By Evan McKay
“So I creep, yea yea, just keep it on the down low” -The ladies of TLC were so poignant in 1994, yet the creep brings on a much nerdier meaning in the 21st century, and is far from on the DL. The creep in question is none other than the bandit known as POWER CREEP. For the uninitiated, power creep is a phenomenon that happens in table and video games where, as more and more powerful cards, rules, powers, etc. are released for a game over the years, the new traits make the original ones downright useless.
For example, say we are playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. You’re pumped because you just made your fighter named Horatio. Like any new character, Horatio has overall average stats with my choice of an above average strength. He also kills people with a two-handed sword and is bad ass! After playing with Horatio for a month, a friend of the game master joins the group. Bro walks in all excited with a character already built and holding a book called “ Player’s Handbook II”.
You think to yourself, “waaaait, there is a second players handbook?”
As the game session starts a battle begins. Horatio gets to go first and does an impressive 16 damage with his magic greatsword because he’s a beast. The new player take his turn with his character- let’s say he named him Zanzibar. Zanzibar immediately climbs up a wall like a spider, turns his head around and vomits a spray of acid inflicting 12 damage to each in a line of three enemies. Already having inflicted extreme damage, he then proudly says “ OK, now everyone around me and myself included do an extra +2 damage per hit.”
As you’re controlling Horatio, who now looks pathetically weak in comparison to this new spider demon, you are probably saying yourself “WTF! That wasn’t even an option when I made my character!” After the game, feeling a little crestfallen and highly marginalized, you approach the game master. “ How the hell can I do that crazy shit? Like build an acid breathing spiderman character without spells being cast on me?!?” “Calm down- Its all in the new players handbook 2.” says the gamemaster, dickishly. “Just go and buy one and I’ll let you make a new character. Its only $35”
Another poet of the late 90’s, Puff Daddy, once said “It’s all about the Benjamins.” I understand. I know its hard to sell games. Even the video game market, which is even larger then the feature film market nowadays, suffers from power creep. They release DLC which is available for instant purchase through the very game itself, and either sell it a la carte or bait gamers into buying a season package that could cost as much as the original game! Whether table or video games, power creep maximizes the profit potential for anything. If you can just come up with better versions of what already exists in a game and sell it for an extra $15, then you just made an incredible profit instead of just letting consumers get away with spending the $60 onset cost.
In tabletop games, the core rulebook is supposed to be enough for thousands of adventures, ending only with the imagination. There is not a lot of secondary purchases if you give away all the necessary rules in the onset. You have to play upon the poor nerds insecurities (already lofty to begin with) to sell books that essentially do the same thing except better and faster. The new editions aren’t a playing requirement, but the competitive nature of this game coupled with the lack of confidence in nerds naturally goads players into buying the expansion products that eventually ruin the game for everyone. One could argue that the company at least sold products to fund the creation of the next game, but who will they market the next game to? They kept game designers in the chairs writing games instead of getting second jobs at starbucks, and because whatever they develop will outshine the original, they will ultimately force us to buy the next sequel or chapter or whatever.
“Is this ok?” I ask the community at large; the ballers and shot callers alike! Do we have to swallow this power creep to fund our games and keep designers at work. Is this the only way? Them making money the sly way? There’s gotta be a better way, better way, YEAH-YEA.