Vocabulary Debate

Is “nerfed” now a simple antonym to “buffed,” in the context of game changes (rather than “de-buffed” for, say, a spell that reduces your armor by 20 for 15 seconds)? Or do we (should we?) reserve the term for a reduction that makes the play value questionable? The imagery of the term still suggests its original use: our swords have been replaced with nerf swords (and killing things with nerf swords is about as difficult as doing so with a herring). But the term also arises on smaller changes, like a 5% reduction in one ability’s damage. Do we have another term in general use for a weakened ability that does not suggest that any decrease makes the ability worthless? I don’t hear “weakened” much, although it seems apt.

Or perhaps that is the nature of internet discussion. There is no word for “reduced in effectiveness but in a reasonable and non-alarming way, such that one might continue using it, whereas before its power was a potential balance issue.” If it’s your class, it’s “nerfed”; it it’s his class, it’s “fixed”; if you’re a developer, it’s “re-balanced.”

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Vocabulary Debate”

  1. “reduced in effectiveness but in a reasonable and non-alarming way” = “nerfed”

    “our swords have been replaced with nerf swords” = “nerfed TO THE GROUND BABY!”

  2. I imagine the solution to this lies in making a game with less attachment to one particular facet. In Starcraft I don’t care if my firebats are stronger than my vultures, they’re just tools. In WoW people care because they’ve gambled the farm on one class. If it’s weakened they’re weakened.

    I think the real problem is we’ve been playing such similar games for so long we’ve got bored of the tropes of the genre.

  3. I’ve been hearing ‘nerf’ in terms of any re-balancing changes, although it retains negative connotations. It’s true that what seems to ruin the game for one group (who use a skill, item, etc) usually is hailed as a balance solution by those who never liked said ability.

    “Gambling the farm” is exactly why I liked Guild Wars and its ability to reset one’s attributes and skills at any time. Even if things are nerfed to all hell, people just try something different.

  4. You underestimate the *POWER* of fish at your peril sir!

    Gamers love to exaggerate… they do it constantly. The lexicon of gaming terminology is rife with hyperbole; you didn’t just have an interesting encounter – it was EPIC! You didn’t just defeat your opponent in a close match – you PWNED him! Etc, etc, et al.

    I just automatically reduce all such expressions by a magnitude of x10 to get somewhere in the ballpark of accurate.

  5. I’ve always used “toned down” for changes like “[ATTACK SKILL] now does [X+(n-5)] rather than [X+n] damage” and reserved “nerf” for patch notes like “ULTIMATE DOOM SMITE OF ARMAGEDDON now summons a fluffy pink bunny to follow the target, rather than raining flaming meteors that kill everything in a 500 m radius”.

    As always, LotRO’s Balrog has the final word on the subject of nerfs:

    [16:47] Balrog: wth
    [16:47] Me: Hey Rog, what’s up?
    [16:48] Balrog: hav u seen teh patch notes?
    [16:48] Me: Not yet. Why?
    [16:48] Balrog: more nerfs. this is bs
    [16:48] Me: What’d they nerf?
    [16:48] Balrog: me, i’m totaly unplayable now
    [16:49] Me: I don’t know, man. You’re pretty bad-***… how bad could it be?
    [16:49] Balrog: u no that sweet attack i had that could almost 1shot that stupid elf? yeah, they dropped the crit multipliar down by 50%. how the hell am I suppose to 2shot her now?
    [16:49] Balrog: completly unplayable
    [16:49] Me: Well… that *was* pretty cheap of you.
    [16:49] Balrog: pfft, whatever. ur just pissed u didnt roll a balrog instead of that pansy champion
    [16:53] Balrog: man, they better fire the dev that did this
    [16:53] Me: Is that likely to happen, though?
    [16:53] Balrog: u just wait. i’m going to start a petition on the forums. once turbine sees how many monsters will be quitting over this theyll fix it
    [16:54] Me: *sigh*

  6. Not only is there no word that means “reduced in effectiveness but in a reasonable and non-alarming way”, there’s no such concept. Any change to the class I’m playing this week spells DOOM.

    On the other hand, I’m pretty sure every MMO player has a visceral understanding of schadenfreude, whether or not they’ve been introduced to the word. It’s the feeling you get when reasonable, non-alarming changes are applied to someone else’s class.

  7. This all ties back to a stupid game designer meme war. On the one hand we have the old-school approach “all classes may excel in their own way” which allowed for some creativity and differences between classes. It was sort of like rock-paper-scissors. Each can beat the other but can in turn be beaten. Gameplay makes a difference.

    The other corner holds the modern “no class may excel” mentality, they must all be completely in balance. To my mind, this is like a game of rock-rock-rock. The rocks just beat on each other until the one with higher DPS wins and the other is pulverized. This leads to grindy, boring gameplay.

    The reason it is important to understand the different mentalities is simple: in the first example, it is not really necessary to nerf anything. Ever. The game mechanic should be broad enough to allow people to adapt and overcome even when it is a class match which is not ideal. Only a hugely OP skill would require adjustment and that should never have made it through QC anyway.

    In the second example, where the developers have effectively promised a perfectly level playing field, any unforseen combination which tilts the field in any manner whatsoever causes a great hue and cry. Inevitably rebalancing the field will cause another protest and claims will be raised about over-correction, insufficient correction and so on.

    So, I’ve gone a long way to reach the core of the thread and it is this: when you take away players’ creatively-made advantages because you, as a designer, didn’t think it through and you now want to forcibly limit them to rock-rock-rock grinding, then you are planning to steal from the players. Yes, it’s your game and you can play god, but people have invested real time and real effort into it. The mentality ought to be called Deru kui wa utareru or “The stake that sticks up gets hammered down.” Get good and get hammered for it. This approach is a poor substitute for quality game design. I’d say the scale looks something like this:

    Slight adjustment – suggest “tweaked”

    (big gap)

    Major downward adjustment that makes a skill combo effectively useless: “impaired” or “nerfed”

    Adjusted downward so severely the character design and equipment is barely usable anymore: “mugged”

    Being rendered useless by an overhaul that makes the character unplayable: “scrapped”

    Yes, taking something from players who have worked hard to develop it is only slightly better than being mugged in RL. Why should anyone bother to try to gain an advantage if it will just be stolen from them? So they got an advantage. Deal with it. Send an uber-foozle to take the item / skill / feat back. At least make it an in-game event rather than making the player feel like they’ve been RL mugged. It’s a game. People have paid for entertainment and pleasure, not to have hard work stripped from them. Hrmph.

  8. I don’t know, I have always thought of “nerfed” as “dumbed down”. Debuff works for me as an antonym for Buff.

  9. “Nerfed” is the term used when describing changes to ones own character or class. “Balancing” is the term used when describing the exact same change when done to another class.

    And since game designing is actually extremely easy, as teh interwebz has tought us, it’s fair to assume “nerfs” are actually done with evil intent, whereas “balancing” is often withheld to appease the unwashed masses and secure more profits.

    Did I miss anything?

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