand Tournament set and had to be earned or found in purchased card packs. This might not be a power creep as the new, better content is not instantly available to everyone and just serves as a “path of progression for players to obtain upgraded versions of the cards.”
Sometimes, power creep is unintentional and is an unfortunate result of keeping the game fresh with new content. An excellent example of this is the aforementioned R8 Revolver fiasco. This unintentional power creep was likely just due to poor development on Valve’s part, which they quickly recognized and rectified.
In some cases, the expectation of a power creep or the notion is present, forcing the company to pre-emptively disable the content in competitive play. Both Riot Games and Blizzard has deem fit to disable content in competitive play due to power creep.
Has “power creep” been overused?
While power creep is regularly used in MMORPG titles and “pay-to-win” scenarios, the rest of the industry is embracing the concept as a perk instead of a problem. Players have gotten used to the idea of power-creep whenever new content is released.
Of course, not everything that makes old content irrelevant is a power creep. Multiplayer games need a constant flow of new content to keep the game feeling fresh. This new content has to be relevant and a desirable alternative to existing content for players to consider using it.
Other times, developers just encounter some oversight in the development process, which is quickly fixed. It might not have been intended to be power creep, and players need not jump to such conclusions. We need to understand that new content will always be introduced, and we must adapt to it if we want these games not to become stale and boring.
However, esports also need to always put a delay between developers new content and introduction of said content in the competitive scene.