I was in a meeting today and someone said “they are only doing what we told them to do, not what we wanted them to do” and I thought that was a great summary of computers and games as a whole. I remember in my early programming days getting frustrated with some section of code that just wouldn’t work. I’d pour through the lines, trying to find the problem. It was never a problem with the code but a problem with the coder. The system only ever did what I explicitly told it to do, not what I wanted it to do. For every keystroke the user put in, I had to put in error handling to prevent a whole bunch of other things from happening too. QA and bug control is a pain.
Today’s games are more and more complex, with hundreds of options for a player at any given time. Gone are the EQ days of rigid code and sever limitations on playstyle. If you were creative, you were called an exploiter. Today, you can do pretty much anything you want in a game (exemplified by GTA) but with that freedom comes unexpected results. Burning Crusade in WoW is a good example. Everyone who raided needed to be a leatherworker for drums. Guilds stacked shamans for bloodlust/heroism. Content was tuned for this crowd since anything lower was something around a 15% power gap. Lich King had to completely redesign the buff system to accommodate and “homogenized” the classes to avoid stacking. Now it’s about individual player skill less so than actual class mechanics. In that I mean that a great rogue is going to outshine a poor shaman, where in BC this was rarely the case.
This is more of a problem in themeparks, where the rides have expected outcomes. In sandboxes, where emergent gameplay is encouraged, balance is less of an issue since the variables are so many. I mean, you can’t rightfully balance group encounters in EvE so that both sides have an even chance. You can however be explicit in how the given tools will function in a given circumstance.
In my gaming history I was often called an exploiter because I liked to try different things. My favorite game was “The Incredible Machine”, which pushed for out of the box thinking. In EQ, my necro soloed effectively in all sorts of places due to poor pathing. In UO, I had a tree in my house. In WoW I corpse-jumped through locked doors and climbed to the airport in Ironforge well before Cataclysm. BioShock Infinite had quite a few places where I’d set up death traps for large groups and not take a scratch. The entire concept of “what if I do it this way?” is the reason I still play games today. I do feel bad for QA though.