This is something I've seen a lot over the years and it takes many forms. Games introduce a mechanic but they provide a way to bypass that mechanic that makes it make no sense. Or sometimes a complication is introduced in a game but then the penalty associated with the complication is eventually removed – leaving you with this naked complication that has no real penalty. Sometimes it happens across games – with echoes of previous games being felt in the way they were designed but without the impact of a negative drawback to supply context.
I think one of the biggest examples I've ever seen was a transition in MMOs to punishing death less. I remember playing Age of Camelot more than twenty years ago and dying sucked because you would lose a chunk of XP – you could actually lose the level you just gained. And XP was a grind – it's not like you were losing just 5 minutes worth of work. This was a standard. EQ I think did it. FF XI was extremely punishing in this regard. And then it started to fade. WoW had it in beta (?) but not on launch but it did have other penalties – steep repair costs and sicknesses, I think. But those have faded over time to the point where I don't even think people care about dying in those games anymore. Challenge and dying used to be a part of those games.
Fast Travel is an example that I think could be used in many games and genres but stands out to me a lot in both open world games and, on the opposite side of the spectrum – Dark Souls. In open world games fast travel is made so free and easy that you're almost rewarded by unlocking fast travel points by not having to travel on foot anymore. Isn't this backwards? Isn't it strange that the game rewards you for playing it by giving you the ability to play it less? And Dark Souls 1 is often regarded as having this amazing, interconnected map but the second you unlock fast travel all of that becomes unimportant. It's always faster and easier to simply blink from location to location. I personally feel like half the reason they put less effort into the world design in future games was because they knew that fast travel made most of that effort obsolete.
Warframe has a few good examples I'll use as examples as well. The first is the pet system in the game. Originally you had mechanical 'pets' that you could use. They were almost entirely beneficial with no drawback other than the fact that if they died you'd have to go without them and losing some of their QoL bonuses sucked. Eventually they added animal pets in – and they were better than the mechanical pets. But they could die. Permanently. And you had to maintain their health and play with them. These mechanics began to fade due to player response. What started off as a bonus with potential downsides eventually just became a universal bonus. There's even people currently in the community who are starting to say that pets shouldn't die because it's just an annoyance to lose these QoL bonuses. But if they can't die, and they require no effort, and there's no penalties or costs associated with them… then why do they exist?
My other Warframe example has to do with a system that's been introduced that allows players to spend years of collected resources for bonuses. It's called the Helminth system. The system was originally going to be locked away for higher ranked players but people wanted access to it earlier so they lowered the requirement. Now it's out and there's a lot of complaints about the fact that even senior players can't unlock everything in the system as fast as they want. But it's a resource sink isn't it? Isn't that the point? People are acting like it's horrible because they can't unlock things as fast as they want or because costs are too high (and I do agree in some situations) but, in general, wouldn't the point be lost if the time/resource costs were reduced?
Fable 2 is sort of a counter example – they eliminated player death because they realized it was pointless. People would simply reload a save or re-spawn and keep going with just a minor inconvenience.
Games used to have life counters to suck quarters out of people and that mechanic stuck around for years beyond when it was important for no real reason. Every now and then you'll still find a game with a 'lives' counter that simply resets itself when you run out. Why is that there if not just because it's the way it's been done before?
These are just a few examples off the top of my head but I'm curious as to what other examples people can think of. How have games changed to facilitate convenience and what mechanics continue to exist in games as a hold over of outdated mechanics. When should costs be applied to game mechanics to balance out penalties? I feel like MMOs/online games are the most blatant examples of this sort of thing because of how they update over time but I'm certain that lots of other genres have changed over time.
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