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Diminishing Returns for Balance

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"Meow! (If you attach lots of the same type of abilities, you'll get diminishing returns. So if you really want to maximize your potential, try your best to carefully balance your abilities.)"
Judd, Splatoon 2

Scaling stats linearly has its problems. If a player spreads their points out between each of their statistics evenly or accrues small bonuses in one stat or the other, the effect is perfect... but min/maxers who find the best stats and jam all of their points into them can snap the balance in half.

One way to mitigate this effect is to make every point of a stat after a certain threshold have less effect on that stat than the last one. You can alter the coefficients as necessary for each attribute, and if you do a smooth enough job, nobody will notice. The game works as it should and everyone's happy.

Of course, using diminishing returns also has its troubles. First, it's a lot more work, and takes a lot longer time to playtest and get just right. Second, if it's done poorly, it just makes the game mechanics confusing; explaining to the player that, above a certain point, each point of Dexterity only provides 36.74% of the benefit of each previous point makes your game sound arcane and confusing. If you don't explain it to them, astute players will feel cheated when they realize that they pushed all of their points into Strength and are getting no appreciable benefit from half of those stat points.

The second problem is that it doesn't always solve the problem of Min-Maxing. There are usually a handful of stats that are the most useful in any game, it's just that one of them tends to be more useful than the others. Diminishing returns encourages players to dump points into the "best" stat or stats until the penalty is hit, then dump more into the second-best. If the system is not well balanced regarding stats in the first place, the net effect is that instead of focusing excessively on one, players will focus excessively on a small handful. In addition, if there really are just a few useful stats for particular builds, or a particular build needs a minimum in a particular stat to be useful, it means players will accept the penalty in order to increase those useful stats to where they want.

The third problem is inconsistency with player vision and roleplaying. You might want to play a very strong, hardy warrior who is very dumb, but games that take this trope too far make such a character impractical, as you'd have to sacrifice every other stat to make such a warrior, including other necessary ones like dexterity. Systems which abuse the trope result in characters with very similar stats, often leading to stagnant gameplay, the exact problem such systems were designed to avoid.

Like most attempts at balance, it's difficult to find the right setup that makes everyone happy, but some form of balance needs to exist in order to keep the game playable.


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    Alternate Reality Game 
  • Ingress:
    • The player level cap is 16, but the level locked Weapons and Resonators can only go up to Level 8. Instead, the benefits of Level 9 and beyond other than increased recharge range and efficiency and increased XM capacity (both of which already come with every level-up) manifest in the form of one-time Field Kits that provide various items as rewards.
    • Shields and Links can only provide up to 95% damage reduction; any higher becomes "excess" shielding that is ignored in damage calculations and only exists in case other sources of shielding are knocked out.
    • With regards to non-Shield Mods: As you stack more of the same mod, each successive one will have a reduced effect; for example, the first Common-level Multi-Hack will add 4 extra hacks to the Portal, but a second one will add only 2 extra hacks.

    Beat 'Em Up 
  • Spamming the same Heat Action on one target in Yakuza 0 makes it do less and less damage each time.

    Board Games 
  • Jaipur has diminishing returns for selling goods of the same type, as their value decreases as more of them are sold off (regardless of who's selling them). The non-precious goods in particular quickly suffer steep declines. However, there's also a Set Bonus for selling three or more goods of one type at a time. A lot of the game's tension comes from whether you should save up your goods to form sets, or just try to sell them off before they lose too much value.
  • Wingspan: Putting more birds in a habitat powers up the habitat, but the more birds you already have in it, the more eggs you'll pay to add another.

    Fighting Game 
  • Super Smash Bros.
    • Each game has a mechanic known as "stale-move negation", which causes an attack to become weaker the more frequently it hits an opponent. In Melee, it causes attacks to deal reduced damage, but only barely affects the knockback they deal. In Brawl, the knockback power of a move will decrease rapidly with each successive use (for example, a move that can KO around 100% fresh will not KO at 300% if fully decayed). With a mechanic that boosts the power of a fresh move also introduced, there's a large disparity between the knockback power of a fresh move and a move that has been frequently used, making the strategy of not using your primary KO move(s) until your opponent is at KO percent actually viable (rather than just being an ideal tactic).
    • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also features diminishing returns on dodging. If a fighter dodges too many times in a row, their duration of intangibility keeps getting shorter, and their recovery duration keeps getting longer. This game introduces a similar penalty on ledge-grabbing, which grants a moment of invincibility. There have been issues with high-level players grabbing ledges for that invincibility, so Ultimate made it such that the more times you grab a ledge in a match, the shorter that invincibility period will be until there's none at all and your opponents can just wait by the ledge until you grab it, then stomp on your character's hands to make them fall. Unlike the dodge penalty, this does not reset until that character is KOed.

    First Person Shooter 
  • Borderlands 2
    • You can complete challenges to collect "Badass Ranks", and when enough are collected, you can permanently increase the attributes of every character you've created. However, when it's time to increase a stat, you can only increase one of a set of five (out of fifteen or so possible stats), and stats that you haven't increased are more likely to show up in this set than other stats that have been increased a lot. As well, the size of the increases fall gradually from 0.7% to 0.4%.
    • The other skills for all characters avoid this trope: every skill point gives the same bonus as the other ones. This makes maxxing out fewer skills much more effective than spreading them out, since a 40% boost to one thing is usually more helpful than a 20% boost to two different ones.
  • E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy's stats become increasingly expensive (level-up points-wise) once they're past level ~30. At level 100, it can take a dozen points to level up one stat. Cybernetics cost more brouzouf with each upgrade — and require the expensive Necrocybermancy research past tier 6 — to compensate for the massive bonuses given by upgrading.
  • Team Fortress 2 is designed with multiple classes filling different roles, so having too many of a single class will cripple the team in various ways; the Sniper and Spy are particularly notorious for this as both are geared for precision elimination, so having too many of either will make your team unable to fight head-on (and if you drop into a team with an overabundance of any class, nine times out of ten it's one or both of these). The Soldier and Demoman subvert this, as a 12-man team composed solely of them can unleash a destructive barrage of explosives potent enough to take down anything short of an ÜberCharge.

    Hack And Slash 
  • Diablo II uses this for many skill bonuses, such as Dodge giving you an 18% chance to dodge with the first point, but quickly tapering down to less than 1% bonus per point by level 20. This type of balance wound up turning many skills into "one point wonders." Just put a single point in the skill, and the "+x all skills" bonuses on your equipment end up giving you just as much of a bonus as actually maxing the skill would have in the first place.
  • Hades uses this for boon levels offered through pomegranates; the higher the level already is, the less of a benefit the boon will get from an additional level. This operates independently from the added benefit granted by higher rarities.
  • Titan Quest: This trope is downplayed, averted, or straight-up inverted with mastery skill levels, but not usually played straight. Consequently, the game encourages repeated investment in a small number of skills to be effective rather than plinking one point everywhere.
    • Most skills add a constant numerical bonus every level, which gives a smaller percentage bonus overall.
    • Some skills instead have diminishing percentage bonuses. For instance, the Dream skill Psionic Immolation goes from 96 to 129 Electrical Burn damage from level 1 to level 2, which comes out to +33 or 34%. The skill goes from 494 to 544 Electrical Burn damage level 11 to level 12, or +50 or +10% damage.
    • Skills like Resilience and Accelerated Regrowth lower the cooldown of its base skill by a fixed percentage each level. The result of this effect is not linear; at level 2 Accelerated Regrowth, the player can cast Regrowth approximately once every six seconds (4/3x speed). At level 5, it becomes once every four seconds (2x speed) cooldown. At level eight, once every two seconds (4x speed).

    Idle Game 
  • Most Idle and Clicker games have this as part of the core mechanic, where the cost to buy one level of a resource producer or one level of damage increases. Due to this, the player is bound to hit a soft cap where they either cannot progress any further or would take an exceptionally long time to do so, and as such most Idle Games also have a "prestige" mechanic that resets the game but gives prestige points that either give a permanent multiplier bonus (for resource/damage or money) or be bought to give a multiplier, all of which persist after resets.
  • FE000000: Normal generators' multipliers are reduced after 2.049e161,614,248x. Given a multiplier x, let y be log(x, 2.049e161,614,248). x is reduced to 2.049e161,614,248^(y^(y^-0.00781)). Red chroma raises the softcap once you start producing it, though.
  • Lit (2021):
    • The "Quantum theory" upgrade gives +1.5 normally, +1.57 if you have one unspent light, +1.62 if you have two, and eventually it only adds +0.01 for each one. It still makes a surprisingly big difference for the first few levels.
    • The "Alhazen" and "Einstein" buyables have weaker effects if you buy them past the effect softcap, 1.78e308x (increasable to 2.41e462) for the former and ^1.36 (increasable to ^1.49) for the latter.
  • The Milestone Tree: Once you reach e1.000e9 points, the game will softcap the first milestone's effect (the thing that produces points) with a lowered power. It can be delayed, though.
  • The Tree of Life:
    • In the mu tab, the effects for each one get softcapped and no longer give +0.01 to the power of Phosphorus based on Phosphorus, then softcapped^2 to make it even weaker until that gets removed.
    • Gem effects after 1000 are weakened by x=(7+log10(x))^3.
    • While each Chromosome improves the amount of Genes gained per level base slightly, making its production rise far faster with each one owned as a result, several Chromosome milestones halve Gene gain based on Chromosomes or have other negative effects. That said, other milestones can disable them.
    • Chromosome effect above starting from 76 is 1.004^x*2, but above 95 x changes to (190*x-9025)^0.5 to not make that rise too quickly. Animal Milestone 32 removes the softcap, but replaces the effect formula with 1.002^x*2.66. Then it gets reduced to 1.002^x*2.605 by Chromosome Milestone 20. Eventually, the effect settles at a multiplicatory growth at 0.03*x+7.78.
    • "Science is organized knowledge" effect is square-rooted above 10 because it would otherwise decrease from "I think therefore I am"'s cost base too quickly. Human Milestone 80 instead subtracts 5.5 from "IttIa"'s base while lowering "Siok"'s base to 0.009, though you still get better effects in the long run.

    Mecha Game 
  • To limit the effectiveness of evasion (long considered the One Stat to Rule Them All because it could make units basically untouchable), newer Super Robot Wars installments introduced "Evasion Decay": if any unit, allied or enemy, successfully dodges an attack, the next attack on that unit gains a cumulative bonus to its accuracy rate. This resets once the unit takes a hit.

  • Dragon Saga's archer classes have a skill that lets them juggle enemies in the air by holding down the 'Z' key. Predictably, it quickly became one of the most hated exploits even after more broken ones were found. One attempt to fix it saw its damage gradually decrease to 30% over consecutive hits... with no other change; the likely intention was to improve the odds that the juggler would screw up and drop their target or the target being able to maneuver out of harm’s way before they were actually finished off, but since players who were good enough to start juggling were also generally good enough to continue juggling indefinitely, the only actual 'improvement' was that the victim survived longer in a helpless state.
  • City of Heroes originally let you add as many of a type of 'Enhancements' to a power as you liked, leading to builds that were far and away so much better than anything else that there was no reason to use any different kind of enhancement build. This led, eventually, to The Great Diversification; when this was instituted, making every enhancement of the same kind give less return. The returns diminished so harshly that anything over three of a kind was useless. The net effect was to make the game overall more difficult and to weaken linear, straightforward powers that only benefit from one type of enhancement. Certain powers and builds became useless overnight.
    • It was very necessary, as the Inventions System that came out about a year later gave many newer ways to enhance powers, which would have been absolutely game-breaking if there were no diminishing returns. Inventions also had the side-effect of making many previously unfeasible builds into very effective ones that can rival the most powerful of the pre-diversification builds. If anything, Min-Maxing was made even better.
  • Multiple damage or defense upgrades in EVE Online employ Diminishing Returns. The first such module has full effect, the second approximately 80%, and after the third, a fourth becomes near-pointless.
    • Something similar happens with skills. Each skill typically gives a 5% increase per level to its relevant modules, but the training times increase exponentially for each level, so you may need only an hour to train the skill to level 1 and unlock the first 5% boost, but it will take a month to train it to level 5 and unlock the final 5% increase.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The duration of loss-of-control effects on other players reduces by half if re-applied within fifteen seconds. This avoids the infamous "stunlocks" of the early game.
    • The Burning Crusade introduced diminishing returns for secondary stats, but not primary ones. This mattered little except for the niche of rogue tanking: with just the right gear, talents, and buffs/debuffs from allies, it was possible for a rogue to avoid every melee attack from any non-player enemy. This resulted in a Difficult, but Awesome way of fighting some bosses of all difficulty levels (it only worked if the boss did no magic damage, and if the execution wasn't quite right the rogue would die very quickly). In Wrath of the Lich King, this was made unviable for main tanking by putting diminishing returns on the dodge value obtained from agility, which was crucial to becoming unhittable.
    • Hard caps are also in effect in some cases, but Blizzard is trying to get rid of those. For instance, there is a hard cap for armor. At some point, druid tanks, helped by a generous armor multiplier to compensate for leather equipment and lack of shields, could easily push past it. Many healers also had a talent to increase a player’s armor for a short time after healing them with a critical effect. This was then addressed by several means, such as changing the armor multiplier to only work on specific types of items and the healer talent changing to a plain damage reduction effect.
    • Trade skill leveling works in a similar fashion. Early on, it's ridiculously easy to cook spiced bread with inexpensive flour and spice you can get anywhere or make cheap potions with flowers that are as common as dirt, but as you increase your skill, it becomes harder to increase it further. Ingredients needed to craft become rare and expensive and it often takes multiple attempts to actually gain a skill point, each attempt consuming the reagents regardless of a possible lack of skill gain.
  • Champions Online implemented this feature fairly early on to balance out the downright insane returns people were getting on Dex/Ego builds (things like critting on almost half your attacks for almost double damage). They instituted a "softcap" partially determined by the character's level that seems to be working well as a compromise; low-level players see better returns early on (Dex became a feasible defensive stat BEFORE the late teen levels). but the higher level min/maxers can still push their stats high enough to get noticeably better performance from their characters.
  • eRepublik skill training works like this. For example, in the case of strength, when you start out, you gain .5 every time you train, but by the time you hit 4 strength, this is down to .04 every time you train.
  • Star Trek Online has a skill point-based system with diminishing returns the more you rank it up. The only reason for maxing out some skill trees is to get the ability to train high-level, class-specific powers on Bridge Officers.
  • Ragnarok Online inverts this before its renewal patch for its offensive stats; while the cost to increase a stat went up as it got higher, you'd get bonus damage when you reach certain points (for example, every 10 str points gave a melee attack bonus). This bonus grows as you reached higher and higher stats, to the point that oftentimes it was worth paying more for the higher stat (so you'd have less total stats), if it meant reaching a damage bonus. The renewal patch changes this behavior.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has status ailments occur in shorter intervals if you keep applying the same type to the same target over and over again. For example, Sleep will last for 30 seconds, and then 15 seconds if inflicted on the same target again, and it keeps growing shorter from there. Luckily, the diminishing mechanic also applies to enemies, so they can't cheaply put you in a stun lock. However, players and enemies can have multiple status ailments of the same kind inflicted on them at once if they were hit by different attackers, so it's possible to have 20 players all inflict the basic Poison status with full strength on a boss character since each Poison effect is coming from different people instead of the same player multiple times.
  • This is a common point in Kingdom of Loathing, where almost everything — damage resistance, elemental resistance, combat frequency, you name it — eventually hits a point where diminishing returns kick in hard. Unlike many massively-multiplayer games, Kingdom of Loathing didn't start with many of these: they were added later on, in order to create a balanced situation.
  • Wizard101 did this previously, changing all gear to no longer use percentages and change to a damage rating. They made it so 1 damage rating counted as 1 percent. However, once you reached 150 damage and tried to go up, you'd get diminishing returns. Lots of people on the forums as well as the subreddit complained about this, especially because the developers kept making gear with higher stats, yet punishing players for using them. Eventually, although the developers didn't exactly revert the change, they increased it to a much higher number at around 220 damage. This is an amount that cannot currently be reached without rare circumstances (like a quest helper increasing your damage), rare gear (certain decks exist that give up to 10% damage, but those are difficult to obtain and are impractical for normal gameplay anyway), or using real money to buy temporary elixirs that increase your damage further. It still exists in PVP environments where your damage gets reduced further than in PVE environments, and this is also the case with resistance stats. They did this because of complaints of jading (using gear with high resistance and healing abilities to prevent people from dealing damage and defeating the player while the person doing the jading is intentionally wasting the time of the person attacking them, encouraging them to either flee or run out of cards (running out of cards in a player vs player battle counts as an automatic loss to the player)).
  • Toontown: Corporate Clash: The Sound gag is a Herd-Hitting Attack that deals a good amount of damage. Since using Sound doesn't require much strategy and players would often use solely Sound to breeze through everything in Toontown Online, it comes with a buff and debuff. Using Sound once will increase your damage output by 8% the next turn, but if you choose to use Sound again, your Sound is debuffed to half its regular damage for a few turns.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Used in Puzzle Quest, where putting more and more points into each stat gave less and less reward per point.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • League of Legends uses hard and soft caps for some stats. Attack Speed and Cooldown Reduction hard cap at 2.5 attacks per second and 40% reduction, respectively, with no diminishing returns. Movement Speed has no hard cap, but two "soft caps" make it hard to increase past a certain point — raising your movement speed past one soft cap causes increases to have their effectiveness cut, and going past the second causes a steeper cut.
    • Armor and Magic Resist automatically self-curb their damage resist percentages through the use of a rational function. This means that every point in one of these stats reduces less damage than the last, BUT it isn't a diminishing return stat because each point grants the same amount of "effective health", which is just another way to say how much damage it would actually take to kill someone after said resistances. This avoids a common problem in trying to design how damage resistance works where the difference between being tanky and being invincible is a lot smaller than being squishy and being tanky.
  • Dot A 2 has similar hard and soft caps, but a certain character manages to disable the speed cap (which is 522). If an enemy hero has less than 50% of his health, Bloodseeker will not only get a speed boost but will also disable the speed cap, making it possible to have its speed to go from around 370 to a whopping 1500.
  • Rise of Nations and its spinoff Rise of Legends (no relation) increases the price of a given unit as their population increases, to make it more expensive to mass single unit types.
  • Warcraft III: At early levels, armor value scales more or less linearly with actual amount of damage reduced. But as it increases, the damage reduced declines, so it's impossible to ever reach 100%. Similarly, the Agility stat increases armor starting at approximately A armor for every 3 Agility, but goes down as the hero gains levels.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Betrayal At Club Low: A single side of a skill's D6 costs 2X dollars to upgrade by 1 point where X is the current value of the side. In other words, the upgrade cost keeps doubling which strongly discourages Min-Maxing since opposing skill checks that roll 7 and up are nearly impossible to match normally from lack of funds, but can be faced by potentially setting up Condition Dice using other skill checks.
  • Stats in Demon's Souls tend to start giving diminishing returns when brought up to somewhere around level 30-50; Endurance is the most extreme, as at level 40 it outright stops giving stamina boosts.
    • Its spiritual successor Dark Souls has a soft cap of 40, but diminishing returns really hits hard at 50, in which the only reason you want 50 in that stat is for spell requirements (such as 50 Intelligence for White Dragon Breath and 50 Faith for Sunlight Spear). The exception is Carrying Capacity, which is tied with Endurance stat; while Endurance stops giving any stamina boost after 40, increasing it beyond 40 gives you one point of carry capacity per level, that is, a flat-rate increase.
    • Dark Souls II both plays this straight and inverts it: all stats have diminishing returns and the soft cap is still at 40, but the points from 30-40 are worth considerably more (about 50% greater return per point) than the first thirty. Some advantages of a stat won't even show up at all below a certain value; for instance, spells won't start getting extra casts until you get attunement above 20.
    • Elden Ring continues and elaborates on this system. As the game presents far more chances to gain experience than its linear predecessors, all stats have tiers of non-linear growth. For damage-related stats, growth typically slows starting at 20, again at 50 or 55, and reaches a crawl past 80. Vigor and Mind only have two soft caps (40/60 Vig, 55/60 Min) while Endurance has one at 50. Damage scaling of spells has its own set of soft caps dependent its related stats (60/80 for Int and Fai, 30/45 Arc). While all stats can be raised to 99, doing so offers little practical benefit: returns diminish so much that the only reason to invest points in a stat after its second soft cap is to fulfill the requirements for equipping the highest tiers of weapons or spells.
  • The Fable games give you three sets of stats and let you choose how to level. Unfortunately, each level of a stat costs about 5 times the cost of the previous level. Since leveling a low stat is so cheap, almost everyone advances roughly equally.
  • In Digital Devil Saga 2, each stack of a (de)buff is worth only half of the previous one.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The series, in general, has long employed this trope. You increase your skills through the successful use of said skills. Each time a skill is used successfully, the skill's progression will raise a percentage. (For example, if you strike enemies with a long sword, your Blade/Long Blade/One-Handed skill will increase.) Once that progression reaches 100%, the skill will increase one point. Once you gain ten skill increases, you go up one Character Level. However, the higher said skills get, the longer it takes to progress them. Essentially, it is very quick and easy to go from a total novice to adept in a particular skill, but it is much harder and takes much longer to go from that point to maxing out the skill. Additionally, skill trainers charge exponentially more gold to train you at the very highest levels. (Though with all of the series' Money for Nothing, this can be considered trivial.) This is why it is advisable to save skill books, which raises a certain related skill by one when read until the skill is at a very high skill level. (Open your inventory and place them directly to save them for later, as picking them up directly will automatically open them for you to read.)
    • Morrowind:
      • One major exception is Alchemy, which is severely unbalanced and is the perfect example of what can happen when this trope is not enforced. Not only can mass potion brewing lead to numerous increases in the Alchemy skill (snowball effect), it will also give your base Attributes lots of free level-up multipliers, and, eventually, exponentially more powerful and expensive potions as your skill increases. Lots of money, lots of experience, powerful stackable buffs...all while doing very little. Additionally, this leads to the legendary Fortify Intelligence Stacking exploit and can ultimately result in a situation where the game crashes from mathematical overflow. Later games would heavily Nerf Alchemy, as well as work to prevent situations where you can stack skill increases in this fashion.
      • Due to a bug, the Mercantile skill is broken at 50. Up to 50, the price decrease of all merchants' goods makes sense, as a high skill level indicates that you are better at buying and selling. After 50, things start getting more expensive once again. Thankfully, many Game Mods exist as unofficial patches to correct this issue.
  • The later games in the Etrian Odyssey series implement this trope to reduce the effectiveness of stacking buffs and debuffs — usually, additional stacks of a type of (de)buff will be less effective than the first.
  • Fallout:
    • In Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics, leveling skills to 100 is done on a 1-for-1 skill point basis. Raising it to 101 costs 2 skills points per rank. This quickly accelerates so that, by the time the skill is close to its cap at 300, it costs as many as 6 points per rank. Raising skills so high has its benefits, especially in Fallout 2, where certain very high skills (such as Science and Speech) unlock special gear, quest solutions, and even party members if you're willing to specialize. Being able to blow someone's head off with a sniper rifle from across the map doesn't hurt, either, and you'll need a Small Guns above 200 to do it.
    • Your damage taken in Fallout 4 is divided by approximately the cubic root of your Damage Resistance. This makes the early points very valuable (after clearing the threshold to do anything, about ~1/7 of an attack's damage; generally very easy to achieve), but subsequent points much less so — taking half as much damage requires getting about seven times as much DR. Consequently, while early game DR tends to be in the tens, Powered Armor has to raise your DR to over a thousand to produce a noticeable effect.
  • Granblue Fantasy features the "Final Limit Break" or FLB stages for some weapons (101-200), summons (101-150) and characters (71-90 for SRs and 81-100 for SSRs), which are represented by a blue star. Not only do these levels tend to require higher amounts of Experience points to level up, but they also provide minimal stat increments per level. In order to compensate, FLB weapons gain a new subskill, FLB characters gain improved passives and skill-sets, and FLB summons gain an additional aura effect.
  • The first Geneforge used the Might and Magic version of this trope — going from 10 to 11 in a skill, for instance, does nothing, whereas going from 10 to 12 provides a bonus equivalent to going from 9 to 10. From 10 to 20, the bonuses came from even numbers only, and above 20 bonuses were only gained at 23, 26, and 29. This incidentally meant that getting one point of a skill from a quest could just mean that you'd be capable of getting a bonus if you were willing to buy another level of the skill. Later games replaced this with the Dungeons & Dragons system of having higher levels cost more points — in that case, the only problem is that it encourages minmaxers to get their free quest-related bonuses as late in the game as possible, so as to maximize the number of skill points saved.
  • The Mario & Luigi RPGs award points into every stat automatically on each level up, and then let the player apply a bonus to one stat by timing a roulette spin. If one stat is getting too high, or you've used the roulette on the same stat too many times, the numbers on the roulette get smaller. There's always a 3 on the wheel, however, so with good timing, you can min-max any of your stats.
  • The Might and Magic games had an interesting take on this trope, where the stat system only offered bonuses at certain intervals, which progressively decreased in frequency as the number got higher. You received bonuses to relevant skills, for example, at 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, etc., until finally stopping offering bonuses past 500. So, a stat of 15 and 16, for example, was functionally the same. This tended to make raising most stats higher than around 50 or so rather pointless and rendered most minor stat gains worthless well before that.
  • In Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, Beam Mages can stop time if they can hit the enemy with enough Time Beams. However, the more times your team stops time during a battle, the more Time Beams it'll take for the next time stop to trigger.
  • Undertale: Using a Punch Card while a Tough Glove is equipped provides +6 to attack. It can be done repeatedly in one fight, but doing so for the third time only grants a +3 bonus, which drops to +2 for each subsequent use.

  • Tales of Maj'Eyal is built around this trope, to the point where the dev refers to it as a major balancing principle in their design. Every major damage stat — whether it be physical power, spellpower, mental power, or something more esoteric — starts needing "more (listed) points per (effective) points", equal to the current stat/10 (rounded down); so by the time you hit Spellpower 50, say, you need an extra five points from your gear or stats in order to get one extra point's worth of damage. At least the game is very clear about this once you know what to look for: equipping a new weapon tells you both the number of "raw" points it would give you, as well as the number of "effective" points that will actually show up in damage calculations.

    Sandbox Games 
  • Planet Explorers has a placeable enhance machine which can strengthen a piece of equipment for a material cost. Any subsequent enhancements after the first will only be half as effective each time until the stat increases are negligible.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Role-Playing Game Role Master has this for the skill system. Every ten points in a skill up to +50 gives you +5. The next ten give you +2, up to +70. Then you get +1, then +1/2. Magic items and stat bonuses, on the other hand, are linear, so +10 is +10 whether you're adding to 10, 100 or 1000.
  • Dungeons & Dragons (both 3e and 4e) uses a variant of this in their point-buy system for stats — the modifier value derived from your stats remains constant for easy math, but the cost of each stat grows faster the higher you get.
    • This only applies for new characters — points gained from leveling (and from items or spells) have no diminishing returns, although the cost of most magic items grows quadratically with the benefit.
    • Older editions also increased the Wish cost for raising stats: if your stat was anything between 1 and 15, then a Wish spell would improve it by +1, but if your stat was already 16, then each Wish would only raise it by 1/10 of a point; if it was 20 or more, each Wish would increase the stat by 1/20 of a point! This was back in the day when the Wish spell aged the caster by five years, and required a System Shock roll (basically a Fortitude save) to avoid instant death (with success merely leaving you bedridden for a week).
  • Similarly, the New World of Darkness tends to encourage evening out one's portfolio past a certain level — each new dot in a category typically costs its new rating multiplied by a flat rate, so buying the fourth dot in an Attribute from the third costs twice as much as buying the second dot in an Attribute up from the first. Similarly, the character-creation rules make the fifth dot in a Trait (out of a normal maximum of five dots) cost twice as many of the starting points to buy.
    • Averted in character creation, where costs are linear, except for the highest level. This leads to the problem where it is mathematically superior to start with an extremely minmaxed character, and spend xp to cheaply flesh out secondary abilities, than make a balanced character and pay a premium to increase your abilities later. Shadowrun 4th Edition has the same setup and suffers from the same effect.
  • GURPS:
    • Skills start to give noticeably diminishing returns around level 14 (90% chance on normal tasks) and additional levels become a total waste of points at level 24 (90% chance on "impossible" tasks) except in the most extreme settings where techniques can have penalties of -30.
    • Earlier editions of GURPS had the point cost of any skill double with each level, so increasing anything beyond +7 or so (depending on skill difficulty) would be ridiculous. Later editions made the cost linear with level, allowing for easy Min-Maxing with opposed skills (like swordfighting).
  • Pathfinder: In the second edition, each increase to an ability score adds +2 if it's below 18, but only +1 if it's 18 or higher. Unless you're trying to be a Jack of All Stats, you will hit this point at level 1.
  • 7th Sea has an unusual version of this. Each game session, a player starts with a number of hero points equal to their lowest stat. If unused, these hero points become experience points at the end of a session. Depending on your sessions, this can increase your net gain somewhere between 50 and 100%. So the character who put two in all his stats will gain experience points faster than the person who has a wit of 1 and a finesse of 3 (and this lets him earn his third points faster, causing the divide to grow even faster).
  • Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies: You only gain points to improve your abilities when you fail. Characters who max out an ability and then focus exclusively on it are going to advance very slowly, if at all, while those who dabble in many things or throw themselves into scenarios where they've got no real skill are going to develop faster.
  • BattleTech: The way engine mass works, there is an optimal engine size and speed for any given 'Mech mass and while deviating from this may give some benefits, dramatically over-engining results in a 'Mech with virtually no room for weapons or armor as the engine mass increases more and more with each extra point of movement added. Conversely, under-engining results in smaller and smaller weight savings for the same reason. As such, most practical 'Mechs won't deviate much more than a point of movement in either direction from this curve. The later addition of Light and XL engines shifts this curve in favor of faster designs, but doesn't actually get rid of the curve.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • Splatoon has this manifest in several ways:
    • Having multiple copies of the same ability on you isn't very helpful, because every duplicate ability will provide less of a boost. For example, having one "Ink Saver" ability gives you a decent boost, adding a second one gives you a much smaller boost, and adding a third is mostly pointless because the boost is so small as to be negligible.
    • In Splatoon 2, you can use Ability Chunks to force sub-abilities onto your gear's available slots. However, if you already have the sub-ability on a piece of gear, the cost to add another copy of it will increase. For the first copy of the sub-ability, it costs 10 Ability Chunks, the second copy costs 20, and the last copy costs 30. It will take hundreds of battles just to have a "pure" piece of gear if you don't want to rely on random ability unlocks through Ability EXP.
      • In spite of these measures, some Splatoon and Splatoon 2 players continue to minmax anyway, as many weapons benefit much more from certain abilities than others, and competitive players aim for particular milestones, such that they'll take both the diminishing-returns penalty and the long grind for the Ability Chunks to get exactly what they want. The Bamboozler weapons, for instance, are made much more effective by Damage Up in Splatoon and Main Power Up in Splatoon 2, which increase the damage dealt with each shot on the Bamboozler. As most other abilities have little to no direct advantage, Bamboozler users will most often go for builds with large amounts of Damage Up or Main Power Up to the exclusion of everything else. The result is that this infrastructure not so much discourages minmaxing, but prevents the advantage from being too high against people who don't minmax.
    • Certain weapons can be very effective on their own, but become a liability if the entire team is using them. For example, having a roller on your team is good because it can ink a lot of ground quickly and splat any enemy it runs over. Having a team of nothing but rollers is an uphill battle, because rollers have very little range and very poor vertical mobility. Likewise, having a charger on your team is good because they can splat enemies and provide support from a distance. Having a team full of chargers makes it very difficult to cover ground or combat any enemy that gets close. Teams like these often result in one or more players using their weapons to perform tasks other than what they were designed to do just to not get annihilated.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Upgrading a skill's power in Disgaea obviously makes it more effective, but the SP cost will increase several-fold. It's possible to have a character build up up a ton of Mana, spend it all on one skill to give it a significant boost, only to find that it will cost more SP than they can hold! Fortunately, these upgrades can be reversed, but you won't get the used Mana back.
    • This was mostly a problem in the Third and Fourth entries. The fifth game balanced this out by making skills cost less SP as they are levelled up through use.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Speed has the effect of allowing you to double-attack an enemy if your Speed beats theirs by (usually) 4, and increasing your dodge rate by 2%. For a slow character, gaining Speed is important because it means they can avoid being doubled by enemies (which is a death sentence for all but the sturdiest characters), and for a character with average or above-average Speed, it's even more important because it'll mean they can double more enemies. For a really fast character who has enough Speed to double all enemies they can expect to encounter, all more Speed really provides is a small dodge boost. This has caused problems for Speed-specialists over the series, as that threshold can sometimes be lower than you'd think.
    • Luck has an even more pronounced point of diminishing returns, since its main effect is reducing the critical chance of enemies. The thing is, it does so at double the rate that Skill increases critical chance, so 5 Luck stops you from taking crit from anything with 10 Skill or less, and once you have 10 Luck, pretty much no generic enemies have even a chance of critting you. Some enemies do have increased critical rates (for instance, a swordmaster or an enemy with a killer weapon), but those crit rates tend to be too increased for even very high Luck to completely negate them, so it's best to just play as if the enemy might crit you (for instance, sending in a character sturdy enough to survive a crit). Having no Luck is a major problem, but you really don't need much at all, and after that point, the only thing it provides is a boost to accuracy and dodge rate that's half of the one provided by Speed and a quarter the one provided by Skill.

    Real Life 
  • This phenomenon is called the bottleneck. It's especially visible in computer setups: if you have an awesome CPU and lots of RAM but a piddly video card, games won't run very well. Conversely, if you have an awesome video card but a weak CPU and little RAM, your games still won't run very well.
    • This is a problem with computer systems as a whole: just because you increased the performance of one part doesn't mean you'll see the same gains. For example, if going from a dual core processor to a quad core processor cut 10 seconds out of a job, adding four more cores may only cut out 5 seconds, while costing 4 times as much.
    • This is the idea behind "second best part" builds - by choosing the second fastest processor, second best video card, second fastest or second biggest memory block etc., you get ninety percent of the performance of a cutting edge setup for about half to two-thirds of the cost.
  • This trope is why it's recommended to take breaks when exercising for long periods, especially if you're out of shape or just haven't been doing it in a while. Your body can only handle so much exertion and strain before fatigue sets in, and trying to power through will just make it worse while you gain very little. There's even a risk of hurting yourself by doing that. Taking breaks gives your body a chance to recharge and repair the tiny tears formed in your muscles, in order to rebuild them to be stronger in the future.