"In order to get a loan you must first prove you don't need it."
A design pattern common in many games, an Unstable Equilibrium
occurs when there is a design feature in a game that rewards a well-performing player with multiple advantages that help them in later parts of the game. Because of this pile-up of advantages, the player who is winning now is a lot more likely to win later. It also means that the player who has developed more skill is more likely to win in general. Getting the trope right—the number of advantages, the pileup rate, things like that—is a very
difficult design problem, and endless fodder for Fan Wank
In a single-player game, this can create a situation where early advantages accumulate to the point where the game becomes very easy later on, while early mistakes make it harder and harder to recover; this can make the game boring for more skilled players and frustrating enough to drive away everyone else.
In multiplayer games, it's more complicated; if it places too much weight on initial decisions, it can lead to games being decided very early on, reducing what happens afterwards to relatively boring mopping-up. But it can be important in multiplayer games that have become Serious Business
being the classic example. A good chess player will rarely make a big-enough "blunder" to give the opponent immediate victory, so it's necessary for small advantages to accumulate in the long term. Depending on the implementation this trope can also, paradoxically, reduce the frustration of a protracted loss, since it will Mercy Kill
you quickly if you make a mistake as the progressive pile-up of advantages ends the game.
provides a more in-depth examination of the issues surrounding the phenomenon. It also provides some ways to avoid it.
This can occur in several ways, including the following:
- In games where the players keep resources (e.g. troops, equipment, money) from level to level, a player who can avoid losing troops in earlier levels will have more to use in later levels, and so be better able to avoid losing troops in later levels.
- This can be prevented by either subtracting troops from the player at regular intervals, or instituting Dynamic Difficulty, so that the strength of the opposition is proportional to the player's own strength. (This can open up its own Loophole Abuse, but nothing's perfect.) Also it can be lessened by capping the number of ressources you can bring over.
- In Role-Playing Games, the hardest parts of the game will often be relatively early on, when you lack money, supplies, equipment, skills, Experience Points and possibly even party members. As your party grows exponentially stronger, it becomes increasingly difficult for enemies to remain challenging simply by proportionally increasing their strength. There are often also "bonus areas" that are harder than normal areas, but have more powerful equipment such as the Infinity+1 Sword or a Heart Container. Players who can beat that area will be rewarded by having the rest of the game be easier. (It is often observed that anyone who is good enough to get the Infinity+1 Sword doesn't need it to win the game.)
- This can be prevented by smoothing out the party's growth curve and adding new complexity to the combat system over time, rather than giving everything out up front. Instead of relying on "bigger numbers win", create a combat system that forces the player to use what they have in new and innovative ways to win.
- In many "empire-building" or 4X games such as the Civilization series, a player who conquers more area will have a larger production and research capacity, thus enabling him to get even farther ahead. This often leads to a situation where once one side is ahead, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the opponent to catch up, and a significant portion of the game can be just "mopping up" weaker neighbors. Games with strategic resources that enable the construction of higher-power units only add to the importance of territory control.
- A solution is to add Variable Player Goals, allowing players to win from behind or by surprise. Even the first Civ game allowed you win by either conquering the world or being the first nation to launch a successful interstellar mission to Alpha Centauri. With proper management, this is possible even if you only have a "normal"-sized empire. Alternatively, as the resources an empire controls become greater, so too does the amount of resources required to maintain that empire, resulting in a punctuated equilibrium of highs and lows as the empire must sink resources into expansion for a long time before those resources begin paying for themselves later. When alliances are implemented correctly into game, they can help create a sort of natural equilibrium as lesser empires gang up on the leading superpower.
- Almost any Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game has this trope to some extent, as players who are better will be able to gain experience points faster, thus getting to higher levels faster, making their characters even more powerful. However, the effect on gameplay is mitigated by several factors. First, basically all games with Experience Points guarantee some gain over time; good players just get extra ones. As well, weaker players can team up with each other (or stronger players!) to get help, and players can sort themselves by level, so that a weaker or lower-level character can simply avoid going into more dangerous areas or against much more powerful players. Finally, there's "Bribing Your Way to Victory," which—regardless of its controversial status as a gaming trope—does inject balance by giving players new options for in-game advancement.
- Many early MMORPGs had severe penalties for death, so that a player who died ended up with a much weaker character (or one with less equipment), causing him to die more, incurring the penalty again, so on and so forth. For this reason, many newer MMORPGs have eliminated or at least significantly reduced the penalties for death.
- Space shooters and other genres often feature power-ups that you lose upon death. If you're not good enough to survive when you have a planet's worth of weaponry attached to your ship, you're probably not going to do much better when you're demoted to a single gun that can only have one bullet on the screen at once.
- Some racing games have "rubber banding" (like Rubber-Band A.I. , but for the player as well) to try to keep this from happening, but depending on how the rest of the game is done, and how the decision to use/not use rubber banding is integrated with it, it can either exacerbate the problem for the player and make the game too hard, exacerbate the problem for the AI and make it too easy, or otherwise mess with the game balance in unintended ways. Perversely, such things can even make being behind for a time a valid tactic, as other advantages are gained from being behind.
- Some games (particularly Rhythm Games, Shoot Em Ups, and action-adventure games) have a combo system, as well as rewards for scoring high combos (more points, higher attack power, or items, just to name a few). Skilled players can string large combos for massive rewards, but less-skilled players won't be able to make so much out of it. Worse, if there's a break in your combo, your current combo typically resets back to zero. This means a mistake at the beginning or end of a combo is miniscule, but a mistake in the middle is devastating because instead of your combo being somewhere near the maximum you can get, it's now at only half of that. Note that combos usually don't award health or do anything to make the game easier, so this isn't a pure example; it's just that a better player will have a much higher score even if the other player is almost as good. Though especially in Shoot Em Ups, we have...
- Games where extra lives are awarded for reaching certain point milestones. Better players get more lives, and the less skilled players that have more need for them get fewer.
- Some First-Person Shooter online multiplayer modes use an experience point system that rewards players with EXP for getting kills, completing objectives, and other such accomplishments. This means the better players get better equipment, allowing them to get more EXP and repeating the cycle.
See Bragging Rights Reward
and Multiple Endings
, which are both alternatives to giving more power to skilled players. Related to Resources Management Gameplay
. Continuing Is Painful
is a frequent contributor to this, since losing tosses even more disadvantages at you. Closely related to Early Game Hell
. Contrast Rubber-Band A.I.
and Comeback Mechanic
. See Golden Snitch
for one major type of aversion. Opposite to Dynamic Difficulty
. Almost opposite to Empty Levels
, in which the overall difficulty of the game increases as your character gains levels. See also Hard Mode Perks
, which is rewarding the player for simply choosing a higher difficulty.
Truth in Television
, since real soldiers do not respawn when killed
Video Game Examples:
open/close all folders
- Very much in effect in Devil May Cry series. Skilled players will use better and more varied combos - giving you a higher style rank. The higher the rank, the more orbs the enemies drop, which in turn allows for you to buy more and better moves, giving you the ability to use better and more varied combos...
- The earlier games in the Tomb Raider series have items carry over from level to level. Saving health packs and especially ammo during the early levels where enemies still die easily to the infinite ammo pistols allows for a lot more leeway towards the end, where not having enough ammo is likely to also drain your health pack supply. The third game throws a few nasty curveballs in there to mix it up:
- A certain level empties your entire inventory, and, depending on what order you choose to play the levels in, this could be as early as the 6th level or as late as the 14th. You don't get any of it back. Saved everything you found so far to make the final levels less painful? Shucks.
- The only exception to this inventory wipe is your save crystals, in the Playstation version. These are collectibles that carry over from level to level and allow you to save your game. Yes, except for between levels, you won't be able to save without them so you'd better not need to save much early on!
- At the very end of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask you have the option (if you collected all the masks in the game up to that point) of getting the Fierce Deity's Mask item, which transforms you into a badass warrior god with an enormous sword. This makes the subsequent final boss battles ridiculously easy.
- A minigame in Twilight Princess has you try to collect colored items worth different amount of points while flying. The kicker is that for each consecutive item of the same color you collect, its point value doubles, to a maximum of ten times. In short, every consecutive item you collect until you hit the cap is worth more than all the previous ones combined. You can win quite easily if you miss several red items, but if you collect a single other item during the middle part of the game you're screwed.
- Playing Hero Mode in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds quadruples the damage you take. At the start of the game, you'll die from 2 hits. After you get some more heart containers Hyrule becomes manageable. Then you get to Lorule where enemies deal so much damage you'll die in 2 hits again. Going straight to the Swamp Palace and getting the armor upgrade is necessary. At this point it's time to scramble for more heart containers!
- Bomber Man games are notorious for this in its arcade single-player modes. You died? Kiss all of your ability power ups GOODBYE!
- There is/was an old Atari ST game called "Tri-Heli 2" where the player controls a helicopter mining into a landscape to collect buried diamonds. Each level had a higher base ground level, making mining harder, for the first five levels, then the ground level reset and a new game element was added. Eventually the game ran out of new elements, and just cycled through the 5 depths, randomly generating each level indefinitely. To complete a level, you had to collect 2 out of 3 diamonds, or you could sacrifice a life to skip the level. Also, each level, the points scored for collecting a diamond increased while the points required to earn an extra life stayed fixed. A player who did well enough, or got lucky enough, would reach a point where completing the first 4 levels of each cycle of 5 would earn you enough points to get an extra life, letting you skip the 5th entirely. Not too long after that, completing three levels would let you skip the 4th and 5th. Eventually, you could reach the point where just collecting a single diamond would let you skip dozens of levels and the only way to lose was to deliberately suicide (and even that took a while...)
Beat Em Up
- God Hand includes a difficulty system that goes from easier to harder and back depending on how well the player's doing, through levels 1, 2, 3 and the aptly named Die. After each stage, the game counts up all the enemies you killed on each level and rewards you with money, with kills on higher levels being worth more, and conversely penalizes you for every death. Having more money allows players to buy upgrades and more powerful attacks.
- Doomsday Warrior gives you experience based on how much health you have at the end of each fight. You get one point for every segment of health you still had life in to spend on stats. If you struggle against opponents and barely win, you will end up weaker. If you regularly win with more than 75% of your health, you will end up stronger.
First Person Shooter
- Online multiplayer team games such as Counter-Strike often gives the winning team a bigger reward. This, of course, means that as one side keeps winning, the losing team slowly becomes crippled relative to the winning side.
- Which is why some servers have House Rules such as a side that has lost a certain times in a row may suddenly receive a mysterious cash infusion so that they can afford the same weapons as the winning side.
- Some servers also run a Warcraft mod where players earn XP for kills. Higher levels get better abilities, which may make it nigh-impossible for low-level players to get any kills. For example, an Orc player at a certain level has the explosive power and range of regular frag grenades boosted by a factor of 2-4. This can allow an Orc to clear out an entire building with a single grenade. While some servers keep your XP and level if you log out and come back later, other servers reset it either upon a login or at certain intervals.
- A similar problem occurs in multiplayer games where the players have to collect weapons and powerups like Quake and Unreal Tournament. A recently killed player will be severely understocked against the player that just killed him, which in turn leads to worse chances of getting the next powerup that appears and increased chances of dying again.
- In Unreal Tournament 2004's case, the adrenaline. By getting full adrenaline the player can temporarily give himself regeneration, a faster firing rate, superspeed movement or even invisibility. A good player will gain a massive advantage from these with the most unfortunate example being Bombing Run, a sports-esque game mode where scoring a goal gives a large amount of adrenaline to the player, about 35% of the meter. Since speed is very important in Bombing Run, the winning team will be able to abuse the superspeed powerup over and over again as they score more goals and refill the adrenaline almost instantly.
- Notably, Adrenaline was disabled in most competitive UT2004 matches, as were the one-shot-kill superweapons. This meant that in competition, the unstable equilibrium feature on a map was usually the large shield pickup. It was a strong enough bonus to ensure that its holder could NOT be killed in one shot by any normal means (though falling into an instant-kill map hazard was still fatal). This item spawned on a predictable timer, and many, MANY matches were decided largely on which player could manage to be precisely at the point where the pack spawned at precisely the moment the shield respawned. The player who had taken the last shield had a ridiculous advantage in taking the next shield, provided that they had managed to retain their shielding. Additionally, as the player's arsenal was emptied on death, the shield-holder often had a wider array of weapons available in any given encounter, where a freshly-spawned player might have held two or even one good weapon. Also, given that certain (usually deathmatch) rulesets made weapon pickups despawn temporarily on pickup, a player with the early lead could conceivably hold a monopoly on the best health items on the map AND the best weapons for depleting that health. It's little wonder that very small skill gaps in UT2004 could lead to landslide victories.
- In the Onslaught game mode, Power Nodes almost always spawn vehicles. The team controlling the most nodes thus usually has a firepower advantage, which in turn makes it harder and harder for the other team to either construct a contested node or keep it up long enough that they can move on to the next one.
- Team Fortress 2, as carefully balanced as it is, does this on purpose. On control point maps, a team that's down to a single point still under its control will have its respawn interval increased, making it take longer for a killed defender to rejoin the fight: without this rule, the density of defenders on the last point would be so high that no one would ever win.
- The game also rewards doing well with critical hits: If you've done a lot of damage in the last twenty seconds makes, one has a much higher chance of scoring critical hits and, therefore, to keep killing. This is to encourage players who are 'on a roll' to stay that way.
- In Arena and Capture the Flag, the first kill and intelligence captures give the killer and whole team respectively several seconds of all crits, making is easier to push for the intelligence again or get more kills.
- They go into great detail on the evils of stalemates in the dev commentary. The engineer's teleporter, the moving respawns, and the sliding respawn interval are all bent towards crushing the weaker team, so the match can end and the teams can be reshuffled. It's also interesting to play third-party maps by people who didn't listen to the commentary, and therefore designed a old-style static map, which of course results in a stalemate nine times out of ten.
- This also becomes a problem on servers with instant respawn—while it's nice to get back into the fight more quickly, it pretty much destroys game balance.
- In Mann Vs Machine, a well-comprised and well-organized team is more likely to be able to get a lot of the money dropped by robots when they die. The team needs the money to upgrade their equipment, which is necessary for surviving later waves of robots.
- The Modern Warfare series and Call of Duty: World at War also have this - players who get kill streaks without dying are rewarded with air support raining down on the opposition. However, these advantages are SO high as to fall squarely into the main-level trope. Someone who is only okay is likely to get less and less kills, as the high-level people gain the ability to use those tricks.
- This goes even further in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, as the later killstreak rewards are often simply -better- than earlier ones. A weaker team might be trying its hardest to scrape together enough kills to earn a UAV recon or spy plane, whereas the other team could be grounding them into dust with repeated airstrikes, AC130 gunships and attack helicopters. Worse, in Modern Warfare 2, said killstreak rewards count towards earning others, something that resulted in the somewhat infamous Harrier/Chopper Gunner/Nuke combo.*
- Reasons like this are why Modern Warfare 3 tones down the killstreaks substantially; many killstreaks require more kills than in the previous game, air support only counts toward your killstreak if used during the same killstreak it was obtained in, and there are better counter-air-support options, such as better rocket launchers and a surface-air missile turret item. Additionally, the new version of the Tactical Nuke, the M.O.A.B. (Mother of All Bombs), is less powerful and much harder to get—it instantly kills the entire enemy team rather than instantly ending the game, and the requisite 25-kill streak no longer counts kills gotten using other killstreaks.
- Curiously this can also manifest within a team. If one or two exceptional players keep killing the outmatched enemy team, their allies can find themselves constantly chasing after blips on the radar, finding only corpses, while their exceptional allies are already on the other side of the map making new corpses of the team who have just respawned. As the best players get better and better killstreak rewards they'll create a situation where only they can get kills, because the enemies spend too much time dead for anyone else to have a chance.
- In the online FPS Planetside, players were soldiers on a battlefield and received experience points for killing enemies, but received much more experience points if their side won a battle. Hence, if one side started losing, players on that side would realize they were unlikely to win and pull out, looking for better experience-point potential in other areas. This meant that it was difficult to find a battle in serious contention for more than an hour or so at a time. To mitigate this problem, the developers introduced a system that gave players on the side with fewer members bonus health and experience points, encouraging them to stay. This also caused controversy among gamers: one gamer said that the game was "becoming more like the University of Michigan every day" (referencing the affirmative-action debate).
- Counter-Strike tries to partially alleviate this effect by giving the losing team slightly bigger amounts for each consecutive round they lose. Not that it helps much, since the winning side gets bigger awards for streaks, as well.
- Counter-Strike is a perfect example of this trope. You buy weapons with money; more expensive weapons are usually better (and with more money, you can afford more weapons, grenades and armor); and you get money for getting kills. Pretty much the entirety of any given map follows from the first round: the winning team gets more money, buys better weapons than the losing team, beats them by a bigger margin the next round, and just keeps getting further and further ahead, until the losers can't buy anything and are stuck with the anemic default load-out while every member of the winning team has an M4, lots of flash-bangs and body armor.
- Three other factors make it slightly more complicated: Anyone that manages to survive the round gets to keep their weapons and equipment, and thus only HAS to buy armor(and can thus accumulate a bankroll): it's also very unusual for a member of the losing team to survive(it can only happen if the objective is completed or time expires, but the most common round ending is 'one team is completely dead). Cash is capped at $16000, which somewhat limits the utility of this... but that's still enough for several rounds of good weapons, even if they got paid nothing between rounds, which they didn't. Third is that there are relatively cheap weapons that are reasonably effective, and with some luck and skill can allow a team to overcome a gear disadvantage(if they had skill they probably wouldn't have ended up with the gear disadvantage though!) Cue mods that give all players $16000 at intervals (sometimes as frequently as EVERY ROUND), and admins manually adding cash to the disadvantaged team.
- Most of the differences in the casual mode introduced by Global Offensive are meant to lessen the effects of this: cash rewards for kills are cut in half while everyone gets helmets, body armor, and defusal kits for free (to compensate for the latter the Terrorist team have longer to plant their bomb before losing). The Demolition mode is based around inverting this trope: you don't buy weapons, but instead are given one of a fixed line-up of guns and advance to the next for each round where you get a kill, which until the near the end get progressively weaker.
- TimeSplitters brought a creative solution to the problem in one game mode: the player in last place gets a strike team of rocket launcher-wielding monkeys dropping in periodically to help.
- The sequels have another mode called Shrink, in which players change size based on their rank on the scoreboard: maintaining first place means retaining normal size, but any drop in position causes the player to shrink, with the last place competitor becoming very tiny and difficult to hit.
- In Halo: Reach, the weapons you have when you blast off in the sabre fighter determine what weapons you have when you board the Covenant Corvette. On harder difficulties a poor weapon choice can dramatically affect how well you do on the Corvette level.
- Same with the two-part missions in Halo 2, where your weapons carry over from the first half of the mission; a poor combination can make things more frustrating, and if you quit and reload, you start over with the mission's default weapons.
- In Halo4 this is the whole point of Dominion. Of course to make things fair some weapons randomly spawn outside on the field, away from the bases to give either the winning or losing team a upper (or lower depending on the player and weapon) hand. However, when the losing team loses the last base they had, the entire team enters a mode that gives overshields to help them win back a lost base. If they die, they stay dead until a base has been re-captured or they lose.
- This trope is very common in many modern FPSs with a leveling system: Kill enough people, level up. Level up, get better weapons. Get better weapons, kill more people. Kill more people, level up faster. Rinse and repeat.
- This is why many game with such a system also have some system where a player can obtain additional (entirely cosmetic) rewards by resetting their level to the minimum and clawing their way up again. The rewards for doing this may only be cosmetic, but they are still reflect well upon others' perception of a player's skill (or determination). Examples include Prestige Mode in the various Call of Duty games, and Prime Mode in High Moon's Transformers shooters.
- Being an FPS with a level-to-unlock system, Battlefield 3 has this trope in hordes. However, it does try to avert this with pick-up kits and squad specialisations.
- The most egregious example is with regard to air combat. If your opponents have a good jet/helo pilot while you only have a decent jet/helo pilot, he probably already has loads of tasty unlocks and the skill required not only to cook your air support, but your tanks, your jeeps, your infantry and even your mobile anti-air. Considering that air-to-ground missiles are scarily effective on armor, this will not end well.
- Vehicles do have their own class of unlocks too. Tanks are the most egregious example here, with the penultimate unlock being a Canister Shell that does 50% damage to infantry and acts as a shotgun with 1km range. Essentially, they can snipe out infantry with random headshots.
- It is the vehicle vs infantry unlocks in general. Almost all infantry upgrades have a downside. Heavy barrel increases bullet speed, but also recoil while decreasing hip accuracy, the silencer hides the minimap ping and lowers recoil, but greatly reduces bullet speed. Reactive armor, smoke/flare or canister shells have no downside at all. Made even worse by the fact that infantry carried anti vehicle equipments do not have any upgrades at all besides unlocking them.
- Speaking more generally, in Conquest matches a losing team is extremely likely to KEEP losing. This is because flanking attacks and divide-and-conquer techniques are a major part of successful play... but a team that has been pushed back into their spawn area literally only has one direction to come from. They can't flank in any meaningful way, and the winning team is free to focus the entirety of its firepower on them rather than being forced to split their attention between multiple objectives. The losing team gets no advantages whatsoever.
- The Armored Kill maps are even worse. In addition to the usual jets and helicopters, it also adds AC-130 gunships and mobile artillery. Both of these powerful vehicles are tied to key objectives, which is supposed to allow a losing team to rush those points. The problem is that both the artillery and gunship are more effective the more of the map you control. A winning team can use artillery to fire straight into the enemy base without fear of reprisal, while the gunship kills backcappers from the air. A losing team, on the other hand, is likely to waste precious tickets in a rush to the gunship point only to have it shot out of the air by hordes of stinger missiles from the rest of the map.
- Sword of the Stars, being designed as a competitive multiplayer game, tends to invoke this trope. While a small empire can hold off a larger one almost indefinitely by building ships instead of researching, doing so will leave you far behind research-wise, making the outcome inevitable. To make things worse, the game is sufficiently random that you often 'start' with an advantage of this level, and smaller AI empires only band together if they have a decent chance of success - beyond that, they're smart enough to ally with the apparent winner instead. It does cut down on the mop-up period.
- On the other hand, you can also start with a disadvantage of this level, that you must work to overcome. The degree of randomness in starting positions and the amount of available customization in initial conditions is seen by the developers as an effective counter to the problem of unstable equilibrium, when viewed statistically over the course of a large number games.
- There's also the problem of the Zuul players having expansion as a racial requirement. As their planets are constantly losing resources, if they're not allowed to expand, the empire will eventually die.
- Civilization games in general suffer from this when it comes to the research-race. Players who start out in a location favorable to research, or know how to best balance early expansion and enhancement of existing cities to maximize research, will sooner be able to create buildings that increase research (Libraries, Laboratories) and - more importantly - build one-of-a-kind Wonders that can boost research or provide free technologies (The Great Library, for example), thus further increasing their lead in the tech-race. Next thing you know, they'll be knocking over your bow-and-arrow wielding sentries with tanks and tower artillery. Better hope you're playing one of those Civ-games where Rock Beats Laser. Civ V, at least, attempts to mitigate runaway city-building and warmongering. Unhappiness is increased every time another city is founded or annexed, and social policy and tech costs also increase with the number of cities one owns. This attempts to encourage you to not build too many cities, but ultimately guides the player more towards careful, deliberate early game expansion (as the penalties become far less meaningful when the player's happiness and cultural generation are - if they know what they're doing - through the roof).
- The popular Civ4 mod, Fall from Heaven includes this trait, but also adds a new, militarized version in Baron Duin Halfmorn, a unique 'World Unit' which can be built by ANYONE, regardless of civilization, religion and civic choices - the ONLY such unit. (All other 'unique' units are cultural or religious heroes.) So basically, whoever first researches the necessary technology, gets to build him. Being a Werewolf, he has a high chance of turning any unit he kills into a Ravenous Werewolf, and if they survive their first engagement (even if it's only with an unarmed Worker), they turn into Blooded Werewolves under your control. These, then, have a chance of turning into stronger Greater Werewolves with every combat-success - and every type of werewolf has a set chance of creating more whenever they kill a unit. Thus, anyone good enough with tactics to make decent use of Duin Halfmorn and his spawn, are rewarded with even more, free units with similar power, essentially allowing a skilled played to BECOME The Virus. (Fortunately, there's an option to simply disable Duin Halfmorn from your game if you find him too unbalanced.)
- In Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation, a small empire will invariably be at a disadvantage, as research nets you bigger and better warships. For example, if you play as The Federation (which is, arguably, one of the most difficult factions to play) and dominate research, you will fairly quickly get access to the Defiant-class heavy escort, the most powerful warship in the game (available to the player). No other race has an equivalent. A single Defiant can destroy an entire fleet without sustaining much damage thanks partly to its cloaking device (which gives you a free turn at the start of combat). Additionally, if a weaker empire is constantly losing battles, the planetary morale will keep falling until the planets start seceding, which has further negative effect on morale, resulting in a domino effect.
- Master of Orion 1 and 2 ease the pain by shortening the mop-up period. Any player who controls two-thirds of the game's population (likely an overwhelming position) when an election rolls around leads a peaceful unification and wins the game.
- Galactic Civilizations 2: Large empires are just better at everything. Their greater size means they get more money from their higher population, can build more research facilities, and can build more, bigger and better ships. Plus, since friendliness is largely calculated based on military size, they will tend to start shaking you down if you're too far below them, further delaying catch-up.
- Star Ruler is a big offender. Getting many planets early allows you to get more research capacity. Research not only improves economic and military capabilities, but also begets more research. Play your cards right, you'll be out-researching and out-producing everyone while also building bigger and more advanced ships, spiraling until victory is effectively guaranteed. Bottling in the AI opponents early on is critical, as if you see waves of colony ships leaving their systems at about an hour or to into the game, you have already lost; the AI will expand exponentially and will build exponentially more powerful ships. The game tries to discourage you from colonizing too fast by having Space Pirates appear to blockade and raid undefended systems, but past a certain point in the tech race you'll have powerful enough weapons that even a puny task force can keep them off your backs.
- The sequel demonstrates Sequel Escalation from the first game. Early rushing to grab as many planets as possible is even more important than before, and this time there are no Space Pirates to prey on weak colonies to discourage you from going wild with the colonization. On the other hand other empires can annex planets or entire solar systems through diplomacy, especially in multiple small empires gang up on the larger one at the negotiation table.
- Frustratingly, nearly every multiplayer game with easy server browsing and teams of more than four or so can suffer from this due to unsporting, bored, or time-conscious players. Players on the losing team may be able to change sides to the winning team, creating an unbalanced situation just by sheer numbers. If circumstances prevent players from changing teams, then players on the losing team can always just leave the server, which, again, gives the winning team an advantage. Which is why "auto team balance" feature sometimes not only makes sure teams are equal in numbers, but also swaps players between teams to balance individual scores or just randomly.
- World of Warcraft deals with this in its Lake Wintergrasp PVP area by granting the faction with fewer players present the Tenacity buff, which gives them increased health, health regeneration, and healing power. In extreme cases, this can result in players with five times as much health as the opposition. Tenacity effectively rewards the side that's unable to gather as many players together to fight, since it's widely considered that the buff more than makes up for the lack of numbers.
- Of course, Tenacity doesn't help defenders because 3 players cannot cover 20+ points of entry from 80 or more players. It basically just enforces a tug of war.
- There's also a feature in Wintergrasp that makes the battle easier for the attacking side if they've consistently lost several battles, ensuring that control of the zone will eventually switch.
- Tol Barad has similar issues. There's no Tenacity, and it's much easier to defend Tol Barad than it is to capture it. This is semi-intentional, as capturing Tol Barad comes with huge rewards. They're tweaking it to make capturing Tol Barad somewhat possible, however.
- Another World of Warcraft example, this one created via an Addon. The infamous "GearScore" addon calculate the (then hidden) item level of a player's equipment, and assigned them a number based on the average. This was meant to give raid leaders an indication of how well geared a player was, as certain content required a certain level of gear in order to be survivable. Unfortunately, GearScore really took off, and some raid readers began enforcing "Minimum GearScore" requirements for certain content. Often, the only way to achieve the required score was by equipping gear found only in the dungeon they were about to run. Blizzard eventually made item levels visible, and began enforcing a (considerably more reasonable) minimum ilevel to run content.
- Blizzard made the leveling easier and removed the penalty for death but is now finding that once players reach the top they are bored and half the gaming world is useless (ie too low a level to bother hanging around in) to players at the level cap.
- This was at least partially remedied with the Archaeology profession, as well as the Pet Battle system, both of which gave high-level players a reason to visit lower-level areas.
- EverQuest. Couldn't survive in this zone with your equipment? Have fun trying to survive naked if you die and have to make it to your corpse. In the old days, at least.
- Obscure German browser game Power of Politics suffers of this. You can challenge other players to debates. Your chances of winning are determined (among other things) by your Ego, Publicity and Eloquence scores. What do you get as a reward for winning debates? Why, a portion of the loser's Ego, Publicity and Eloquence, of course.
- In League of Legends, there's something people like to call "Curse of the First Blood". Your team suffered First Blood? GG, it only gets worse from there. If you know how to farm, you can make up for that death, obviously, but statistics speak for themselves.
- Guild Wars 2 originally featured Orbs of Power in its realm-based player versus player combat, which provided large bonuses to whichever team possessed them. Since gaining control of an Orb of Power was rather difficult to start with, but keeping control was easy, the first team to take an Orb very rarely lost it. Add in an exploit allowing unethical players to take an Orb without being challenged, and it's not surprising that the mechanic was removed entirely.
- Having control of many supply depots also lets a realm upgrade their defenses and deploy offensive weapons much faster, which allows faster gain of more supply depots, which can eventually lead to another realm being repeatedly squashed at their home base. There are, at least, several vulnerabilities to this strategy, as defending every supply point on the map simultaneously takes a good deal of coordination.
- Unstable equilibrium could hit the earlier versions of MechWarrior Living Legends pretty hard. Players start out each match with light assets and earn money by capturing bases, assisting teammates, and damaging enemies, which will cause them to rank up, increasing their spawn money so they can buy bigger and more advanced vehicles. However, an early base capture rush by one team could give them a decisive advantage, which would only magnify unless the other team coordinated to take down the enemy's top players. After half an hour into the match, the rush team might be stomping around in Inner Sphere assault mechs and Clan heavies mechs, while the slower team stuck in medium mechs. Comeback Mechanics introduced in the final update greatly reduced the likelihood of the curb-stomp battles by giving more money to players fighting larger assets - pulling an assault battlemech too early now is essentially shooting yourself in the foot, as the lighter enemies will get loads of money by shooting your slow mech.
- The reboot to Steel Battalion does this in a rather nasty way. In order for you to get any upgrades at all, you need to attain a good performance rating from specific missions (which, incidentally, are also multiplayer capable). Particularly good players that can gain an A rank is awarded with many upgrades, especially the ones that can make your Vertical Tank much more durable (which is the most valuable upgrade, given the Nintendo Hard nature of the game). However, it is unlikely that new players know what to do, and most of the time, they cannot attain such a rank, which means later levels will get progressively harder and harder because simply surviving gets very, very hard without the upgrades to help them.
- In the original Mega Man series and its successor, Mega Man X, there are eight (six in the first game) Robot Masters that you have to defeat and you can do it in any order. Each one of them is weak against one of the other's weapon that you can copy. Once you have knowledge of their weaknesses, you can easily cream the rest of them once you beat one of them.
- But then it's all fair for the final level when you have all the weapons...at least until you realize that dying will not refill your weapon energy tanks, but it will remember which ones you've already picked up. When these weapons make getting through certain parts about 100x easier, and you use them all up, and then die and have to do that part again...
- Mega Man Zero was worse. In order to gain a new special attack from a boss, you had to get the highest rank in the stage - you had to be good enough to win without taking any damage or using any items.
- The original Super Mario Bros.. actually had this pretty bad. Fire Flowers made it easy to plow through many enemies, including the otherwise tough Hammer Bros. (especially those not standing on overhead blocks) and all of the boss fights. But mess up or fall into a pit, and you'll have a much harder time. 8-3 and 8-4 in particular are bad examples; if you are Fire Mario and know your way through these levels, it's not too difficult to preserve that status and win, but if you make a mistake, you'll probably take a hit and lose the precious fireballs. These levels are exponentially harder without the fire suit, and after the 8-3 checkpoint or the entire level of 8-4, there's actually no way to get a complete fire suit again if you die once. Later 2D games also had lots of suits like this, many hidden, so in most games a simple Self-Imposed Challenge is done to avoid such suits.
- The game also has hidden 1-ups which are only collectible if the player collected all the coins in the preceding level...thus giving extra lives only to players who collect every coin and therefore have more lives to start with (as 100 coins = an extra life).
- The Contra series has this in spades. The base bosses in Contra (arcade version) increase in difficulty the longer the fight drags on, but even in the console version, chances are the spread gun is the only thing keeping from becoming dog food. Lose the spread gun, and you will probably lose the rest of your lives in short order. In Super Contra, if you lose your weapon upgrades in Those Last Two Levels, you're as good as dead.
- Castlevania I takes away whip upgrades, sub-weapon and stored hearts whenever Simon dies. While the whip upgrades can be quickly regained, losing ammo and being forced to use an almost always worse sub-weapon generally makes finishing the stage much more difficult.
- Invoked deliberately in Papers, Please much like the real-life poverty example. If you don't have enough money for food or heat, your family members will become sick. If you don't buy sick family members medicine (on top of the daily food\heat), other family members will become sick, requiring more medicine.
- The original Time Crisis, and its Gaiden Game Project Titan. Unlike later games, where the timer completely refills every section, it only increases by a certain amount for each area, also depending on your skill. So if you aren't fast and well skilled, you'll have less and less time for the subsequent areas, and when the timer runs out, it's Game Over. The timer also keeps running during the "Wait" sequences.
- House of the Dead 4 gives you a letter grade at the end of each level based on your overall accuracy, score, and "shot ratings" (number of headshots and headshot streak). Nb., you lose points every time you take a hit. S (which requires an absolutely phenomenal run) nets two life boxes, B (which takes some skill, definitely no gimme) or A earns you one box, and anything worse gets nothing. The result is that there's very little middle ground in this game; either you're an ace and can zip through the whole game in 1-3 credits or you struggle mightily and have to shell out. If you mismanage grenades, can't get headshots, or don't know the layout, be prepared to really pay through the nose.
- Throughout the series, failing to save a civilian often dumps you into a more frustrating alternate path. Not to mention that many of them give you extra lives, which you also get depending on your ranking at the end of each stage.
- Silent Scope EX gives you a letter grade at the end of each level based on speed, hit ratio, and headshots. An S rating restores 10% life, and a SS restores 25%. Lower grades have proportionately smaller benefits. Needless to say, if you're good enough to SS even one stage, getting through the whole game in a single credit isn't going to be a problem. If the best you can do is B, it's going to get expensive.
- Sin and Punishment: Star Successor has a score multiplier that increases as you kill enemies. Getting hit lowers it, and at over x10 (up to the maximum of x16), the decrease in multiplier gets worse. The multiplier penalty also seems to be biased towards multiple hits, so ten hits of 1 HP each, for example, tends to be worse for your multiplier than one hit of 10 HP. If you are bad enough, or have hit the time limit for a boss, the multiplier can even drop to x0, making everything you do worthless until you get the multiplier back up.
Real Time Strategy
- Sacrifice is one of the more dramatic examples. There is a single resource for creating units; souls. These souls exist in a VERY limited amount, most held by you, your enemy, and the scarce ambient creatures across the field. Since souls are easier to hold on to (run into them) then they are to steal (a minute long ritual just to get them on their way to your altar for another ritual to convert them) the game maintains a strange sort of stalemate...at least until you lose one bad fight. If your enemy gains even a tiny soul-lead on you, it turns very quickly into a snowballing curb-stomp.
- Made slightly more odd by the fact that this is the main tactic in the campaign mode for you. Create a catspaws base to start sapping enemy souls for your own army.
- Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games like Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends tend to turn one-sided very quickly. When a player is killed, the killer gets gold and experience and may push the lane and kill a tower. Meanwhile, the victim and unable to get experience or gold, and in the first two of those three games you also lose gold. Both gold and experience translate into more power for the killer, making it easier for them to stomp you again next time. This quickly leads to the killer 'snowballing' into a much stronger force than anything else in the game and either using this advantage to take multiple objectives or, even worse, reach a powerful late-game state that much faster. On the other hand, the 'feeder' is now way behind in experience and items and will find it harder and harder to farm or contribute to fights. On a global scale, after all the towers in a lane are down, buildings are exposed that once destroyed will cause more powerful creeps to spawn in that lane, causing it to passively apply pressure to the enemy team as it constantly pushes. It can be punishing and obnoxious, but with existing matches lasting forty-five minutes or longer it's probably necessary to avoid eternal stalemates... with the downside being that it can be incredibly annoying to have to sit through the rest of a match when your team has essentially lost it in the first five minutes.
- This is made even worse by the fact that in a number of these games players actually lose gold when they die- as if giving the opponent gold and exp and losing the opportunity to both farm more and keep the opponent from doing so themself wasn't penalty enough. You might also have the option to "buy out" of a death, which typically costs tons of gold and is only feasible if you're way, way ahead. League of Legends and Demigod are two games which removed this extra penalty (as well as the buyback thing) and even the super-hardcore “Stop Having Fun” Guys rarely complain about its omission.
- It is actually easier to come back in Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars than in other games provided you have the skill to know how (or luck), even though its mechanics lead to massive gold differences after only a few kills. This is because abilities are so powerful (and by and large don't scale with gear) that even the highly fed enemy carry can be caught out and nuked or stunlocked to death. You have to do it multiple times due to buyback gold, but you can do it. The final match of The International 3 was decided by Alliance pulling off two awesome plays from a severely disadvantaged position after 30 minutes of getting stomped by Na'Vi.
- There is a huge defender's advantage at the entrance of the actual base, but once they do get into your base and destroy your barracks, the game is pretty much over. It doesn't end at that point though, giving the winning team plenty of opportunity to spawn camp the losers.
- League of Legends has many measures to slow down the scales tipping. For instance, killing a player who already died lots without getting kills will only give you a pittance of gold, while the weaker player gets tons of money if he does manage to gain the upper hand. It doesn't prevent unstable equilibrium, but it makes it less overwhelming.
- However, it then also has objectives like Dragon and Baron, neutral monsters which grant lots of gold and a major Status Buff, respectively, to the team that killed them. They were intended as Comeback Mechanics, but they actually tend to decide the match in favor of the team that gets them. Even worse, Gold has a bigger influence on gameplay and ability use in LoL than it does elsewhere (disables have much shorter duration and can actually be countered by spending gold on tenacity items, etc). The end result is a game where, as revealed by one strategy site based on analysis of pro matches, the team with so much as a 10% gold lead at 12 minutes in is 90% likely to win the (30-40 minute) match.
- Warhammer: Dark Omen made a downright infuriating example. Lose a critical unit in any battle, and you are royally screwed. In fact, the very instant you see your Fire Wizard drop dead, you might as well restart the battle. Also, if you had high casualties in one battle, that usually meant that your army was not at full strength for next battle, leading to heavier casualties, etc. It quickly degenerated into a downward spiral, where your best option was to restart the campaign and self-impose yourself some "acceptable casualty limits".
- This is a well-known phenomenon in the Total Annihilation / Spring community: the outcome of a multiplayer match is frequently considered to be set in stone after the result of the first raid. If you can cripple your opponent's economy early, you can set him back whilst your own vastly outstrips his. Cue large army smashing on your doorstep because your enemy was claiming metal spots whilst you were fending off raiders.
- Homeworld lives by this trope. Don't harvest sufficient resources or maintain your fleet (through construction or capturing) and you will find later levels much more difficult. Do a good job and the later levels become much easier. In some of the later levels it helps if you deconstruct your fleet to some degree and quickly rebuild at the start of the level. The enemy force scales with yours but not your resources.
- The RTS game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 was specifically rebalanced to avoid this, since the first game had a rather bad problem with it - namely, that the computer would throw everything it has into its first attack, meaning you've effectively beaten it if you can weather that. One of the developers described it as (something like) "winning a game in five minutes, then taking forty minutes to actually complete that victory."
- Except that they haven't really improved it at all. On Medium difficulty, the AI focuses on camping and doesn't even bother attacking most of the time; on Brutal difficulty, they keep launching massed tank assaults until the map runs out of resources at which point they die if you so much as look at them funny. With superweapons turned off, the Red Alert 2 AI is a pushover in skirmish.
- Towards the end of an early mission in Mech Commander you face a MadCat, a very tough enemy. The game does allow you to avoid the fight but beating it very often nets you this mech and with it you will waltz through the other early missions. The point being that only players good enough to get through the rest of the mission essentially unharmed can consider accepting battle, those struggling won't have their mechs in any shape to face it.
- In the RTS game Seven Kingdoms 2: The Frythan Wars human factions must conscript new soldiers from their civilian population. A major loss can significantly drain the population of a player's cities as they try to replace their lost soldiers and hurt their economy. Made even worse is that soldiers level up, a lot. Soldiers in forts are constantly training and slowly gaining levels, and in battle gain several levels quickly. And finally every unit has an inventory where they can hold one unique item. A victor can walk away from a battle with an army that has gained several levels of experience and new items while the loser has to use his civilian population to create new rookie soldiers.
- Additionally, the demonic frythan factions use life force gained from killing to create units. A victory for them can really boost their military might.
- Dawn of War has it too. It doesn't matter how good your base defenses are, capturing strategic points/critical locations/relics is practically the only way to produce Requisition resource which is needed by absolutely everything. If someone gains an advantage here, they can Zerg Rush the losers who will never catch up in terms of production capabilities. The skirmish/multiplayer victory conditions Control Areanote and Take and Holdnote are specifically introduced to prevent this trope by ending the match whenever someone has gained critical advantage.
- A totally different example occurs in the Dark Crusade expansion, at the strategic level in the campaign. There, your bases stay right where you left them, to be used when an AI later re-invades the territory. Hence a province you gain in a skin-of-your-teeth victory with your base half wrecked will be a BEAR to hold in subsequent rounds, whereas one you left with two fully-developed expansion bases will provide a pretty boring curb-stomp of any foolish invaders.
- Blizzard Entertainment RTS titles feature a fair amount of this trope, particularly in the first five or so minutes, where proper scouting, army composition, build order, supply-line harassment and Worker Unit saturation can easily decide the match. And then we start getting into Game Mods and things go Up to Eleven—remember, the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre originated as RTS mods, and in games like "Nexus Wars" (a Tower Defense variant), the opening minutes are both the slowest and the tensest.
- In the The Battle for Middle-Earth series, hero units persist across campaign maps and the War of the Ring mode of Risk-style territory captures. By the time the Rise of the Witch expansion was produced, your armies were persistent in War of the Ring, thus letting you build up an army of elite upgraded top-tier units and simply roll across Middle Earth crushing everything in your way. Conversely, if a skilled enough player on the defensive could hold off the advance (often with the aid of fortifications like Helms Deep and copious amounts of archers), the player could not only completely shatter the offensive, but come out of it with a powerful army of the player's own and turn the game around.
- In rymdkapsel, get too many workers picked off by a hostile fleet and you'll be too busy replacing them to build additional defenses before the next fleet hits. Although in the end you're doomed anyway.
- Many Rhythm Games reward players for hitting consecutive notes with point bonuses. As such, if you miss a note, you will need to rebuild your combo to get back the combo-based bonuses. Generally though, it's just best to restart the entire song at that point if you want that high score. This is in contrast to pure accuracy-based scoring systems like those of DanceDanceRevolution, beatmania IIDX, and Popn Music, where missing one note of hundreds will only have a miniscule effect.
- In Elite Beat Agents and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, your multiplier is equal to your current combo. This means if a song has a maximum combo of 300, and you miss on the first or last note, it means not a whole lot. But miss on the 150th note, and your score can really suffer because your point multiplier only went up to x150 instead of x299. The effect is extreme enough that a perfect, but low rank run will likely score higher than an imperfect, but otherwise higher ranked run.
- Gets egregious in later levels when shooting for a high score. Every tap you do starting from 2x combo will tack on (12-Easy/25-Normal/50-Harder) points to the values of every 300 you get. 100s, not so much. This results in FC's having almost double as many points as regular runs, and in that over 30% of your final can be from the last segment alone. By the end of Ep. 15, a single 300 can be worth as much as 30,000 points.
- In the freeware PC version (osu!) it is even more aggravating, since, in average, songs have much more beats to get combo (since breaks are much shorter, and there are several long songs), combos have a much more bigger impact in score. This means that, in order to get a score high enough to get considered for a ranking increase, FC's are mandatory (except in a few Harder Than Hard songs) (For a score to be considered for a ranking increase, the play has to be in the top 800 scores of the beatmap). Also, the way scoring works, it is possible for a play with 99.x% acc with 1 MISS to lose against a ~70% FC (or even less).
- The BIT.TRIP series does this as well. Every beat successfully bounced/zapped/collected increases your base score per hit, and successfully hitting beats fills a meter that increases your score multiplier every time it becomes full. However, miss one beat (or fire a beam without hitting anything in CORE or touch a white beat in VOID) and your base score is reset, and missing too many beats fills a meter at the bottom that resets your multipler and sends you to a lower 'mode' where your scoring potential is reduced and you are closer to a game over. In CORE and VOID, this is taken even further in that there are modes that constantly increase your score and multiplier, but one miss causes a mode down and resets everything.
- DJMAX attempts to strike a compromise: when you hit a note, you get a note judgment in the form of a percentage, and at the end of the song, the game averages your note percentages to produce your accuracy. Then there's the scoring system, which has the combo bonuses.
- Similarly, Flash Flash Revoluion bases its point system off of both hitting notes properly, and the highest level your combo reaches on the song. Thus, it's often in your best interest to mash buttons in time with the music if you lose the rhythm of the song, as the points gained from keeping your combo up will negate the points lost by hitting buttons when you shouldn't.
- In Guitar Hero and Rock Band (before Rock Band 3, which allows saving with no-fail on), nailing a star section gives you star power, which you can deploy on demand to make it easier to keep your health up. If you miss the star sections, you won't have the star power to BS your way through the tricky stuff.
- FTL: Faster Than Light: Pick up lots of scrap, take a minimum of damage and have good encounters, and you have good chances to go far. On the other hand, taking lots of damage and being forced by the Random Number God into poor encounters where you can't get much scrap will force you to use that scrap in repairing and hobbling on with poor equipment, which will further lower your chances of survival.
- The Binding of Isaac: Learning how to game the system and avoid damage can take an experienced player much further than a newbie. Players that avoid damage on floors will earn Devil Rooms easier, allowing them more upgrades if they choose to do so. Avoiding damage also means that the player may have spare health laying around to use for various purposes, such as gaining money from a blood donation machine or taking on a boss challenge room knowing they can heal afterwards.
- Being able to find (and access) secret rooms is also a big deal, as these rooms often contain many coins or items. The coins allow the player to obtain more items from shops (such as automatic mapping and increased spacebar item usage) or pay off more beggars for items, while the secret room items include extra lives, a double Heart Container, and one of the biggest Game Breaker items in the game in Epic Fetus.
Role Playing Game
- World Tendency in Demon's Souls works this way. If you die while in Body Form, World Tendency shifts towards black. On the contrary, if you defeat a boss or certain black phantoms that only appear in Pure Black World Tendency, it shifts towards white. As it gets whiter, the enemies are easier to kill and do less damage. As it gets blacker, the enemies are more difficult. However, in Black World Tendency, the item drops are much more valuable.
- Dark Souls got rid of world tendency, but still has this to a lesser degree with the humanity stat: it has a tremendous effect on resistance to the instant-death curse status effect and item drop rate while having a smaller effect on defense, but raising it is rather time-consuming while failing to recover your body after dying makes humanity go down to 0.
- In Dark Souls II, a character's maximum health is stunted by 5% after each death, up to a maximum of 50% health stunting. It can be reversed, but only through use of an item with limited supply.
- Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has this for the auction houses. At first, you barely stand a chance at winning since you only have a handful of 1, 2, and 3 point tokens, but if you play several times to unlock the ability to buy tokens before starting the auction (with clan points, which you get for everything, but are otherwise almost useless), then the whole thing becomes piss easy. It can also lead to a Game Breaker or Disc One Nuke if you get this ability early and use it to sweep the board to win powerful items.
- Final Fantasy X with its Overkill mechanic can cause a positive-feedback loop; higher-level characters will score overkills more often, getting more experience and keeping them higher-level to score more overkills...
- In the Fire Emblem series it's near inverted, as although the more units on your side the better, if you try to level each unit equally, you'll be left with not very good units and be overwhelmed easily.
- Also, if you spend the limited amount of gold you're given too quickly or hold on until the last moment, you'll end up with not very good gear besides the special equipment that you're given.
- While too many units is a problem, so is not enough. If a crucial or powerful unit is defeated and you're short on people, you're finished.
- The hacking minigame in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If you invest in hacking augs early and hack often, you'll quickly gather a stockpile of Nuke! viruses that enable you to claim nodes without alerting the system, and Stop! worms that put alerts on hold for a few precious seconds. If you wait too long, you'll use up every one of the viruses and worms you find just trying to hack the level 4/5 computers that are everywhere once you get to Montreal.
- Actually, the Praxis system in general. The major experience bonuses are only available with specific augs activated - the Traveller bonuses usually need high jump and/or Icarus Descent, combat requires the Reflex Booster, hacking requires an array of hacking augs - and better defenses don't trigger bonuses. Choose utility early on, and you can afford defenses later. Choose defenses, and you'll never get enough Praxis to gain utility.
Shoot Em Up
- Many Shoot Em Ups try to solve this problem by having the player drop either a series of power-ups or one mega power-up upon death (though this usually only happens if the player runs out of lives, probably as an incentive to keep playing.)
- Some newer games either allow the player to retain their powerups upon death, such as in Mushihime Sama Futari, or outright do away with the powerup system, like in DoDonPachi DaiFukkatsu and Saidaioujou.
- Your maximum power in most Gradius games: missiles, a laser attack (or double shot), four Options, and a shield. This takes 31 or 32 powerup capsules. On dying, you lose all of this.
- Blazing Lazers is a good example of the space shooter power-up problem. The weapons level up seven times. The later levels are tough enough with the best weapons. If you die once, it's virtually impossible to build them back up without dying again.
- Star Soldier (the WiiWare one, probably other ones) rubs Unstable Equilibrium in the face of gamers everywhere with an (admittedly generous) twist on the "die and lose all your weapons" concept. Your weapon strength is tied to your health, so each time you're hit, your weapons get weaker and weaker until you die. The short "score attack" nature of the WiiWare game makes this a bit easier to swallow.
- In most games in the Darius series, dying can decrease your firepower by a lot.
- In the original Darius, powering up your weapon, bomb, or shield 6 times will upgrade it, and on dying, you lose all of your powerups. So you could be on the last powerup level for your missile shot (red triple missiles), ready to get another powerup so you can get the laser, but when you die, you downgrade all the way back to green single missile.
- Darius II decides to just say "fuck you" and take away all of your powerups.
- Darius Gaiden takes away two shot levels every time you die. Just to add insult to injury, there is a Dynamic Difficulty system that raises the difficulty whenever you collect a shot powerup for the first time within the stage, with the new difficulty being directly proportional to the current stage. A few deaths in the final stage not only has a devastating effect on your firepower, but also leaves you with a choice between toughing out the last stage with your reduced firepower or making the stage sadistically difficult by trying to recover your firepowernote
- The arcade game Twin Eagle: Revenge Joe's Brother was rather unfair with this trope, for example you get plenty of weapon powerups in the first level, but hardly any in the second. It also features cheap Dynamic Difficulty, ie the further you play without dying, the more likely you are to die and lose your powerups.
- Twin Cobra does this too, exacerbated by power-ups being fewer and farther between in later levels.
- In Thunder Force III and its sequels, dying will, instead of taking away every weapon (besides the two that you start with), take away only the weapon you were using. This leads to situations where, in order to keep a particularly useful weapon and you are in a very risky situation, you have to not use that weapon. So much for using Free Range and Sever on those more difficult bosses!
- Shoot Em Ups that penalize more for bombing than dying, resulting in games that end sooner with plenty of bombs left having higher scores than games that are completed and have lots of bombs used up. Some offenders:
- Every mode in Mushihime Sama Futari Black Label — lose one life and your counter drops by about 1,000-2,000. Use a bomb, and your counter drops by at least 6,000.
- A couple of the later games in the Touhou series have some such irritating game mechanics:
- Both Mountain of Faith and Subterranean Animism have a shot power penalty for bombing, so if you bomb against a boss, its attacks will last longer, which means you're more likely to have to use another bomb. MoF does grant one "free" bomb at full power, since the shot power is exactly the same from 4.00 through the max of 5.00, but drop to 2 or less during a boss fight and you're pretty much screwed.
- Mountain of Faith also has the Faith Point system, which determines the score value of the blue point items. Each time you die, your total Faith Points take a permanent hit, making every single blue point item for the rest of the run worth fewer points. Meanwhile, extra lives are awarded based on score.
- In Subterranean Animism, bosses can drop a life fragment item after every attack phase, and an extra life is awarded for every 5 life fragments collected. The problem? If you die during the attack phase, the boss won't drop the life fragment at the end of that attack phase. In addition, if you don't finish the attack phase within the time limit, the boss also will fail to drop a life fragment, while the power loss from bombing makes it more likely that time will run out.
- In Undefined Fantastic Object and Ten Desires dying reduces your power by 1.00. Out of 4.00. While the games are quite generous with power items during stages, they're much harder to come by during boss fights. So if you die during (or just before) a boss fight you're going to have to finish the fight with about 25% less firepower than you'd have otherwise, making all the patterns take longer, making you more likely to die.
- Double Dealing Character comes at this from the positive reinforcement side: Bomb and life fragments are gained by auto-collecting large numbers of items (done by going up to the top of the screen. Or bombing, but that's not efficient) and capturing spellcards (done by not dying, bombing, or timing out the attack). So, it's easy to get totally maxed out on resources if you're playing below your skill level, but you'll find yourself with nothing if you try to play above it.
- In Legendary Wings, your weapon power acts as your health, every time you get hit your power decreases, until you die.
- In Terra Cresta, your attack drones can be destroyed by enemy fire, making you more likely to lose another, repeat until death.
- In Axelay, your currently-equipped weapon gets disabled when you get hit, if it doesn't kill you outright.
- Border Down has a unique take on this. There are three colored borders in the game: green, yellow, and red, which you choose one of at the start of the game and may or may not be able to manually change between stages depending on how high you scored in the previous stage. Each border is a different variation of a stage: green border is the easiest, while red is the hardest. They also represent your lives remaining: getting hit in green demotes you to yellow border, getting hit in yellow demotes you to red, and getting hit in red results in a Game Over.
- The very first Raiden had this. At full power, you can have a vulcan cannon that covers almost 180 degrees in front of you as well as huge dumbfire missiles (and/or a Wave Motion Gun and stupidly fast homing missiles). Die, and you're back to a basic two-bullet shot with no sub-weapon. It takes 2-3 stages of powerups to get up to max.
- The sequel and DX fixed it a bit with fairies, which would spawn if you die and give you some powerups so you didn't lose absolutely everything. The Raiden Fighters series is much more generous with powerups so it isn't much of a problem at all.
- Heavy Weapon had this with your Smart Bombs. In most shooters, you are restocked with a certain number of bombs after death. In Heavy Weapon, you lose all your Nukes on death! This makes the waves even harder as you now don't have the ability to clear the screen of enemies and bullets.
- In BLOODCRUSHER II, player leveling is tied to points from combos and trick kills, enemy difficulty is tied to kills total. Thus, if a player is playing conservatively and killing enemies safely one at a time, enemy difficulty quickly outpaces their character's attributes.
- In Thwaite, after a missile silo is blown up, it's out of commission for the remainder of that round and until either sunrise (every five rounds) or the player completes a round without a single building being destroyed. At this point, the player has fewer missiles to work with, and one strategy is to ignore half the buildings.
- In Chicken Invaders, getting hit costs you a significant amount of firepower, meaning that defeating enemies will take longer and you're more likely to get hit again.
Stealth Based Game
- The first two games in the Thief series had an interesting way to deal with this: The loot you steal on your last mission is used to purchase weapons and upgrades for your next one, however any unspent gold is lost and the stuff you buy does not carry over to following missions, so there's no point in hoarding it. You always have to buy your entire loadout (except for a few default items) using only the gold you collected on the previous level. Deadly Shadows did away with this.
Third Person Shooter
- In the Star Wars Battlefront series, a team who holds the majority of command posts will cause the other team's reserves to start dropping, thus creating an incentive to keep grabbing command posts instead of spawn camping and ending the game faster if one side gains a significant territorial advantage. This also occurs if one side destroys an important objective (Hoth's power generator, Endor's shield bunker).
- In the sequel, the game host can choose whether hero/villain characters are given to good players as a reward or to bad players to give them a a chance.
Turn Based Strategy
- In general, any turn-based strategy game that has persistent armies, unit dieoff, and no upkeep cost for maintaining old units will at the very least not inconvenience you for keeping old troops alive. In many cases, the game is balanced for a certain rate of dieoff, and going below that rate will make your army more effective, allowing you to avoid dieoff even further. (Heroes of Might and Magic is a good series to see this in action—it's possible to beat many scenarios in the fourth game without ever losing a unit.)
- Whenever goodies can be carried over into next scenario, there's a possibility to linger there after the last enemy base is crippled, hopelessly besieged and then left alive just enough to avoid triggering the victory condition — or, even better, spawn hapless XP fodder slowly enough to never become a genuine threat. Generally, units that require lots of XP to improve at least need to be carried through a few victories, but anything "balanced" only by being too expensive and time-consuming to build can be stockpiled at leisure. Time restrictions for a mission may avert this, or may shift the instability into early growth, because what little time you may get to prepare for the next mission becomes this much more valuable.
- Similarly, any strategy game that allows you to train powerful persistent Hero Units, especially across maps in a campaign, can lead to snowballing situations where your high-level heroes can take on entire enemy armies by themselves at the start of the map, plowing through any resistance and allowing you to secure an overwhelming advantage against your enemies. If the same goes for Design It Yourself Equipment, said Hero Unit easily turns into One-Man Army.
- In more turn-based games, giving a player an extra turn for doing well (extra turn for throwing a six in a simple board game, for example) can cause this via too much positive feedback. Snooker offers an excellent examples of this; it not being too uncommon for fairly evenly matched frames between world-championship-level players to have frames won by over 70 points... let's just say the final of the World Championship is played as a best-of-35 for a reason.
- The PSP game Jeanne d'Arc would have the same problem, were multiplayer available: when the title character is in Limit Break, killing an enemy gives her another turn. It's not all that hard to set up the battlefield for her to leapfrog around one-shotting everyone.
- Another example is mancala, in which the objective is to pick up and collect as many stones as possible. At least one variant of the game is "solved," mathematicians having worked out which pit to start with in order to guarantee yourself a dominant position.
- The third Valkyrie Profile game, Covenant of the Plume, uses overkill damage to determine what rewards you get from Mistress Hel after each battle. Score a lot of overkill damage? You get extremely nice stuff, such as powerful weapons or in a certain route, an item that actually increases the maximum amount of Sin you can get from each enemy from 100 to 120. Score an insufficient amount? Good luck with the Realmstalkers, Hel's servants that almost force you to use the Plume just to get rid of them. Given that usage of the Plume automatically gets you closer to getting owned by Freya and/or the bad ending, but nets you enough points to outright ignore the overkill situation, it's probably her way of saying "you moron, you want to kill Lenneth or not? Don't fuck up."
- In Battle for Wesnoth, every unit has a name, a level, and experience points. Units from previous scenario can be "recalled" in subsequent ones as an alternative to recruiting new ones, and this is pretty much the only way to succeed: you get already developed units right away, instead of recruited weakest units. The computer, on the other hand, can recruit preprogrammed loadouts of pre-leveled units by the bucketload. This tends to make things difficult if too many units die or you fail to soak up enough experience points early in the campaign.
- Paradox Interactive's Hearts of Iron II avoids the problem of conquering empire becoming too powerful to defeat in a few ways:
- Whenever you officially annex a country, instead of receiving all of its I Cs (Industrial Credits, the units of production in the game) instead you receive only 20%.
- Recently conquered territories will usually not like being under your rule, and you will have to garrison a number of divisions of troops to prevent partisans from rising up against you.
- Supply lines are somewhat used in the game. If your troops advance too quickly across territory, their supply lines might become strained, which will reduce their ability to defend your territory.
- The same company's Europa Universalis series also tries to avert this with its "Stability" mechanic: Every country has a Stability rating that fluctuates many times during the game, often being lowered by certain events. Stability affects both revolt risk and tax income. Where this trope comes in is that each province a faction holds adds a little extra to the cost of raising its Stability (though a nation's "core" provinces have much lower costs); an empire holding a large number of low-income, non-core provinces might actually cost more to keep stable than it's worth.
- Paradox games have another feature to avert this. They typically have an invisible "Bad Boy" score that goes up if you go on a conquest spree, which will (in theory) cause countries to unite against you before you can get big enough to run away with the game. The united forces against you are supposed to be more challenging and interesting than mopping up nations one-by-one.
- German strategy game Battle Isle has a predefined deployment of troops on the map of every scenario of the campaign, however, these units can carry over their experience from previous mission. So it comes with a huge advantage to take care of your units. Battle Isle III even had an extra mission that deployed your units in such a fashion that you can't save all of them, diminishing the effects of this trope for the following final missions a little.
- Master of Orion takes steps against the boring mop-up period, not against this trope itself. Every so often, the game's warring star empires convene and vote on unification. Anyone who's supported by two-thirds of the total galactic population wins the game.
- Unfortunately the voting process is weighed against population; only the two most populated factions out of up to eight become candidates for the election, the vote of a faction is worth more as it grows on population, and the two candidates can, and will, vote for themselves. Its more of a mercy feature to prevent games to extend needlessly, as anyone who has the lead on the population race is often steamrolling in every field with little chance for anybody to catch up.
- Some races, especially in Master of Orion II, have clear advantages over others, creating inherent imbalance. Playing as the Psilons, who get all advantages from researching a technology and a research boost (normally, a player has to pick one advantage per technology and trade for the rest), or the Elerians (who can see all star systems from the beginning and can conquer planets using mind-control) usually results in them curb-stomping everyone in short order.
- Most of Nippon Ichi's games (Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom, etc) have some game mechanic (repeated reincarnation in Makai Kingdom, failure fusion in Phantom Brave) that can be abused in order to make extremely powerful characters or equipment fairly early. While the games often have secret events, post-game storylines and random dungeons that will put these advantages to proper test, the main questline will be too feeble to offer any challenge.
Turn Based Tactics
- X-Com uses this very hard. If you do well at the start, you'll have more money and therefore can hire more scientists, getting you better technology, improving your odds in battles, etc. This results in the game being very hard at the start but ridiculously easy toward the end. This is partially accounted for by more powerful aliens sequentially appearing throughout the game, and them being better armed, but not sufficiently to make the game's difficulty smooth. Many self imposed challenges have originated from this.
- In Mario Kart grand prix, winning a race means you start the next race slightly ahead of everyone else; the players start in the order they finished the previous race. Note that GX some racing games actually do this in reverse, placing starting positions according to who lost.
- The developers restored equilibrium in later games by giving players more chances to get powerful items to gain positions (such as Red Shells or Stars) when they are in lower positions, and making some of them less effective if you don't have much of a disadvantage (the Magnum Bill, for example, lasts much longer if you use it from the 12th position rather than from the 5th).
- The purpose of all these Comeback Mechanics is to make sure that anyone can win at any time. While that makes for a more, err, interesting multiplayer experience, it is not necessarily a more fun one: the end result, as almost all the griping on the articles for the later Mario Kart games will tell you, is that winning is a Luck-Based Mission, and skill is almost irrelevant. This is what can happen if you discard Unstable Equilibrium.
- R4: Ridge Racer Type 4's GP Mode gives you a new car after the first heat, after the second heat, and before the final race. Your performance in previous races determines the quality of your new car. Get first place in every race and you'll get the best new car, allowing you to complete the next few races with ease. Place just high enough to qualify in each race and you'll get crappy new cars that will require perfect runs to even qualify in the upcoming races. This is on top of your team berating you for not finishing in first.
- Tantrums in Dwarf Fortress are all about this. When a dwarf gets unhappy enough to throw a tantrum, they'll toss items around and attack other dwarves, both of which are crimes, and they'll be subject to Dwarven Justice for them, which will not make them happy. Best-case scenario, the player has built a Luxury Prison Suite specifically to counter this. More likely, the player has forgotten to build a prison at all and all jail times are replaced with beatings. Oh yeah, and if your fort is in bad enough shape that one dwarf will throw a tantrum, there are probably a few others right on the border of one, and if it happens to be their stuff tossed around or their nose punched in, you could be in for a tantrum spiral. Conversely, if your fort is kept really happy, a single dwarf randomly (or "randomly") suffering enough at once to throw a tantrum regardless won't be enough of a dent in the overall mood to have any further effect.
- The big 2014 content update is intended to shake this up a bit by expanding personality traits, so that some dwarves will react to unhappiness in more varied ways. How that will work in practice has yet to be fully tested.
- In Wolf, you need to be in good form to hunt food and avoid human hunters. If you are injured badly (either through a hunter's bullet, prey animals fighting back, or a fight with a packmate over dominance), you will be unable to take advantage of your Sprint Meter, making staying alive much, much harder. While you might be able to find a carcass to eat from, good luck limping away from a human hunter.
- In The Sims Medieval, starting a quest with low Focus can screw up most of the quest. When you have low Focus, you're more likely to fail at quest tasks or get bad results from responsibilities/chance cards. These events give you negative buffs, which cause you to lose even more Focus. And if you take too long recovering your Focus, you get Behind on Quest...which, you guessed it, decreases your Focus.
- Risk is a mixed bag. As players conquer more territory, they get exponentially more troops. This means that the guy to conquer the most gets the most troops. However, this is to counterbalance the side effect of spreading your troops too thin. It also suffers from the mopping-up problem where someone is clearly going to win, but it will take a lot of die-rolling for it to be official. And of course, there's the human factor...
- In Monopoly, someone who gets a good start (i.e., getting a monopoly early) will generally continue to win. And, like Risk, the mopping-up can take a looong time. (Worse, unlike Risk, it's hard to gang up on someone...). This was done deliberately by the game's first designer specifically to elicit anger from the losing players. She was using the game (then called "The Landlord's Game") to illustrate how poor wealth distribution screws over the lower classes — that it makes it impossible for them to succeed in any meaningful way unless they get absurdly lucky.
- Chess has very strong elements of this. A player who gets behind in the opening development will have a very hard time catching up with his opponent. In a similar way, if one player manages to get a material advantage ("material" as in "combined value of all pieces"), that player will likely be able to exploit and increase said advantage. This means that, for advanced players, winning a game of chess is often a matter of getting that first advantage while preventing the opponent from doing so.
- In Settlers Of Catan, players whose initial settlements don't produce enough resources often wind up permanently blocked from expansion by other players busy building roads and settlements, both of which cost nothing to maintain and can't be removed. Though these unlucky souls lack the resources to do much of anything either for themselves or against opponents, their misery doesn't end until the game does.
- Poker. While you get the same (random) cards whether you're down or up, a short-stacked player can't thicken the pot as well when he has really strong hands, and can't use the threat of a large raise to force players out and protect his "drawing" hands.
- In the obscure Digimon TCG, the losing side was dedigivolved to their rookie form, while the winner remained the same. This basically meant that whoever was winning after the first turn had a big advantage. They did try to use the Paper Rock Scissors mechanic to combat this unbalance (Vaccine (red) beats virus (yellow), Virus beats Data (green), Data beats Vaccine), and some digimon switched their color when digivolving. Though the other player could anticipate your switch and switch themselves.
- Magic: The Gathering
- A player that can obliterate his opponent's forces has a few rounds of easy pain-causing before the other side can bring itself up to speed. The solution is often one of the "Wrath of God" cards that clean the whole board and re-equalize the situation.
- The concept of Tempo also highlights this — well-timed spells and abilities can be used to slowly gain total control over the flow of the game through card advantage, denial of critical spells, or even just by delaying the opponent, so a player who can snipe out critical spells or permanents can effectively cripple an opponent so badly, only the most unexpected spells or the worst possible draws can ruin their advantage. Of course, tempo can swing both ways, as a canny Aggro player can lure out a Wrath of God with a token army, then summon the real threat after making the opponent use up their mana and spells to stop that feint.
- This is part of the archetypal Green Ramp deck. Play cards that give extra mana, use the extra mana to get more mana, repeat until you can drop enormously expensive things early in the game. The game designers have mentioned doing this deliberately, arguing that being on the loosing end of an Unstable Equilibrium is generally more fun and encouraging to a player than being involved in a game that has been forcibly stalled.
- The WWE TCG Raw Deal had probably the most extreme example of this. The game had no mana; instead, you could play cards with a Fortitude "cost" equal to or less than the amount of Damage you'd already played. In other words, the more damage you've dealt, the more damage you can deal. They addressed this with powerful cards in the next expansion that only worked if you were behind ... which then made it more advantageous to be behind ... which was addressed with powerful cards that only worked if you were ahead in the following expansion... and the cycle of life continues.
- In the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the player who knocks out a Pokémon gets to draw an extra card, which is a small but significant edge. The player whose Pokémon gets knocked out must discard any cards attached to it, which nearly every Pokémon requires in order to attack and may have needed several turns to build up, a substantial setback. Quite often, there has not been time to attach anything to any Pokémon but the one attacking, meaning the player whose Pokémon has just been knocked out must start all over while the other player still has all of the necessary attachments.
- Legend of the Five Rings has central game mechanics built around an Unstable Equilibrium, as each of the paths to victory limits your opponent's options while expanding your own.
- Military decks attack the opponent's provinces, which limits the number of Dynasty cards they get. These include Holdings (used to pay for everything) and Personalities (used to do nearly everything).
- Honor decks can control the Imperial Favor, a bonus which has had a staggering number of different uses over the years.
- Dishonor decks force the opponent to pay extra for Personalities whose honor requirements they no longer meet (and in previous editions of the game, could prevent them from playing Personalities at all.)
- Enlightenment decks seek to play the five Rings cards, which is an Instant-Win Condition. The Rings themselves have extremely useful abilities.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic card game by Enterplay uses Action Tokens to do more or less anything. The closer you are to winning, the more Action Tokens you get at the start of your turn. If you're only three or four points away from winning (out of fifteen points), you'll be rich enough to grab two points a turn without your opponent being able to do anything about it.
- The Lone Wolf gamebooks reward you for playing through all the adventures by allowing you to add an extra Discipline for each previous adventure you completed. By and large, these make life easier but don't give you a massive advantage. Until Grand Master. In addition to the Discipline benefits, you gain 1 Combat Skill point and 2 Endurance points for each adventure completed. The upshot is that the adventures actually get easier as you go, to the point where the ultimate mission... going alone into the evil god's universe and swiping a legendary artifact from his inner sanctum... is an absolute cakewalk.
Though this gets inverted in some of the later books, where having some of the items you get from previous books, most notably the Sommerswerd, will make some bosses exponentially harder, to the point where one boss is mathematically almost impossible unless you have a very specific set of disciplines, have gotten and saved every single stat boosting item you can get by that point in the game, have both of END and CS scores maxed, AND gotten a one of a kind potion in the third book that boosts your combat score higher then any other potion in the game and refrained from losing/using it until the boss battle, in the eleventh book. Even then it requires a lot of luck with the combat rolls.
It's notable that there are several fanon attempts to explain why it would be perfectly logical for Lone Wolf to NOT bring the only non-evil weapon in the world able to kill the Big Bad's with him when he invades one of their strongholds, just to make that fight easier.
- Many Tabletop Games give injured characters penalties to their ability to keep fighting, which of course tends to result in rapidly decreasing odds of winning the fight. This is commonly called "Death Spiral", and whether it's a good or bad thing is a common cause of argument.
- Sanity in Call of Cthulhu. When you fail a roll, your Sanity decreases, making it easier to fail rolls, to represent the descent into madness.
- Blood Bowl had so much of a problem with this that most of the changes in the fourth edition were intended to fix it. They actually managed to do the exact opposite, and the so-called Living Rulebook was created to fix that damage. Nowadays Blood Bowl is more boring but also more balanced.
- Dungeons & Dragons doesn't have special rules or cases to enforce this, but like any resource management game it can be a concern.
- In earlier editions, having one or two of your big spells fizzle can make your Wizard a walking liability (especially at early levels, before you have a few dozen spell levels full of backup fodder). In 4th Edition, the designers realized just how devastating it could be to a party's resource structure to miss with a Daily power, and so made most Dailies still have some effect on a miss (or, in the case of Reliable powers, not be expended until they hit). Essentially, most fights of average size last between three and five rounds, and missing out on a round's worth of actions for any reason can reduce your combat effectiveness by 30% or more. In a big setpiece fight with a solo monster you're Damage Racing, getting stunned or missing with your best shot can make all the difference.
- Several early editions of (A)D&D modified the amount of experience received for a game by a percentage based on the character's (class-based) "prime" attribute(s). So not only would e.g. a stronger fighter already perform better in combat than a weaker one because of the to-hit and damage bonuses resulting from that high strength — he or she would also advance more quickly just for being that strong and thus pull ahead of his or her weaker fighter-colleagues in that respect as well.
- In the U.S. and U.K., there is a correlation between which part of the year a person is born in and their success in school and/or sports. The theoretical reason for this is that, in the early grades, the oldest children in a grade will be physically and mentally more developed than the youngest. This allows them to understand and retain more information/ get more practice, while the youngest are dragged down by an early poor performance. Subsequently, the older children start the next school year with an even bigger head start. The advantage stacks year by year.
To counteract this phenomenon (or perhaps to take advantage of it), some parents purposely delay enrolling their children in preschool or kindergarten for a year. This is referred to by some researchers as redshirtingnote , which seems to have mixed effects.
This is thoroughly explored in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, most effectively early on with respect to the Canadian junior hockey league, in which most of the players are born early in the year, with birthdays later in the year becoming vanishingly rare. This is because the league is yearly, and at the earliest ages a difference of a few months makes a big difference in coordination. By age 17, that advantage is gone and has been replaced by years of being given more and better training. School systems that avoid differentiating children until later ages don't see the same birthday gaps as those that differentiate earlier. The rest of the book is less well supported, but still compelling.
- It would be interesting to see this effect explored in sports where increased age is a disadvantage, such as gymnastics and figure skating. For elite-track gymnasts, the age race may be so profound that parents and coaches deliberately seek out children with later birthdays — for example, much has been made of the fact that Gabrielle Douglas, member of the USA Women's Artistic Gymnastics team, has a December 31st birthday. Thus she will be eligible for the 2012 Olympics while she is 15 years and 9 months old, compared to competitors who mostly range from 16 to 18.
- "The rich get richer, the poor get poorer". To grossly oversimplify, the rich can afford to take spare cash and invest it, gaining more cash. This cash can then be invested for even more cash. The poor struggle to meet their daily necessities - or, for the worst off, do not even succeed in doing so - and, barring external aid, remain poor forever. Even when they get external aid, the most common form is through a loan. If they can't capitalize on the loan well enough, they'll have to pay out debt on top of everything else. Laws can be created to stabilize this, but take a wild guess at what you need to get laws passed. Explored further in a Cracked article.
- The saying typically come up in relation to the Boom-Bust Business Cycle. In a Boom the first people who buy in are the people who already have money and they usually wind up selling their assets to poorer people who either took out loans or got a windfall during the Boom. When the Boom Busts the rich, the value of assets plummet allowing the rich, who sold to the poor during the Boom for cash, to repurchase the assets at a net profit. The cycle repeats, each time transferring money from poor to rich.
- Impoverished communities get a bad reputation in the news for criminal activity related to poverty. Businesses and people don't invest there, increasing poverty, and kids there get the idea that crime is "the norm" (even if the vast majority of people living there are not criminals), increasing crime.
- It doesn't help that poor people can be trapped in a vicious cycle of malnutrition and disease: they cannot afford enough food and medicine to stay fit for work, which, in turn, makes it harder to climb out of poverty.
- Poverty trap is the term used to describe these positive feedback loops that reinforce poverty. Some of the ones observed include bad infrastructure (no money to pay for roads; bad roads mean businesses don't want to invest there), education (lack of money for schools; low education means much fewer opportunities to escape poverty), health and war (caused by desperation and lack of options, fueled by the frictions associated with poverty).
- It is also the case that good quality stuff lasts longer and so is cheaper in the long run. Poor people can't scrape together the larger one-off cost and so have to buy cheaper versions that wear out much more quickly.
- America's Republican and Democratic primaries. Winning in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire enhances a candidate's stature, even if they don't actually provide very many delegates, and makes them more likely to win other states down the road. Because of this, candidates will spend immense amounts of time campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire even though they're fairly small states. Big states like California and Texas provide many more delegates, but came later in the year and so had less impact (voting on the two most popular candidates, rather than the whole field). The resentment got such that states started moving their primaries earlier and earlier (including Iowa and New Hampshire, who treasure their frontrunner status), such that now nearly half the states have their primaries on the same day.
- Predatory pricing runs on this. Big, rich companies deliberately lower their prices to what their smaller competitors cannot match, taking a temporary loss of revenue that they can afford. The smaller companies can lose business now by refusing to lower their prices or lower their prices now and make losses that kill them later. The big company then swoops in on the market share they leave behind. Of course, it can backfire if the small company finds a way to keep up with the lower prices, or maintains a large enough customer base to ride it out, since the big company is losing money all the time they do it. This was particularly ridiculous back when antitrust legislation didn't exist; nowadays, certain business laws forbid these practices. For instance, France fined Google because their maps service is free of charge, making it hard for anyone else who wants to do a map service to rely on that service alone for revenue.
- In theory, predatory pricing is unlawful under US antitrust laws, but hardly anybody has actually been held liable for the practice. This is because the majority of courts require someone to prove that the company doing the predatory pricing actually has a substantial likelihood of recouping their losses caused by the reduced prices (otherwise, it just results in lowered prices for consumers). This is hard because 1) the predatory pricing scheme can occur over decades, making predictions uncertain, 2) other companies can swoop in and take the market share instead of the original company doing the reduced pricing, or 3) some other external force changes the market and upsets the balance.
- Fighting. Being hit hurts, and makes your body slow down in order to avoid hurting itself more. Which makes you easier to hit. Which, as previously mentioned, hurts. This is, of course, the reason for tropes like Heroic Resolve or Critical Existence Failure in media — because watching someone get struck and the fight largely being over from there, just not immediately, is fairly boring. Henceforth, the reason why most fighting styles develop 1) killing blows, or 2) pincer moves. Sumo matches quickly turn into who can maneuver into a better "locking" position and then maintain the hold.
- Having sex regularly is said to make the body release hormones that adds shine to hair, relieves stress and promotes an individual's overall core health. That's right. The sexually active get sexier, and anyone not getting any don't improve. Dramatically, at least.
- The creation of the universe followed this trope. During the big bang, a huge amount of matter and a huge amount of antimatter was created at once. But there was a tiny amount more matter than antimatter. The matter and antimatter annihilated each other, leaving just a fraction of the original amount created — which then went on to form the stars and galaxies we see today.
- Jared Diamond posits that this is how civilization as we know it arose in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel: People groups that were early adopters of agriculture and animal domestication eventually accrued so many advantages over those that remained subsistence hunter-gatherers that the latter were forced to either adopt a settled lifestyle themselves or die out.
- The book is full of examples of this, explaining why Eurasia is more technologically developed than Africa (the longer east-west axis means a greater area of similar climates across which the same agricultural techniques can be used, as opposed to Africa's north-south axis), why European settlers decimated native populations in Oceania and the Americas (not just technology but also a greater range of immunities to disease), and so on.
- Markovnikov's Rule in Chemistry - when hydrogen is added to an unsaturated hydrocarbon, it will bond with the carbon that already has the greatest number of hydrogens attached.
- In sailing, boats behind and around you interfere with your wind, making you slower. Anyone in front of the pack goes faster, increasing the distance between them and the pack, which constantly decreases their interference with your wind.
- A similar effect occurs in automobile racing, particularly NASCAR: on larger tracks, if two racers begin racing side by side trying to get ahead of the other, the resulting aerodynamics will slow them both down allowing anyone ahead of them to increase their lead and anyone behind them begin to catch up.
- In crowdsourced funding, you have the true believers who jump on early with minimal prompting and the diehard naysayers. Then you have those sitting on the fence. Some of these may be waiting to see how the wind blows. If the initial wave of believers push the funding near to or past the minimum needed, it's likely that these will jump in too, causing the funds to grow even more. However, if the initial wave fails to make it, these may refuse to lend their support, which further drags down the project being funded.
- According to Skinner's theory of operant conditioning, most people respond to punishment by learning to stop doing what prompted the punishment. For those with antisocial psychological disorders, however, punishment makes them more defiant and rebellious, leading to further and harsher penalties, leading to more antisocial behaviour...
- With various psychological disorders, having just one episode increases your vulnerability to having more, and then more.
- Studies have found that the longer one is underemployed, the harder it becomes to get meaningfully employed again.
- Looking for work in general is this. It's much harder to get hired if you don't have the experiences and especially professional references and connections to show you're worth hiring. Positions that ask for professional references are a huge pain in the ass if you don't have any such connections, as even employers seeking minimum-wage employees won't consider those who don't have at least three references to their name.
- Not to mention the old catch-22 of "I need a job to get work experience, but I need work experience to get a job." Adding to that is the rise in the requirement of unpaid internships, meaning that people who are already financially able to work for free are more likely to get the job that pays over somebody who simply can't afford to work without being paid.
- In many sports being successful increases a team's income. More money allows you to hire better players and better players make it more likely that the team will be successful.
- In European football, for example, the Champion's League is the richest and most prestigious competition. The top clubs in each league qualify and this makes it easier for them to attract the top players, which in turn makes it more likely that they will qualify for the Champions League next time. It's also the case that bigger, better squads not only make that team better, but deny those players to the other teams.
- Similarly this can happen with professional wrestlers. If the wrestler is popular then the company is more likely to give them screen time, increasing their prospects. If a wrestler can't get screen time then he has little chance to increase his popularity and it is likely that the company will continue to ignore him, making it impossible for him to get over.
- Truth in Television in World War Two: once the Allies landed in France, Germany could no longer get bombers to England, making it possible for the Allies to carry out operations there without interference. Also, Allied control of French airfields made it possible to bomb targets throughout Germany, slowing industrial production - including production of flak, fighters, and anti-aircraft guns. By the end, Germany had developed the world's first jet fighter, that was twice as fast as the best the Allies had, but most of them were destroyed on the ground or lacked the fuel to be effective. This could have happened in the Franco-Prussian War and World War One as well, but the former was over too quickly, and defensive advantages were too great on the Western Front in the latter.
- Gravity itself is a case of this. As you climb a staircase, it gets easier to climb that staircase as gravity gets weaker the higher you go.