One topic I’ve been thinking about quite a lot since we learned about the Module 15 changes on the preview server is an effect that I’d like to call “knee-jerk nerfing”, or “overnerfing”. If we look back in Neverwinter’s history, the game has been prone to overadjusting to issues by completely steamrolling in the opposite direction. Most of the time this leads to a monster nerf instead of gradually approaching a better state of the particular system.
Examples are plenty, but the most recent ones of course are the changes to Trickster Rogues and DO Devoted Clerics. You had two classes that might have been overperforming and the reaction by the devs was to completely level them. To be honest, it might not be as bad as advertised by many complaints, but both classes undoubtedly took a huge hit.
Nerf First, Adjust Later
The current balancing phase is a two-step process that spans into Module 16, but there’s no reason why the first set of changes couldn’t have been a little bit more lenient. In fact, I’m fairly certain this isn’t a coincidence either, but the preferred way of the studio to operate. Like I said, there are many examples in the past that proof this “nerf first, adjust later” approach. It just feels like Cryptic, whenever there’s a serious imbalance, completely takes it out the game first, monitors the impact, and then gradually adjusts later, if at all.
Some issues of course are so severe that you have no choice but to disintegrate them. Let’s say exploits, or stuff so broken that it prevents you from properly evaluating affected areas. It’s more complicated with other things that do not impact the game as a whole, much less if you let them linger forever. Class balance is indeed a great example, because nerfing TRs and DO DCs didn’t make dungeons particularly harder. It just led to other classes taking over their spots. Like, if you had one class being the difference of a 20-minute and 10-minute TONG, there’s obviously something wrong. But who cares honestly about a 10-minute vs. 12-minute run? It’s good to show off, but doesn’t really alter the state of the game.
Management Not Targeting the Overarching Issue?
Too often knee-jerk nerfing is a symptom of the management not properly seeing the overarching issue. TRs and DO DCs were overperforming, indeed, but the debuff and power stacking synergies that make current dungeons a complete roflstomp are still intact. The same can be said for many economy nerfs that happened throughout the game. All the game did in the past was take away the best source of income without ever thinking about how to generally make the economy more robust and stable. Granted, I’m no (MMO) economist and can’t dish out a great idea here. All I know is that it always felt like the devs took the fastest possible fix without evaluating all options thoroughly.
The knee-jerk nerfing gets increasingly more annoying considering how long the turnaround times for changes are. Since some viability has been taken away from TRs and DOs in five-man content in Module 15, many players basically have to suffer through four full months. And that’s not even the most extreme example. Think about the various Profession changes and nerfs through many modules until we finally got the new Workshop system recently. And hey, it only took nine modules to get us the old dungeons back, right?
Knee-Jerk Nerfing Only Works with Monitoring
In my opinion knee-jerk nerfing only works under one condition. And that’s tightly monitoring the impact and make further changes as soon as possible. I don’t mind having stuff taken away from me if I know there’s a dev actively working on a greater solution. Right now a nerf means you’re left out on an island for months, which is why some changes feel so overly painful and players tend to fight like crazy against them on the preview forums. Some of it is hyperbole, but a decent chunk probably knows that if tweaks go through, it’s what they have to live with for a considerable amount of time simply because no dev will be assigned to a follow-up task.
The crazy thing is, especially a small studio like Cryptic should be able to handle that better. The benefit of small teams is that you can generally react to situations more swiftly. But the game behaves like an elephant while operating with the resources of a mouse. I’d like to credit Uncensored regular Janne for being one of the first to point me towards that irritating fact.
The Cost of Trying to Be Mass-Market
We’ve talked about Neverwinter catering to the mass-market and whether it might be better instead to find a niche to thrive in. You could argue that the game is doing well enough, but knee-jerk nerfing is certainly also a symptom of the devs being forced to do too much. You work with the time you have. So if your schedule doesn’t allow for a thorough investigation, you of course take the path of least resistance. That’s why you can’t blame someone individually. It’s a management issue.
If you will it’s probably the cost of trying to be a mass-market game without having the appropriate devpower. Another reason by the way might also be that their processes of identifying the most glaring issues are lackluster. That’s certainly a topic for another article, but even if I still believe that taking the path of least resistance is the more likely explanation. Taking extreme outliers out of an equation is indeed comfortable for the studio, and sometimes necessary, but it comes at the cost of the players. This is definitely something that I really hope the game will be able to handle better in the future.
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