The Effect of The Meta on a Game

I’ve been hearing people say that if the meta of a game is figured out, the game becomes stale. If I’m not using the term right, I mean that if a game is basically figured out than it no longer becomes interesting and dies. Is this true?

You are using the word meta correctly. Metagame can refer to the ongoing process of figuring out the optimal way to play in a competitive versus setting. If the optimal way is found out, then it’s just a matter of improving at doing it closest to the optimal possible. Deep games help prevent this from becoming the case by having a massive number of relevant states. Shallow games are figured out more quickly. The efforts of the community can also affect this. Melee survived as long as it did in part because it is crazy deep, new discoveries keep being made, such as recently someone found a ledge tech option select that beats rising up Bs (Hold light shield as you grab ledge, then before they up B, hard press shield, this will trigger a tech instead of ledge roll, and you can punish them from tech, which also grants iframes) and in part because the tools that the community has used to explore the game were primitive initially and grew over time. SFV has not had the same benefit of slow lasting discoveries, because the community is way better at finding tech than in SFIV’s heyday.

When the meta is developed to its peak, then the game becomes samey because you only see people repeat similar patterns instead of playing in new ways. There are ways to fight this, like making the game deep, making the game require a ton of memorization and experimentation of permutations (making it complex), or patching it every month so everything is totally different and people have to figure it out all over again. You’ll never guess which one League of Legends does.

Even when the meta is fully developed and there is seemingly nowhere else to go, a game can still be fun for lower level players who have not gone that far into it yet, but it can be rather boring for high level competitors.

Checkers is considered dull by many high level players, same for chess. These are for similar reasons. the state space was explored to the Nth degree, and if the opponent pushes it somewhere undesirable, it’s easy to push the game into a draw. Despite that, Chess is a lot more popular than most video games. If you’re interested in this you should look into chess’s history, because it used to be considered a more romantic intellectual exercise, but modern development of the game lead to essentially memorization of massive numbers of board positions, which makes many high level chess champions not so fond of it. Go thankfully remains interesting at a high level, and probably always will.

So yeah, this is the primary thing that depth exists to fight. Staleness. On both a big level and a small level. Make every session different, make every moment different.

I would like to elaborate on my “meta” question. They stem from these two comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/truegaming/comments/59eimk/slug/d981lv5 and https://www.reddit.com/r/truegaming/comments/59eimk/slug/d985e65. Are they correct?

The way I view it, the meta is a reflection of the game. The meta is the way it is, because the game is the way it is. The meta develops in reaction to players finding out more about the game, and showing more about how the game is efficiently played.

People hate the meta because they view it as a human social convention, rather than a human model of how the game works.

Creating balanced games is not impossible, blizzard just sucks at it. They got lucky with brood war, and also took a ton of community input, and the community balanced the game out by banning literally every map, and replacing them all with the equivalent of final destination (Lost Temple, and now Fighting Spirit). Blizzard haven’t really succeeded since then.

SFV released a year ago, and the meta has mostly solidified by now, however we’re seeing a massively diverse cast of characters in top 8s, taking tournaments, and bizarrely the top tier character, Chun Li, who is revenge of 3rd strike + SFIV light link into medium levels of good, is not winning any majors. Some characters clearly lost out, like Zangief, Bison, Juri, Ibuki, Alex, FANG, Laura, but this is a great result, and even the bad characters aren’t amazingly bad, with high level players repping them. So basically, good balance is not impossible. It’s possible to balance so well pre-release that you get this almost a year down the road. I think SFV is taking totally the right approach to balance by waiting a year between patches, and they did a super stellar job to begin with.

I agree that if the game doesn’t develop, it dies.

I totally disagree that smash bros becomes worse after knowing the metagame. The metagame is still developing, Fox’s dominance is still in contention, there are a fair number of viable characters besides the top two, there’s a massive number of strategies and approaches to the game that we still see play out regularly, which is why the highlight reels every week are so great. Melee has bad balance, but it is a deep game regardless. Throwing out half the characters isn’t a problem if the best characters are the most fun in the game. This is more of an issue in these team games, because the characters in those games are shallower, and the games rely on variety to create depth.

Dude has the wrong info on the pokemon tiers, that’s the smogon ruleset, which exists to essentially create a bunch of segmented off competitive pokemon games, so that each of the tiers can have diversity flourish within it. The official format has no restrictions and everyone runs the same team.

People hate the meta because they dislike being told how to play. They dislike playing to win. They have bad mentalities about winning, competition, and fairness. They don’t understand the subtleties of the game. They don’t want to accept that any way is more efficient than any other. They can get mad about it, but it will not change reality.

What do you think of when some games like League of legends make everything different for each patch and radically change the metagame? Is that a good thing? Or a bad idea?

I don’t think it’s a good idea. It obviously helps keep the game from getting stale, but it also means that high level play is impeded from developing, because anything you figure out will be gone or not viable next patch. It obviously helps their business, but it’s not the right thing for the game.

The key is to patch on long cycles, to keep patches as minimalist as possible, and to not screw up what the players develop. Sometimes bigger sweeping changes are necessary to get the game in the right place. Marvel 3 would need that if it was ever patched again. However you usually want to keep it minimal, because if you change too much stuff at once, you get this complex cascading effect, and you don’t know what really happens.

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