Created By: KJMackley on August 29, 2011 Last Edited By: PhantomCobra on December 21, 2012

Diminishing Returns

At some point your collection of cool becomes a hinderance to quality

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"Too much of a good thing is an awesome thing. But too much of an awesome thing is... umm... really, really dumb and bad." -- Strong Bad

Diminishing Returns is a concept regarding the resources you dedicate to a project. In theory, adding people will improve the speed and efficiency of the project according to the number of people involved (1+1=2). But it rarely works that way, as assisting a project doesn't necessarily double the speed (1+2=2.5) and at some point you start to hurt the efficiency because the project can only move at a certain speed and adding resources is wasting resources (1+3=2.5).

As a trope, it may seem that adding characters or plot elements to a story, features to a video game or increasing the action quotient could only improve the project, right? The truth is there is such as thing as "Too Much Awesome" and because there is so much going on you aren't able to develop those elements in the same level of quality as when it was smaller in scale (characters aren't given a chance to develop, the plot isn't explained at all and the action is perfunctory).

This can be seen the most when it comes to Villain Team-Up stories because the premise is so juicy "Our two favorite villains are going after the heroes at the same time!" but it often ends up that it hurts their threat level when they have added firepower and were still defeated.

Often commented upon by people within the project after the fact. To be expected, your mileage may vary.

Examples:
  • Mass Effect 2 added a great deal more characters to choose from for your personal team compared to Mass Effect (Six for 1, ten for 2 or twelve with DLC). In the first game the characters were added to your team as you progressed through the main story, making it a natural progression of the story. Because of the number of characters the second game largely involves actively recruiting these characters (and doing their "loyalty mission") as the primary story instead of acquiring them along the way. The developers admitted it was a bit overkill and backed off for Mass Effect 3.
  • The producers of Batman: The Animated Series pointed this out when it came to a couple of episodes, specifically "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" (which portrayed Joker, Two-Face and Penguin in a more ineffectual and comical manner than when they were acting alone) and "The Trial" (where nearly every villain appears but few have any lines).
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • August 30, 2011
    Novbert
    The description is a bit ambiguous.

    So: Is this a trope about some sort of coolness overload, in which case adding awesome elements to a story/game/movie sequel actually makes it worse - in that case it's a subjective trope, and yes, Your Milage May Vary.

    Or is it an objective trope in which case the added coolness actually takes away from the end result - it creates an administration hell in a game (like in the Mass Effect example).

    Or is it a different objective trope, when the teamed up villains turn out to be less effective against the heroes than they were - each on their own? Needs clarification imho.
  • August 30, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    It feels like a subjective trope. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I suppose only the author of the above could really say. I'd bring in some examples once I know for sure which it is, as I got stuff from both sides.
  • August 30, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    This is similar in concept to the So Awesome It Sucks YKTTW. Maybe combine the two? Maybe not. Both are tenable, but still somewhat struggling to find an identity, know what I mean? Just thought I'd point out my observation.

  • August 30, 2011
    smashingmelons
    This seems like something where there could be in-universe examples as well. I don't really get the title, though. Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts?
  • August 30, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    The "Law of Diminishing Returns" is a real-world observation that states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns. Though it's an economic and production phenomena at heart, it has other applications as well.

    Try a new flavour of ice cream. Love it? Buy another cone, do you love it as much as you did the first time? Repeat.

    Outside of economics, it's not necessarily the antithesis to a gestalt, but rather an unfortunate side effect of the human condition.
  • August 30, 2011
    KJMackley
    The "So Awesome It Sucks" YKTTW is a purely audience reaction, you're not going to get any objectivity to it. It's about how a moment may be cool but you still don't like the moment for one reason or another.

    This trope isn't about that but about how too much of something ends up taking away from the end result. It's subjective in that the end result requires a judgement call. It's also not about mere "coolness" but story elements in general. Those plot elements are an objective observation but someone may find all the added material still results in a good product, Mass Effect 2 was still a very well received game and it might have been possible to make all the added characters work the same as in Mass Effect 1. Subjective doesn't just mean "people will argue the example" but it is anything about how people received it.

    It's also not just about sequels, but how a story tries to fit in too much at one time. Compare Four Lines All Waiting.
  • August 30, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    I agree that you've found an objectifiable phenomena we haven't touched upon yet.

    My observation in the comparison is that each of the two concepts could potentially result in one another; little more. :)

    Contrast Jumping The Shark, where the audience perceives a work to have reached the saturation point.

    Compare Conservation Of Ninjutsu, where increasing the number of Ninja lowers the competency of the collective as opposed to increasing it.
  • September 1, 2011
    PhantomCobra
    Added a quote that sums up the trope pretty well.
  • September 1, 2011
    unclerupee
    @ the above critisism about this being too close to the other YKTTW: Could we change this one to Villain Pile Up or something, where too many villains added in equals a loss of focus, loss of screentime for individuals, and bad story all round (see Spiderman 3)? Its pretty close at the moment...
  • September 1, 2011
    unclerupee
    And if not, could I start Villain Pile Up seperately?
  • September 1, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    Go ahead and start Villain Pile Up. Diminishing Returns is a much more broad term; and if both pages were launched, would supertrope Villain Pile Up.
  • September 1, 2011
    unclerupee
    Maybe in the morning. British times is sleepy times.
  • September 1, 2011
    KJMackley
    I don't see any real value to a "Villain Team Up done bad" trope. In fact, if this trope gets launched we could list it on Villain Team Up as a danger to using that trope. No need for a completely seperate page. As already mentioned this is a broader topic, the oversaturation of bad guys is just one part of it.
  • September 5, 2011
    KJMackley
    Here's some more examples that showcase other areas this trope can be applied to:
    • Spiderman's "The Clone Saga" started off really popular and was expanded because the storyline was selling well. But because there was little attempt at a conclusion for several years it was stretched to the breaking point and it is now infamous for how hated the saga is.
    • Star Trek The Next Generation introduced in the pilot episode the character of Q (an omnipotent alien) to mess with the heroes, who was well received and they started planning on him showing up a couple of times a season. After a second appearance that was lacking in quality they changed their minds to instead have him visit Once A Season, and was a staple until the end. He showed up once on Deep Space Nine and twice on Voyager during the entire run of those series.
  • September 6, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    What's the name of the trope where a work's plot arc is stretched nearly indefinitely with rising action to the point where any resolution still possible would be underwhelming? That could possibly be related.
  • September 6, 2011
    KJMackley
    Chris Carter Effect and Kudzu Plot are close to that.
  • September 8, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    No wonder I couldn't find it, it was named after a person.

    This concept also causes Sequelitis
  • September 16, 2011
    KJMackley
    The accusation of a Cash Cow Franchise is that the overload of installments or merchandise means that quality will take a back seat to quantity. Halo and Call of Duty are both accused of that.

    One of the things brought up with the cancellation of Star Trek Enterprise was that there had been a Star Trek television show on the air for 18 years and 5 movies, and anything that isn't given a chance to rest for a while is going to feel a bit tired out. Part of the success of the 2009 Star Trek film was that it came after several years of no Trek and it was focused on feeling fresh again.
  • July 7, 2012
    Wilahelm02
    I think a good description of this concept would be Wolverine Publicity but on a much broader scale. Instead of just having a specific character show up all the time its types of tropes or story type.

    An example would be the comic book industries use of major cross over events. Things like this only happened a handful of times before the late 90's. Since then however there have been major events almost yearly. Where once major events like Crisis and Onslaught excited fans more recent ones have had more lukewarm receptions.

    Another example would be the use of character death in some works. If a work at first does not have a large amount of its main characters dying then its more shocking and meaningful when they do happen. Unfortunately this can lead some creators to raise the body count in order to generate more interest. Eventually it reaches a point where so many are dying that the shock fades and meaning is lost.

  • August 17, 2012
    KJMackley
  • August 17, 2012
    KevinKlawitter
    The Expendables had a lot of buzz for its All Star Cast of action actors, but was met with mostly negative reviews after it turned out the movie really didn't have anything distinctive aside from it. In an inversion of Franchise Original Sin, the sequel was considerably more well recieved for upping the violence and the campy humor.
  • December 21, 2012
    KJMackley
    bump
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