Note: there is a follow-up.
I have yet to experience it directly, but the nerfs (or ‘adjustments’ if you’re GhostCrawler) to Firelands have brought out a broad spectrum of very strong opinions on the matter. People that don’t like it have been accused of being elitists, people that like it have been called lazy and incompetent, people have done personal injury to themselves to avoid going either place, without avoiding either place. I think the one safe conclusion is that we as a community disagree on what we think, as a group, about this thing.
What is it about this sort of nerf that stirs people up? I think an answer lies in how we as a group deal with cheat codes.
It’s there for a reason
The earliest cheat codes came to light in single-player gaming. They were accidental, for the most part – the developer had placed them in-game as a development tool, and neglected to disable them. Some gamer eventually stumbled across it, and word got out. Before too long, it was expected: games would come with cheat codes, it was a kind of Easter egg, and you were expected to stay away from it.
This changed a bit when head-to-head gaming started to become commonplace. The first example of this that I can think of is the game Descent. The game actually would tag you as a "cheater:1, disqualifying you for all achievements, special prizes, and high score slots, as well as not allowing you to go multiplayer. It not only came with cheat codes, it came with code to deal with the cheat codes. I wonder if there were cheat codes to get around the effects of the cheat codes2.
At any rate, as games progressed, cheat codes became as much a part of gaming as the games themselves.
They did, possibly, carry a stigma, but that depended on who you were dealing with.
No big deal, really
I don’t have to look further than my own domicile for examples of this in action.
Me, for example: I rarely use cheat codes unless I’m stuck in a hard place and want to move on to see the next level, get to the next part of the game, or what-not. I’m very unhappy when I do so, as I feel that I have failed when I do that. What am I missing? I ask myself. I bought the game to play on its terms, which means (to me) solving the puzzles inherent in playing it, and moving on.
Our youngest, however, has no such stigma. As far as he’s concerned, he’ll take any cheat he can get to gain advantage. He sees nothing wrong with this because "winning" is all, and he see the cheat code as part of the puzzle itself.
Nerfs as Cheats
I think our first experience with the concept of "nerfs as cheat codes" occurred in ICC, and it became a crucial and central part of the game. Here we had our faction leader, offering us a nerf to the content (effectively), though we could elect to not use it. There were many schools of though on this.
- There was the group that was glad for the help. Our guild was among that group. ("Thanks, King V!")
- There was the group that preferred hard mode achievements – and which got rewarded when they succeeded ("Thanks for nothing, King V!").
- There was the group that loved the nerf and thought that those that didn’t were filthy elitists.
- There was the group that hated the nerf and thought hat those that didn’t were filthy cheaters.
- Then there was the huge group of people yelling "STFU I’M TRYING TO SLEEP HERE GEEEEZ".
At any rate, for the first time we were presented with an easy(er) way out, and the option to use or not use it. Suddenly the idea of MMO-based cheat codes was front and center, though not necessarily by that name.
Where’s the off switch?
The pre-4.3 nerf to Firelands is thus couched in that particular history. I’m seeing a lot of complaining about this nerf, and not a lot of praise. A lot of "too far, Executus!" from active raiders. A lot of people that are "in theory" okay with the nerf are coming back out of the instance saying "that was a joke!" or something similar.
I was, quite frankly, surprised that this was applied with such a heavy hand and without a means to turn it off. I thought ICC at least giving the option allowed those that wanted to do it the hard way the means to do so.
But here we are, with a 15 or 25-percent nerf in place, and a LOT of negative feedback.
A Nerf too far
Besides it being optiona, a thing that helped with ICC was that the buff came in increments. We started with 5%, and it went all the way to (I seem to recall) 25% before the Universal Nerf in 4.0.3. So, different guilds found comfort zones as they went along, and those that had mastered the lower spire were glad to nerf it so they could more quickly get to the Upper for progression purposes (and then turn off the buff when the time came).
This, however, is all at once and it’s harsh. As an example, our guild would generally have 10 to 25 percent to go on Bael when he enraged. A 25% nerf to his health, then, pretty much puts him in range without any effort on our parts to improve our game. This is welcome news to some; to others, perhaps, a disappointment.
Feels like cheating
At the core of all the ennui, I think, is that this nerf feels a lot like typing in FUNDS on the Sim City budget screen. You keep playing the same as before, but suddenly the penalties associated with your previous performance are all gone. A lot of people, without realizing it, have lost the sense of accomplishment that goes with doing it pre-nerf.
To me, this is largely the case, and I haven’t even see the nerfed raid, yet. Because, in the back of my mind, I knew that with a little more work and a bit of practice and experimentation and so forth, we’d all eventually rise to the occasion. I love the sense of accomplishment that goes with that.
But instead of elevating myself to the level of the game, the game’s been dragged down to a lower level.
I halfway expect the game to call me a cheater, next time I set foot in Firelands.