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Do Well, But Not Perfect

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"The perfect is the enemy of the good enough."

Describe Do Well, But Not Perfect here, but it’s okay to inculde at least one error!

Sometimes the objective of a game is to do well — but not perfectly.

This annoys people who absolutely must get a perfect score every time. Oftentimes, the buffer zone of "good enough" is unforgivably tiny, and in some cases may be explicitly defined as exactly enough to qualify and nothing higher. Crazy as it seems, getting an imperfect score deliberately might require some very carefully balanced playing, resulting in the rewards for completing the so-called "easier" objectives being more difficult to obtain than those for perfect completion.

This trope can be invoked by players, usually because the rewards for 'well' is better than the one for 'perfect'. This makes sense, in a way — if the game thinks you're having difficulty it might give you stronger items and power-ups to compensate, but of course this then leads to people deliberately playing worse to get these bronze and silver awards. Alternatively, in games with Multiple Endings which tend to have one designated as the Good Ending shown only to perfect players and alternate ones shown to well players, players might play worse to see what those said alternate endings are.

This can also apply to computer players, where the A.I. is purposely programmed to not play perfect so that the player actually has a fair chance to win, but while still providing a challenge. A good example is button mashing, where even the most skilled human button masher can be easily outsped by a computer, or beating the world champion at chess, because Humans Aren't Perfect. Otherwise, natural Artificial Stupidity will take care of that. For more general NPCs, compare Tactical Suicide Boss.

On highly competitive environments, this trope can be in effect to test how far are the participants proficient at Obfuscating Stupidity. Disguising one's potential and situational advantage is crucial to avoid being ganged up on by the rest in the early stages, which becomes as crucial as being actually skilled enough to come up on top at the end.

Note that this trope doesn't refer to situations where the player's goal is to achieve a "decent-or-above" score. It refers to points where the player's goal is to achieve a very specific range of scores which require you to make certain errors at specific, but unmentioned, ponts.

This is also something that a Brilliant, but Lazy person may do - they may simply "Do well but not perfect" just because they find it easier.

Compare Earn Your Bad Ending, Playing Sick, Deliberate Under-Performance, and Second Place Is for Winners. Contrast 100% Completion. See also Enemy Mine and Tall Poppy Syndrome. This may be the best strategy when The Runner-Up Takes It All is in play. For examples of this in the workplace, see also Vetinari Job Security, where someone may be doing well but not perfect, but they're kept around because no one else can do their job. Compare The Perfectionist, which is more about psychological rather than strategic reasons why you don't want to perform perfectly.

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Video-Game Examples:

    Action Games 
  • In the Commodore 64 game Slinky (a Q-Bert clone), you are given one of two visual rewards when you clear a stage. If you manage to do so without dying even once, you are given a high-speed instant replay of your clear. However, if you do perish during the level, you are instead shown a small cutscene with Slinky outwitting one of the game's various enemies. Since you have infinite continues, the latter winds up being the arguably better reward.
  • Reaching the three-stars ranking in Action Taimanin's missions on Hard difficulty requires you to get a 30-hit combo, a task that will be difficult if you've overleveled your characters and their abilities to the point you kill enemies in one or two hits, since mobs only spawn in groups of five or six at most.

  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask:
      • Two Heart Pieces are obtained by wearing a mask that forces you to stay awake in order to listen to an old lady's boring stories. There are two stories, and she asks you a question after each one to make sure you were paying attention. In order to get both Heart Pieces, you have to get the first question right and the second one wrong. The old lady is expecting answers based on the stories she just told you; the answer to the first story's question is told in the first story, but the answer to the second story's question is not (which is why she rewards you for getting it wrong).
      • There is an archery game in Clock Town. For beating the record score, you get a Quiver upgrade; and for getting a perfect score, you get a Piece of Heart. The problem is, if you get a perfect score your first time, which is quite difficult, you will only get the quiver upgrade. Which means you need to get a perfect score a second time to get the Piece of Heart, without any chance of a consolation prize of 50 Rupees for just beating your best score. It's much easier to just beat the record score by one the first time before actually trying for a perfect score. When Link returns to the First Day, the record score is reset, so you can beat it again for 50 Rupees, or get a perfect for 200. However, getting one perfect score makes it impossible to get ANY prize from anything less than a perfect score; so to get the easiest profit out of this, the best tactic for making money out of this is to beat your best score by one repeatedly until that becomes genuinely difficult, or you get a perfect score, then reset the clock, rather than trying for the big prize every time.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Your sword trainer rewards you for hitting him a certain number of times before he hits you thrice. Your most rewarding strategy is to start by hitting him 100 times before throwing in the towel, then 300 times before doing so, and finally 500 times. If you go straight to 300, you'll miss out on 50 rupees; if you go straight to 500, you'll miss another 100 rupees. Although, in the time it takes to safely hit him 300 times, you could easily have earned more than that amount by just cutting grass.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks: You have to score less than 4000 points to win the quiver from the Pirate's Hideout minigame. You have to deliberately miss a couple of times, as if you hit everything flawlessly to keep the counter up you will exceed 4000 and win a Heart Container instead (both prizes are great, but the former is still given only with a score lower than that for the latter).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:
      • Getting over 28 points in the "Clean Cut" minigame will earn you rare treasures like Goddess Plumes and Golden Skulls. However, getting between 20 and 23 points will get you an Evil Crystal, another rare item. Another prize you want occasionally in the same minigame is the 30 Rupees for 15-19 points. Since the game costs 10 Rupees, getting this relatively low score every few times will ensure that you'll never run out of Rupees while playing it.
      • If you survive all 12 rounds of the "Boss Rush" minigame, you get a ludicrous 9,900 Rupees. This seems like a lot, but by the time you have the necessary upgrades to hold that many Rupees, there's not much left to buy with them. You can, however, forfeit the game early for different prizes. Quitting after round 8 gives you the Hylian Shield, the only unbreakable shield in the game. It's very handy for the final battle, which involves a lot of shield-blocking and shield-bashing, and for not needing to worry about your stupid shatter-prone shield in general. And it looks cool. Even if you really want that pile of Rupees, it's a good idea to get the shield first: it makes the minigame a lot easier, since you can't use potions to repair your shield if it breaks. There's also the fact that you can only win one prize from the Boss Rush; even if you make it all the way to the final battle in the chain and win, you only get the "beat all the bosses" prize. This means that, in order to win the Hylian Shield and Piece of Heart from the minigame, you have to play and quit the challenge after beating 4 battles (for the Piece of Heart) and 8 battles (for the Hylian Shield).
    • Hyrule Warriors: Getting A ranks on most Adventure Mode stages requires a certain number of KOs. Reaching that number may require the player to hold back on capturing keeps until enough enemies have spawned.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: In Pondo's "Snowling" minigame, if you pick up the spare, you get 100 rupees, which isn't too shabby for early game, despite costing 20 rupees per play. Score a strike, however, and you get a Blizzard Rod...and nothing else. It's a nice weapon, granted, but probably not worth 80 rupees to most people, and you can get them for completely free in numerous locations.

    Action RPGs 
  • Diablo III: Many of the set dungeons fall into this. They usually require killing a number of enemies in a very specific way. Depending on your build and how much damage you're dealing, you may accidentally kill the enemies before you're able to do what the game wants.

    Adventure Games 
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade punishes the player for being a bit too clever or a very good fighter in some branches. If Indy surrenders the fake diary or is able to escape the Castle with Henry undetected (doable when all the guards are knocked out), they will miss Berlin completely and with it not only puzzles, game content and cutscenes, but also the chance of getting an easy bypass of the roadblocks from none other than Adolf Hitler.
  • In Saw II: Flesh & Blood, getting the best ending requires you to complete all of Campbell's trials but then deliberately lose the last one. If you win it, you (unknowingly) defeat Michael; and when you get to the end of the game, playing as Michael, you experience the defeat from the other end.
  • In the white chamber, the key to Earn Your Happy Ending is to identify good moral decisions that Sarah can make. If you make enough of them, Sarah will be deemed to have redeemed herself and Arthur will set her free. But, if you make all the correct decisions, you instead get the Easter Egg "Comedy" ending which provides no closure to the story. Fortunately, the developers included a way for Sarah to subtract a good deed, meaning it's not necessary to replay the entire game if you found all of them.
  • The Collector's Edition of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles has two achievements for slow solving — one for solving a puzzle scene in over 10 minutes, and one for solving a hidden object scene in over 10 minutes. So if you want to get the award for collecting all the achievements, you need to take a break during two scenes and let the game timer run. Some games make it even more frustrating by having one achievement for completing a hidden object scene in under a minute, one for completing X hidden object scenes in a row in under three minutes, and one for completing a hidden object scene in over 10 minutes, making 100% completion easily unreachable by accident.
  • Indigo Prophecy has this come up a few times. Since you play as both the killer Lucas and the detectives hunting for him, sometimes it's better to do enough so Lucas doesn't panic but not so much as to make the work hard on the detectives.
    • At the very start of the game, right after Lucas kills, you're expected to do all the things you'd expect a killer to do – hide the body and the weapon, wash off the blood, act casual to avoid suspicion, and escape before the police catch on. When playing as the detectives, you have to investigate the scene of the crime, but you can't move on with the game until you find the weapon. If you made Lucas hide the weapon, the camera cuts away while Lucas hides it, so even the player doesn't know where Lucas hid it, meaning the player (as the detectives) has to hunt for it. If you "forgot" to hide the weapon, the detectives would find it on the ground at the crime scene, meaning you can move on that much easier.
    • There's also one instance where you get better results from failing QTEs the game throws at you. While Lucas is being questioned in his office, don't follow the prompts which appear when the green mites attack him, as succeeding in them causes Lucas to freak out over their appearance, which makes him appear hysterical to his interrogator who cannot see the insects.
  • On several occasions, Heavy Rain actually rewards the player for failing a Quick Time Event with additional scenes and Character Development that you wouldn't notice otherwise. E.g. the first time (out of two possible) that Ethan is taken into custody, Norman breaks him out, establishing himself as the only cop in the game who will protect an innocent at all costs.
  • Don't Escape: 4 Days to Survive: Each night has a threat level which you must try and get as low as possible, with the actions you take before nightfall reducing the level of danger by varying amounts. The first two nights have far more options to reduce the threat level than is necessary; the third night tightens up the options but still allows a little room for error; and the fourth night totally averts it, as you must reduce the threat level to zero for the Golden Ending.

    Beat 'em Ups/Hack 'n Slash 
  • The grading system in Astral Chain works this way. Unlike previous Platinum games that required the player to beat the time requirement and avoid taking damage to receive the highest rank, this game uses a score system based on your overall performance. This means you can take as much time and damage as you want and still get an S+ ranking if you perform a variety of other special moves and beat the score requirement.
  • Devil May Cry 4: If you want the chance to unlock Trish's EX costume in the Special Edition, you have to beat Sanctus Diabolica in Mission 20 of Lady/Trish's campaign with a B Rank or lower in order to play as Trish during the playable credits. This means the player has to intentionally get hit by the boss enough times for the rank to drop significantly. Otherwise, perform too good enough to achieve an A Rank or above against the boss will cause you to play as Lady instead.
  • One strategy for getting through God Hand is to deliberately manipulate the Dynamic Difficulty by letting yourself take hits now and then. Landing hits raises the difficulty, while taking them lowers it; since you really don't want to face bosses at Level Die, this becomes a game of give-and-take.
  • Winning against the Final Boss of Tomorrow's Joe for the Super Famicom gives you an Enemy Roll Call... and that's it, really. Losing, on the other hand, grants you the iconic ending in which Joe dies in the ring.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has the "Strong Closer" Achievement/Trophy. To get it, you have to take the lead within the last ten seconds of a multiplayer match and keep it by the end of the match. Naturally, the best way to get it would be to stay close enough to the leader that you can easily overtake, but not actually take the lead until the time is right.
    • This achievement can easily be "boosted" by cooperating with someone in a private match, but getting it legit, in a dramatic come-from-behind victory can lead to whoops and cackles of joy.
    • In Revelations, there is an achievement related to the "Base Defence" minigame triggered by being notorious for too long. For some players, getting this achievement requires going on a rampage, or other similar high-profile activities. And even then, you better hope it's early in the game, before you permanently lock the Assassin Dens by installing a master assassin in them.
  • Odin Sphere has you correctly guess in which order you have to play through the final Boss Rush to get the good ending. In reality, you're supposed to mess it up on purpose to see every possible outcome and collect every cutscene in the game, which is the only way to get the Golden Ending. So there's no real need for correctly chaining the boss fights, since you'll have to go through every possible combination to get every cutscene, one way or another.
  • Kya: Dark Lineage has some minigames that you can bet on. The trick is, you win only if you beat your previous high score. If you get a high enough score on the first go that you can't reliably win the next ones, it becomes pointless.
  • Unlocking certain "Ways of Life" for Create-A-Warriors in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires requires you to do this. Ways of Life are unlocked by doing certain things to obtain Titles in Empire Mode, then beating the game. The problem is, you're automatically assigned the highest tier Way of Life you qualify for and you can't go backward, which makes it difficult to get some of the low-to-middle tier titles. Do you want your character to be known as an Undefeated Veteran? Fight defensive battles and do escort quests, but you better make sure those quests are all for the same person, because if you manage to get too many people to like you the game will automatically upgrade you to Trustworthy Hero!
  • The story modes of many Senran Kagura games include unique flavor text that occurs during the actual fighting. If a player completes a battle quickly and gets a high rank, they very likely ended the conversation prematurely. But the story won't progress if they don't win. Replay time!
  • In Yoku's Island Express, one of the sidequests and its reward can only be obtained after you have lost your ball fifty times. However, if you aren't a literal pinball wizard, this sidequest is rather easy to obtain.

    Casual Games 
  • On, you can earn an online currency called "Oodles," which you can redeem for drawing entries and various other stuff. One of the ways to earn oodles is to make the high score list on certain games. However, on certain games, your score won't take if it's too high. GSN says it's because there is a certain maximum score that they think can be achieved legitimately on certain games.

    Fighting Games 
  • The King of Fighters '99: If you want to fight Iori Yagami as a True Final Boss battle, then you have to attain between 200-279 Battle Ability points, which takes a fair bit of guesswork to get the right amount. Any higher and you fight Kyo Kusanagi instead, any lower and you get zilch.
  • The Super Smash Bros. games have challenges with rewards for doing well in the Home-Run Contest. In the majority of cases, the challenge is simply to hit Sandbag over a certain distance; fair enough. However, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U includes two where the challenge is to hit Sandbag between 500m and 505m; one can be done with any character, and the other must be done with R.O.B. Hit it 505.1m, a more impressive result? Too bad, you fail! These challenges require a whole lot of careful buildup and positioning to hit at the exact right amount of damage instead of just doing as much as possible.
  • Groove Edit Mode and the Osaka temple stage can only be unlocked by fighting the normal version of Rugal or Akuma in Capcom vs. SNK 2, not God Rugal or Shin Akuma. This requires your Groove Points not be under or over a certain value once you complete the Osaka arena stage.

    Mech Games 
  • Armored Core, Armored Core 2 and Another Age each have one secret part that can only be obtained by voiding the conditions of the mission it is found in (for ex, stealing a radar you're supposed to protect). Due to this, 100% completion requires an imperfect win/loss ratio.

    Party Games 
  • A few instances in Mario Party have this.
    • Mario Party: If a player is in the Bowser Suit in Bowser's version of the Bash 'n' Cash minigame, it's usually more beneficial to let the other 3 players take one or two coins bags of 5 from you rather than none. Why? Because if you don't lose any coins, then Bowser will take 15 coins from you, just to make you suffer.
    • Mario Party Advance: Bowser Land has you riding a Bowser themed roller coaster and trying to get to the end by playing random Bowser minigames. The catch is that if you finish too fast, or don't fail enough minigames, then Bowser won't reward you with as much coins. Fail too many minigames though, and Bowser will also cut your reward for going too slow, or even end your game before you can finish.
  • You Don't Know Jack 2011 rewards players for various counter-intuitive actions. There's achievements/trophies for losing a million dollars on the Jack Attack and for losing to a player ranked lower than you online, and in-game, there's "Wrong Answers of the Game", which pay out double winnings for being selected.
  • The Jackbox Party Pack: In "Monster Seeking Monster", the Mummy can spread its "curse" to players they date, which spreads to other players. The Mummy steals half a heart from every cursed player at the end of the game, but only if the other players don't "break the curse" by spreading it to every player except the Mummy.
  • Drawful's format means that being too good at drawing the initial prompt can make it harder for you to gain points. If the drawing is too indistinct, then nobody will associate it with the original prompt, but if people can figure out what your drawing is supposed to be at first glance, then they can submit a description very similar to the original drawing prompt and ensure people pick their answer instead. Therefore, the best route is to make a drawing too messy for people to identify it, but recognizable enough that they can understand what it's supposed to be if you show them the original prompt.

  • In Pokémon Pinball, if you are aiming for a high score, you will intentionally want to come just short of clearing the Mewtwo bonus stage if you reach it (it is reached on either table by clearing the table's two unique bonus stages). It is by far the most profitable bonus stage, and the fastest way to earn points in the game. The way the stage works is that you score 50 million points per hit on Mewtwo, and it takes 24 hits to win. Ideally, you will want to get about 20 hits and then just stop playing. The reason behind this is that if you win, you'll loop back to your table's first bonus stage, but if you fail, you'll play the Mewtwo bonus stage again the next time you go to a bonus stage.
  • In Pinball Arcade, when the Standard goals for a table are completed, the Wizard goals do not unlock until the current game ends. This means that if you're focusing on going for them, it can be beneficial to deliberately lose the ball and end your game after completing the Standard goals in order to play for the Wizard goals right away.

  • The GBA version of Super Mario Bros. 3 has a new ending theme song if you've beaten every stage. If you want to hear the original ending theme, you'll have to miss at least one.
  • Depending on the grading criterianote , speedruns of the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games will sometimes avoid completing certain levels in under 30 seconds, as the 50,000-time bonus takes a while to add itself to your score.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2 there's a very infamous spike pit in Mystic Cave Zone that can't be jumped out of. Playing as regular Sonic, you should just be able to grab a switch above the pit to extend a drawbridge and raise the wall on the far side. But if you're a speedrunner and/or using Super Sonic, you'll probably miss the switch, ram into the wall, and plummet to your (delayed) doom. Many, MANY speedruns have been foiled by this, made worse because Super Sonic can expect to spend a minute or more waiting for his invincibility to finally wear off.
  • In Sonic and the Secret Rings, you get various rewards for getting certain amounts of bronze, silver, and gold medals. Yes, you have to get bronze and silver even if you already got gold; and no, they won't tell you what you're missing if you already got a higher rank.
  • In Sonic Adventure, getting two emblems for completing some minigames involves beating the top score twice. Having to beat your own score for the second emblem means that doing too well the first time will make things harder the second time around.
  • Kirby's Dream Land 2's not-so-perfect ending is the only way you can learn the enemy names in that game, and you can only see it by defeating King Dedede without collecting all of the Rainbow Drops.
  • In Tomba! you had to do this if you wanted all three medals in the racing minigame.
  • The infamous final Canary Mary race from Banjo-Tooie. Mary has such a bad case of Rubber-Band A.I. that if you pull ahead too early, she will speed up so much that the race literally becomes unwinnable. The fact that there is nothing in-game to clue you in on this combined with the fact that the race is controlled (and the first three races relatively easily won) with Button Mashing... well, it's no wonder Rare makes sadistic jokes about it in the sequel.
  • In Mega Man Zero, a mission involves stopping an enormous Drill Tank boss from reaching the Hub Level. Defeating the boss is actually quite easy even with a time limit, but letting it reach the halfway point of the mission (i.e. the tank reaches the middle of the yellow building it drills through) is the only way to obtain a hidden Cyber-elf.
  • In Bonk's Revenge, part of the reward for collecting a lot of smiley faces in a level is to skip a level. If you do too well, you can easily miss half the game, which is bad if you actually want to play all the levels.
  • NES Remix: If you go too fast in the first challenge — kill 16 enemies with Mario's invincibility mode in Super Mario Bros. — you stop one of the enemies from spawning at all due to the emulator being faithful to the NES's limit of four enemies on the screen at a time.

    Puzzle Games 
  • In Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, if you want to fight Dan, for the first six rounds you have to finish every match with a time of 61 seconds or more, a maximum chain of 3 or less, a maximum power gem size of 19 or less, and never end with a super finish (finishing attacks have to be 29 counter gems or less). You'll fight Dan after the 6th round if all of these conditions are fulfilled.
  • In the Atari ST version of Lemmings 2: The Tribes, it's possible to save too many lemmings and make the game unwinnable. Saving the extra lemming may have been a glitch - at best, it requires extreme precision across multiple screen-widths.
  • The Superior Software game Ravenskull scores you on a percentage system, each task completed adding to your percentage, and the game can only be won if your final percentage is high enough. The catch? The number of tasks in the game does indeed allow for a maximum of 100%, but the score counter only has room for two digits, so a "perfect" 100% counts as zero.
  • In order to fight special opponents in Puyo Puyo Tsu, you need to beat all the opponents on a floor while keeping your score below a certain point, or else you go to the next floor. However, you still have to do well, as if your score is still too low to go to the next floor after defeating the special opponent, you get a Non Standard Game Over.
  • The object of The X-Spot is to find and click an X hidden on every level. One of the levels is a skeet shooting contest in which you shoot at six clay pigeons. To complete the level, you must shoot five of the six clay pigeons to get an "Excellent" rating, then click the X. Shooting all six will get you a "Perfect" rating, and since there's no X in "perfect," you'll be forced to start over.
  • Tetris: The Grand Master 3 - Terror Instinct does this with the COOL!! bonus. To make a long story short: Each section times you on how fast you get through the first 70 levels out of 100, and exceeding that section's "baseline" 0-70 target time will get you a COOL!! and increase your grade. However, to get a COOL!! in the subsequent section, you need to get through its respective 0-70 sub-section no more than two seconds slower than the previous section's 0-70.For example  Failure to do so will forfeit the COOL!! and the next section will award a COOL!! based on the baseline target time again. This has led to many aspiring Grand Masters deliberately slowing down the early game so that the game won't get harsh on them later.
  • In Talk Like a King, picking any incorrect dialogue option during a conversation with a character causes them to become suspicious and triggers a "Danger Zone" where failing to pick the correct option leads to a Non Standard Game Over. Picking all the right dialogue options, on the other hand, lets you avoid the Danger Zone entirely. You'd probably think that avoiding Danger Zones is the right way to play the game but most of the game's good endings require you to win all the possible Danger Zones and merely avoiding them doesn't fulfill this requirement. In fact, the only difference between the True King and Betrayer endings is the latter ending requiring you to avoid all the pre-Throne Room Danger Zones instead of triggering and then winning them.
  • In Puchiguru! Love Live! the player needs to make long chains for gold/time bomb missions, but if the chain gets too long another type of bomb will spawn instead. So one needs to be careful not to overshoot.
  • Exploding straight out of the gate in Tetris 99 can backfire on you quickly if you're too aggressive. This is because of the targeting system, which, among other things, allows players to attack their attackers and people with the most Badges. Scoring a lot of KOs early can help you earn quite a bit of Badges, but this gives any number of the other 98 players the opportunity to start ganging up on you if you aren't prepared to fight back.
  • MSN Games' badge system sometimes forces you to do this. Each of the games has a score called High Score Level 10 (previously known as Mastery Level 10). This score must be earned during a single game to earn the badge. However, some games end too early to earn the target score if you were playing just to beat the game, so you must find creative ways to stall the game and milk as many points out of it as possible.
    • In most Match-3 games, this is done by not finishing the level goal, but just making more and more matches, only finishing levels when the time is about to run out.
    • In Zuma, the only way to rack in points is to keep adding balls to the back of the chain and clear them before they reach the end of the path - this needs at least as much skill as beating all the levels in the online version.
    • In Bridge, you must avoid winning hands, and instead let the enemy bid a high contract then play well to make them fail it, giving you points for their undertricks.
      • This is a possible tactic in Rubber Bridge at the card table, too, which is part of the reason that limited-hand variants were created.
  • The Qix-alike Gals Panic S series had additional rewards (read: images) available for level clearances from 90-99%.
  • Meteos: One mission in Star Trip's Multi route has the player fighting against Jeljel, with the mission being to fight for at least 1 minute before winning. This is in contrast to every other Timed Mission on the route where you have to win within the given time limit, but here you have to make sure the 1 minute mark passes before you win. You have to resist the urge to just finish the match as quickly as possible, but sometimes you end up winning before you want to thanks to the AI.

    Racing Games 
  • A strategy for Mario Kart and many other kart racers, while playing with other humans, is to follow fairly closely behind the lead player but not be the lead. This way, you receive better items to attack with and get a last-second victory. This is especially true with Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii, as the infamous Blue Shell is designed to target the racer in 1st place and nobody else, as long as they aren't too close behind. This is less true with games like Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing or Diddy Kong Racing, however, that have highly defensive item systems: Those 2nd or lower need to attack and defend, but the lead racer need only defend.
  • Project Gotham Racing 4
    • The game has an achievement "Play it Again Sam", awarded for improving on a medal that you've already won in an event, thus requiring your first medal in that event to be one of the lesser medals.
    • Another achievement, "Tonight Make Me Unstoppable", requires you to place second in a race while "The Prayer" by Bloc Party is playing.
  • The smartphone game Real Racing 3 has "Time Trials", in which you set a lap time from a flying start. There is a one-time bonus of R$1000 (R$ being the in-game currency) for each "group" you rise in the standings ... that caps at R$5000. Thus, someone who runs three laps that belong in Group A (the fastest) will earn less money than someone who runs a Group K lap followed by a Group F lap followed by a Group A lap.
  • In R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, if you finish every GP Mode race with every team and manufacturer combo possible, you'll only have a fraction of the car unlocks. To get the rest, you have to deliberately place 2nd or 3rd in some races (while still qualifying), as your unlocks in GP Mode are based on your placement in prior races.
  • One race in R: Racing Evolution requires you to place second.
  • In Need for Speed: ProStreet, Sector Shootout events task you with going as fast as possible through four sectors of a multi-lap circuit, in order to score points. No racer is awarded points unless they beat the previous record score for the respective sector. Players desiring to get high scores and easily dominate will have to drive slowly for the first lap and gradually go faster for the remainder of the race, instead of driving at their maximum capacity throughout.
  • The AI in Crash Team Racing works on a principle like this, where it is much more aggressive in the first two laps but then dials itself back and uses less items in the final one, to make the early parts of the race much more hectic and challenging but still give you a fair chance at winning.

    Rhythm Games 
  • The earlier Guitar Hero installments. You need to beat Career Mode on/5-Star every song on each difficulty separately to unlock all the guitars. Guitar Hero III made the achievements for beating Career Mode stackable (hard gets you easy and medium) but not the ones for 5-Starring everything. World Tour and later games abandoned this approach.
    • In the early Guitar Hero games, you couldn't tell what your star rank would be until the end of the song. Fansite ScoreHero compiled a list of cutoffs for the different grades by repeatedly playing through and recording what scores earned how many stars. This got rather difficult when suddenly single-point precision is required.
    • No-fail cheats in later games made it significantly easier. Trying to miss enough to land exactly one point short of the four-star cutoff while still passing the song is hideously counterintuitive; far easier is to set a target score from the start, whammy point the last digits early on, play normally (well, skipping holds) until you hit the score and then ignore everything else.
  • In DanceDanceRevolution and other rhythm games, "x Attacking" is the process of trying to get as many of a certain judgement below perfect as possible (the most common variant is "Great Attacking", "Great" being the judgement below perfect in DDR). This is actually harder than playing the game for real, since you have to be just a little off the beat, consistently. It's usually a Self-Imposed Challenge, but In the Groove acknowledges Great Attacks.
    • Players have been known to half-ass the 3rd and final song of a credit of DDR because they're too tired to play the Extra Stage.
    • pop'n music has the "ALL GOOD" norma, which requires you to get all Goods. It's very difficult to do, so it's no surprise that it's a 15-point norma.
      • There is also a slightly easier norma which requires you clear a song with a full meter and a maximum of 25,000 (out of 100,000) points. Getting all Goods would get you exactly 20,000 points and a full meter, so even with a full combo you can occasionally get a Great.
    • One of the top-tier challenges in the PSX version of DDR 4th Mix's Challenge Mode was to clear a specific section of a song without a single Perfect or Great. This required Good Attacking the song, as a Boo or Miss would lower your gauge, and you fail if it empties, while the only way to raise it is to get Perfects or Greats. Another challenge required getting all Goods on a (much shorter) section.
      • DDR Extreme US PS2 had you do a section with zero points, basically the same thing (you can't get any Greats or Perfects at all, and any Boos or Misses would drain your health).
    • PS2 versions of beatmania IIDX often have gallery pictures unlocked by clearing a song in Expert Mode with 18% or less on your gauge at the end (note that you fail if it empties at any time), another for finishing with more than 80% but not 100%, and three more for ranges in between.
      • Since getting a Good judgment in beatmania IIDX doesn't provide any points, getting all Goods in a song (also known as "Good Attacking") will result in you clearing it with a full combo, but finishing with a score of 0, the same as if you didn't hit any notes at all.
      • beatmania IIDX and at least one version of Beatmania III offer the Border Bonus: Finish the song with your meter filled just barely enough to pass, and you'll get a bonus of 5730 points. There are also higher bonuses if you combine this with getting all Greats or higher, or all Just Greats.
      • In beatmania IIDX 20 tricoro's Legend Cross event (until it ended), one of the requirements to unlock boss songs was to finish a song with an EX score of exactly 573.
      • Done again in beatmania IIDX 21 SPADA's Super Star Mitsusu revival event, where one of the unlock requirements was to play a song on Mirror and finish with an EX Score of exactly 623.
    • This is basically the (unimaginative) point of half of the World Max mission mode in Pump It Up. Quite a few other missions have some incredibly clever gameplay mechanics though, or some alternative stepcharts that are so fun they should probably be illegal.
    • jubeat, Reflec Beat, Tonesphere, and Cytus discourage this sort of run through score-based pass/fail systems. In jubeat's case, you need 700,000 points out of 1 million to clear the song, and getting all Goods instead of Perfects only yields 460,000 points.
      "Full combo! Result: FAILED."
  • In DJMAX Portable and DJMAX Portable 2, there are discs you can obtain by getting certain percentages. There's the discs that require you to get at least a certain percentage on a song, but there's also ones that require you to get very low percentages, as well as ones that require you to have exactly a multiple of 10 as your percentage. There's also the Lucky and Evil discs, obtained by getting 77.7% and 66.6%, respectively. And to obtain any disc, including these ones, you must finish the song; if your Life Meter bottoms out you won't earn anything.
    • Also, combo unlocks, the process of which consists of the following: achieve a particular combo...and then break it before you reach the next combo unlock. If you do reach the next unlock, that unlock will be opened, but not any of the ones before it.
    • DJMAX Trilogy has the "Self Injury" mission, in which the goal is to complete a set of songs with an accuracy rating between 60% and 70%. Delves a little into Fake Difficulty because hold notes, when held down, yield MAX 100% for every eighth note that it's held down for.
    • DJMAX Technika's Technical Mode. Each set has two boss songs (or in the case of two sets, three), and which one you get depends on your MAX-to-notecount ratio for the first 3 stages. So you should always try to nail lots of MAXes, right? WRONG. Some of the boss songs you get for getting high MAX percentages actually have a lower max combo than their low-accuracy counterparts, meaning you get more points on the 4th stage if you get the boss song that requires lower accuracy. So what does this lead to? Having to play "Cool Attack" and get some Cools to avoid raising the MAX percentage too high and getting the lower-scoring 4th stage. Perhaps because of this, DJMAX Technika 2 and 3 instead determine boss songs based on which available songs you pick for your set.
      • The Specialist Set, however, has an intentional example of this. Get less than 70% MAX judgments and you get the set's third possible boss song, Fermion.
  • Flash Flash Revolution has/had a number of unlockable achievements based on getting fewer "Perfect" arrow hits, more Goods and Averages, or minimum numbers of Misses and Boos.
  • The Elite Beat Agents and Ouendan games have different cutscenes for failing level segments and the entire level, and most of them are worth seeing. It's not quite as easy as you'd think, though, since you can't clearly see the point where you fail or pass the level segment (making it easy to hit a note at the end of a segment by accident and push the rating bar over to "pass" when you thought not hitting it would cause it to empty completely) and doing poorly will easily cause you to get a game over instead, not to mention that you need to fail every level segment to get the bad ending for the level.
    • Another version of this trope starts appearing in Elite Beat Agents and Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Tamashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2. EBA introduced a vs. Ghost mode, in which you challenge the best saved score you have on a particular song — this manifests as a vs. battle. If you do too well in setting a high score, you will have a lot of trouble beating yourself.
      • Furthermore, within the battle itself, you can get points by a perfect 300 run on a particular section of the beatmap, and half a point for getting even a single 100. Gain three or four points and you go into a sort of super mode, increasing your performance while decreasing the opponent's. If you do better than your original score in some points, you'll hit this mode one section before your opponent. They then hit the next one, making you lose the cutscene checkpoint.
      • Also, whenever the opponent does that to you, the numbers and trails become smaller and harder to hit. If you want to mitigate this, you'll have to do exactly as well as your opponent until just before the end.
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has Dark Notes. Each Dark Note has three bosses, determined by your performance in two tracks. Pass a certain point in the Field Music Stage, and you will fight Boss No. 2 or 3, but not No. 1; so if Boss No. 1 has an item you want, then you need to use someone with shoddy Agility. If you have above half of your maximum HP after defeating two enemies in the Battle Music Stage, you will fight Boss No. 3, so if Boss No. 2 has something you want, put the White Magic away and take a few hits.
    • The first game also has critical charts for Field and Battle Music Stages: they branch out generally near the middle into a Feature Zone, the completion of which either summons a Chocobo that the character rides on in the FMS or a classic Summon Magic attack in the BMS that often defeats the current enemy on its own. However, in order to fill the said critical charts completely (ie. hit every note perfectly at least once during cumulative playthroughs of the song), you need to fill the segment following the Feature Zone during the said feature as well as outside of it, the latter of which meaning that you either need to play the song in Stoic Mode which disables the Feature Zone and which is accomplished by unequiping all skills from your party as well as your current consumable item, or just miss enough notes during the Feature Zone so that it won't activate. This is thankfully removed in the sequel, where the critical charts have no branching paths and Stoic Mode only exists as a minor Rhytmia bonus instead of being needed for maximum scores.
  • Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 4 has the boss battle with the God of Pirates, who only shows up while the player has an x3 or x4 combo multiplier. This is easy enough in amateur mode, where x4 is the highest multiplier, but pro mode adds the x5 and x10 multipliers. Do too well in pro mode and you'll run right past the boss, but don't do well enough and you'll never reach him.
  • In Muse Dash, some chart-specific missions require you to get hurt a set number of times (dodging an enemy doesn't count, you have to run into it) and still clear the chart.
  • In Tadpole Treble, one of the challenges for each stage is to score as low as possible without dying, for an F rank. It's not as simple as just avoiding bonus multipliers in a given run, as this would only be likely to earn you a D rank. Rather, you need to strategically take damage at several points during the stage to minimise your score accumulation and reset any multipliers you may have needed to acquire, while ensuring that you gather as many health-restoring food pickups as possible in order to sustain you to the finish.
  • In Patapon 2, hitting four perfect notes will send your Hero into Super Mode, and continuing to hit perfect four-note combos will keep it going. The problem lies in that they can't retreat while in it, so if your Hero s currently a melee class and the boss you're fighting uses a grab attack, the Hero is almost always the first one to go. This necessitates deliberately hitting an imperfect note so that your Hero can retreat when they need to.

  • When fighting the final boss spaceship of FTL: Faster Than Light, you can kill the ship's crew members before seriously attacking the ship itself. As you kill more crew, you reduce their ability to repair the ship, man weapons and shields, etc. If you kill all the crew, an autopilot takes over their duties and the battle becomes a lot harder.
  • The Sentry Duty minigame in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers gives better rewards if you have beaten a highscore, meaning it's better to aim low while still identifying everyone so it's easy to beat a highscore next time. Additionally, the "well done" rank for achieving a good score without identifying all 6 Pokemon always gives Nectar, a hard to get, strong IQ-boosting item; the only time the game offers anything substantially better or rare for perfect play is during the very first Sentry Duty.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Early in the original Knights of the Old Republic game you are forced to participate in a swoop race in order to rescue Bastila, who has been captured and is being offered as a prize to whoever wins the race. After your first successful completion of the track with a better time than the current record another racer will then perform slightly better than your time, requiring you to run the track again and beat your own best time by a fair margin. Granted, you are warned there will be other players, but not that one of them will always be better than your first run. Unless, of course, you know in advance.
  • Super Mario RPG:
    • The Pipe Maze level has a minigame where you jump on Goombas to win flower points. Score at least 20 points and you'll win a flower tab. However, the next time you play, you MUST score at least two extra points higher than your previous attempt in order to win again. If you scored more than twenty, this is still the case, and you'll have to score two more points the next time you play, so the best strategy is to stop and stand still once you've reached 20 points, beating your score little by little each time to continue earning victories.
    • The minecart run in Moleville works similarly. You make an untimed run as part of the main story, and after that, you can win a prize by beating your previous record, no matter by how much. Since there's no way to outright fail a run, the best course of action is to slam on the brakes and deliberately crash at every opportunity the first time, then make gradual improvements on subsequent runs.
  • In .hack, the Grunty races award prizes for beating the 1st, 2nd or 3rd place times, and you can race them over and over again to win more; however, your race times become the new record times to beat. If you want to maximize the payout, then you want to just barely beat the current times (starting with 3rd place and working up) so that the new times are not too hard to beat.
  • In Final Fantasy II, (or at least the PSP version), this trope is in full effect when leveling characters. Due to the...unique nature of the game's Stat Grinding system, the odds of getting a stat boost after any one battle is directly proportional to the length of the battle. The idea, one suspects, is to prevent players from grinding low-level monsters indefinitely, but the end result is being punished for fighting battles as efficiently as possible, whereas if you artificially prolong the fight (a common strategy is to put enemies to sleep to prevent them from running away, then abusing fellow party members), the odds of getting a stat boost increase almost to the point of guarantee.
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • There is a mini-game where you have to prevent soldiers from reaching a fort. Failing to do this causes a fight against the boss with the regular characters. Normally, you get the proper reward only if you complete the mini-game, and you lose it if you have to fight the boss, win or lose. However, the one time this mini-game is plot-mandated, the normal reward is given if you complete the mini-game or beat the boss. And as it turns out, you can get a rare and powerful piece of armor by defeating the boss at this point (and never before this point), and the boss is pretty easy. A savvy character will lose the mini-game on purpose the final time, since there's no benefit in winning.
    • Junon has two instances.
      • First, the parade. The gist of this is that you want to try to march out and fall in line while troops march past. The better you do, the higher the ratings. The higher the ratings, the better the reward. However, the "best" reward is simply 5,000 gil. The next best is 6 ethers. Ethers can be sold for 750 gil each, meaning if one sold all 6 of them, they would get 4500 gil, 500 gil shy of best reward. The catch is that ethers cost 1500 gil to buy and most players are going to end up needing to buy that many at some point anyway.
      • The "posing" minigame during Rufus' sendoff is also noteworthy. The second-best prize (60-90 points) is an HP Plus Materia (boosts max HP by 10% per level), while the "top" prize is a weapon for Cloud that you'll be able to buy in the very next town. HP Plus Materia, meanwhile, is not only generally more useful, but also doesn't appear in shops for a fair while after this, and is much more expensive.
    • There's also the entire endgame, where the first boss battle determines how the next two play out: Depending on how quickly the player beats the first boss, what levels the player's characters have and how many Optional Party Members the player has found, the second battle will have the player split into one to three teams, with the main team continuing into the final boss battle solo. Both the final and penultimate bosses also gain HP boosts for every character in the game with maximum levels, and if the player uses Knights of the Round on the first boss.
  • Final Fantasy VIII's first task is to defeat Ifrit within a selected-by-you time limit. The catch is that the test is described as a "test of judgment", so completing it too soon means you could not accurately estimate your abilities and subsequently gave yourself too much time. In other words, scoring well on this test requires finishing with less time remaining — a perfect score is reached if you finish with ten seconds or less remaining on the clock.
    • In the Japanese version, you have to kill Ifrit and escape the dungeon before you run out of time, making the whole experience more of a test of time management rather than rationality (plus it serves as a Chekhov's Gun for something you'll be doing later in the story). Even if you give yourself the lowest amount of time possible, your score will still drop if you kill Ifrit too soon. The best score requires you to finish with seven seconds or less on the clock, which means most people will end up letting Ifrit beat on them for a while (you can still get a game over if he's talking when the timer runs out, though).
    • However, you can cheat the system in the English version and avoid this trouble by taking note of how much time you have remaining when you defeat Ifrit. Then, when the naming screen comes up, stay on that screen and keep an eye on your watch until time's up, then continue gameplay as normal. There, now you have the best possible score, a giant hellbeast at your beck and call, and a smug sense of superiority.
  • Final Fantasy IX: In "The Festival of the Hunt" minigame, the goal is to earn the most points of all the competitors by killing monsters in the streets. If you (playing as Zidane) win, you get 5000 gil. If Vivi wins, you get a useless Tetra Master card. Letting Freya win, however, nets you a decent lightning elemental-absorbing accessory that teaches your party members a few useful skills/abilities. To let her win, just put the controller down for 12 minutes or kill yourself in the first battle you come across. That said, the toughest monster in the Festival of the Hunt, the Zaghnol, has two items worth stealing and gives about enough points to single-handedly win the competition. By avoiding lesser battles, entering a certain area with 4:30 left on the timer, and making Zidane take a fall against the Zaghnol (or teaming up with Freya, which splits the points between them), the player can get all of the items.
  • Final Fantasy X's entire experience system revolved around this. If you use the right character and end a battle in one turn, you'd get 1/7 the maximum amount of AP, as only characters who act in battle get any AP at all, and it's not split or leaked in any way. Conversely, if you waste six turns (using a different character each time) and use the seventh to end the battle, then every character gets full experience.
  • Final Fantasy X-2:
    • The best culprit to pin during the Mi'ihen Mystery is Rikku if you're aiming for 100% completion. One of the criteria for catching this person requires a certain cutscene that can only be seen if you almost catch the Chocobo during Chapter 2. If you catch it or let it get away without resistance, it becomes far more difficult (if not impossible) to accuse that person.
    • Later, during the massage minigame, you obtain a prize of a Gold Hairpin if you succeed on the first attempt. If you fail at least once, though, you obtain Heady Perfume, which is arguably a more useful accessory.
    • The first time you play the "Gunner's Gauntlet" minigame/mission, completion of the timed course and a score of 500 are necessary to pass the mission. It can be replayed to achieve a higher score and additional prizes. On a New Game Plus, however, when you get to this mission again, the required score is now your high score from your previous playthrough[s].
    • Your characters earn 1 AP per battle, and an extra AP for every successful non-Attack action during the battle. You can quickly end battles for EXP and Gil by selecting the Attack command, or you can draw them out to master dresssphere abilities faster by using supplementary skills or items.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV:
    • This is part of the Balance Between Good and Evil. The Warrior of Light is a servant of Hydaelyn and fights to prevent terrible calamities. A storyline in the Heavensward expansion, however, reveals that being too good at this results in Light aether growing out of control into a flood of light which annihilates all life in its path. The Warriors of Darkness are heroes from a world where this is in the process of happening, and the theme comes up again in Shadowbringers when the Warrior must become a Warrior of Darkness themselves. By the same token, the Ascians, servants of the dark god Zodiark, are trying to bring about the calamities which the Warrior is trying to prevent in order to free Zodiark. There is already an example of a world which fell completely into darkness as a result of them being too successful, creating a realm called "The Void" which their god has no use for.
    • When farming certain trials unsynched, so you can play them at the level cap, it's often faster to pause attacking the boss in order to do mechanics or avoid skipping phases. The former is because if a mechanic is skipped on some bosses, it causes them to enrage. The latter is because the boss has a transition phase where said transition phase makes them untargetable and is longer than the fight itself if phases aren't skipped.
    • In the level 90 Healer Role Quest battle you can get a minor, but wholesome, reaction of Raubahn if you are hit by a specific attack (the hardest one to dodge) from the enemy. He jumps in front of your stunned character and uses Cover on you, shouting "Not on my watch!". Because of the Cover ability, he absorbs the damage for you.
    • The Savage version of the Proto-Carbuncle fight includes puddles which spawn exploding slimes if not stood on by 2 players. However, on the second set of puddles, the boss needs to eat one of the slimes or else it will wipe the party. Thus, the strategy for the fight is for the tanks to intentionally fail their puddle.
  • Final Fantasy Legend II: You will want to have a Total Party Kill at least once before reaching Odin if you want to see a few extra scenes, as well as have a slightly easier boss fight.
  • In some bosses on World of Warcraft, if you take down their health too quickly, you can run into problems.
    • For example, in the Madness of Deathwing encounter, it's possible for the Blistering Tentacles (which come up after you reduce a limb tentacle's health enough), to come up at the same time as the Elementium Bolt or the Regenerative Blood (which come up on a timer) even if the raid has killed the Mutated Corruption already. So if the raid damages the limb too quickly, it'll have to fight the Regenerative Blood at the same time as the Blistering Tentacles and/or the Elementium Bolt, making things very difficult.
    • Additionally, on the Maloriak encounter, while most spells that can be interrupted should be, and in some cases, must be, interrupting all the casts in which he releases aberrations will result in all 18 aberrations coming out at once during Phase 2 along with the Prime Specimens, and since they get a damage buff when close to each other, it's almost impossible to survive.
    • Similarly, while many boss achievements have DPS requirements that are difficult to meet around the time of the related content's release, others can easily be failed by defeating the boss too quickly, typically resulting in raid groups telling players to stop DPS so that the boss won't die before the group meets the achievement requirements.
    • Some quests require using items on mobs near death — usually 20% health or less. This gets annoying when doing old content with a character of much higher level, when the lower-level mobs die from as much as the character sneezing on them, forcing the player to equip a less powerful weapon or even unequip it entirely. In Legion, to alleviate this frustration, the Soft Foam Sword toy was added that reduces a trivial mob's HP to 10%.
    • It's also possible to run into a mix of the two: killing an old raid or dungeon boss too quickly could mess with the Event Flags of the instance, preventing you from advancing any further. If you're lucky, the boss will respawn some time later, and you'll hopefully be able to DPS it down more slowly this time. If not... well, time to reset the instance (unless, of course, you're in a raid, in which case you'll just have to wait for it to reset on its own the next week) and give it another shot.
  • The World Ends with You puts a positive twist on this. Each noise provides a (potentially) different drop for each of four difficulty levels. As drop rates aren't always 100%, however, you may miss out on the one for your difficulty level, but should you do so, you'll then get a chance at the next lowest drop, and (should you miss out on that one too) the next lowest drop, until either you get a drop, or miss out on the lowest drop. Despite this, it's still possible to lock out lower drops at higher difficulty levels by raising your drop rate too high, especially since it's possible to miss unlocking Easy.
  • Mabinogi's Stat Grinding system for skills requires a certain number of successes and failures before you can increase a skill's rank. At higher levels, you may be so good at using the skill that it becomes harder to reach the required number of failures than successes.
  • Mega Man Battle Network, and later Mega Man Star Force: When you re-match the bosses for their summon chips, winning in 30 seconds gets you the most powerful variation of the chip. 60 seconds or more gets you the weakest variation. Somewhere in the middle is the middle variation. So you either obliterate the boss in 30 seconds, or drag out the battle, but not too long.
    • Battle Network also applies for chips from viruses, as some codes can only be obtained with a low rank, and specific codes are an important part of folder-building. You can also calculatedly take a couple of hits and obliterate the boss/virus otherwise.
  • In the Pokémon games, capturing a wild Mon is likelier if it's been weakened by attacks from your creatures or has a status condition such as sleep or paralysis — but if your attacks knock its HP to zero and it faints, you can't catch it at all.
    • In the bug catching contest in the second generation, first prize was a Sun Stone, which only evolved two Pokemon. Second prize was an Everstone, a hold item that kept Pokemon from evolving. Third prize was a Gold Berry, a hold item that restored 30 HP and was incredibly rare. Once you got two Sun Stones and an Everstone, Gold Berries were what you wanted to win.
    • The Platinum version contains a special challenge that requires you to defeat a series of trainers in a certain amount of turns. However, as you are required to match the number of turns exactly, doing too well against them will result in a failure. The restaurants in X and Y work the same way, except that most of the enemy Pokemon carry Protect to make matching the turn requirement a Luck-Based Mission.
    • Inverse Battles handled by Inver also work this way, with the reward quality increasing with the number of super effective attacks you land. This means you have to use weaker attacks and/or Pokémon in order to drag the battle out to allow for more hits, rather than doing your best to defeat him.note  Additionally, the highest tier of reward is Rare Candies - useful, but can be replaced by Level Grinding. The second best tier, however, is an evolutionary stone - and this is one of the only ways to farm them in quantity in this game.
  • In Billy vs. SNAKEMAN Phase Battles, you get a Lost Weapon if you use the "Shoot the Core" action while the phase is under 100 HP, but if it runs out of HP, you instead gets a more common Kaiju Drop. Damage from maxed out player averages around 500 damage and if you're not at least occasionally dealing over 100 damage a hit, you have no business fighting phases. Thankfully, this was mitigated during the Hero's Quest updates, which added a "Hold Back" option that cancelled all damage bonuses you had for that attack (because you had to perform an action similar to "Shoot the Core" in order to retrieve plot-critical character Mimi).
  • This is done intentionally in Mother 3. To "amuse" Porky, the villain, you must almost beat his robot, but not quite. If you beat him to any degree, you're told that you tried too hard and need to chill. If you lose too badly, you're told that you suck and need to try again. If you intentionally let him win by the slightest possible amount, you're told it was "an epic battle" or some similar expression and move on to the next challenge you're supposed to barely lose. The robot is also incredibly slow to complete each contest, just to rub in how ludicrous it is.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, the Rookie Gloves allow you to use Bros./Luiginary Attacks without using any BP, as long as you don't get an Excellent score.
  • Fossil Fighters: Champions has a sidequest wherein you have to help a character boil an egg in a hot spring for exactly ten seconds. Do it correctly, and you receive a useful item and some icons. Miss it by mere milliseconds, however, and you can net other useful items. The most notable is probably what happens if you end up pressing the button at exactly 9.9 seconds, in which case, you can obtain the super-rare Mysterious Egg fossils.
  • The mobile phone One Piece game One Piece Treasure Cruise has a Timed Hit system where tapping on the next character to attack at the right time will chain for more damage. Normally, you do want perfect, but the exception comes when you need to heal. A character will randomly have meat appear during an attack and, if you chain attacks perfectly, you'll hit so hard the meat flies away and you can't use it. You don't get anything if you miss altogether, either. Instead, you must successfully chain lower than Perfect to heal up.
  • Monster Hunter 4: If you intend to carve Dah'ren Mohran, do not kill it too fast or its carcass will be beyond the invisible wall of the area, preventing you from carving it. Fortunately, it's less of a problem in 4 Ultimate when you fight the G Rank version, as it starts out the second phase much closer to the Dragonship; while the Dragonship is in greater danger of damage, you're less likely to stagger the monster to the point of carving deprivation, and the Dragonship is surprisingly durable anyway.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • Shin Megami Tensei IV determines your ending (if you choose not to destroy the world) with a Karma Meter. -9 points or lower, it's Chaos. +9 points or higher, it's Law. -8 to +8, it's Neutral. The last alignment choice you make, literally immediately before you're locked into an ending, is to support either Law or Chaos, providing either +10 or -10 points. Which means, if your Karma Meter is between -1 and +1, you can be too neutral to get the Neutral Ending.
    • Persona 5 Royal has a team darts minigame to increase each party member's Baton Pass level. Playing perfectly will result in scoring the winning throw yourself, and advancing a party member's Baton Pass level by only one. However, scoring just well enough to allow your teammate to toss the winning throw themselves will instantly increase them up to the third, and max, ranking.
  • Undertale has a minigame called Thundersnail, in which you encourage one of three snails during a race, by button-mashing to encourage it. Should you mash too hard, the snail freaks out under the pressure and catches fire. Should you mash at a decent pace and win, you get 9 gold (the game costs 10 gold to enter). However, should you lose by a very thin margin, the snail believes it actually won, and you're given 30 gold to avoid disappointing the snail.
  • There's an achievement in West of Loathing if you finish the prologue with the highest possible amount of money. Most of the money can be found sooner or later by carefully exploring the map. However, the last bit of money is hidden inside a box in a crack in the floor of a mine. You can locate this if you're thorough, but you can't actually reach it. The only way to get this money is by using a stick of dynamite the game unexpectedly gives you out of pity if you lose a fairly easy fight. As a result, someone who's good at the game is unlikely to stumble across the dynamite by chance, so this achievement can actually be harder for them to figure out.
  • Crowntakers has a controversial timed campaign result; to get the good ending, you need to intentionally fail to save the king on time, because he's an Ungrateful Bastard who always arrests you for not saving him on day one, but killing the Duke after the king's execution allows you to claim the title of crown prince. You can't just wait it out on the farm, though, because all enemies level up every day. Ideally, you'll want to get through the challenging game at a balanced pace, then wait outside the castle until day 19, when the king is beheaded, and rush in to 'avenge' him.note 
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, the ChibiBuddy™ is a virtual pet mini-game that was available during 2012's Crimbo event. Raising a ChibiBuddy™ involves interacting with it to raise or lower its stats (Fitness, Intelligence, Socialization, or Alignment). If any of your ChibiBuddy's stats hits zero, it dies (if it hits zero Fitness, it might have a heart attack; if it hits zero Socialization, it might literally die of loneliness), but the same goes if one of its stats hits the maximum of ten (if it reaches maximum Fitness, it might die from overtaxing itself during a work-out; if it reaches maximum Alignment, it might die from making a Heroic Sacrifice).
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3 contains an in-universe version that the characters aren't initially aware of: All of the military colonies are ranked on a scale from "Dirt" to "Gold" according to their performance, and getting higher rankings means better equipment and more supplies. However, it isn't until later that they discover that Gold Rank is a Fatal Reward, as it means you've performed well enough to get your life force harvested by the bad guys. As such, the ideal situation is to reach Silver Rank and then stall out there.
  • Paper Mario: The Origami King: To win the baseball from the Shuriken Dojo, you have to score exactly 21 points. Each target is worth a different amount of points, so if you overshoot, you have to start hitting negative targets to decrease your score back to 21.

    Sports Games 
  • Madden NFL:
    • The in-game officials are programmed to make mistakes on occasion to allow for coach's challenges.
    • In Franchise Mode, if your team wins three Super Bowls in a row (unprecedented in reality), your head coach will retire and you'll be forced to promote an assistant coach or hire a free agent, both options likely resulting in a lesser coach in terms of ratings. The only other reason a coach will retire is due to age (with the odds increasing the older he gets and a RNG roll at the start of the offseason determining it), but a Super Bowl three-peat will ensure this.
    • In Madden 2004, a single player cannot accumulate more than 1023 rushing yards (more than three times the actual NFL record) in a single game; any more would wrap around to -1024 due to an overflow error. With a good team, a good playbook, and a good working knowledge of AI behavior, the player might need to cut a run short and make a substitution to avoid wrecking his star running back's statistics.
    • Starting with the iterations in the late '10s, many players have complained that the star QB of their undefeated team who set multiple NFL single-season records would lose out on awards like league MVP to players with far lesser performances. In an attempt to discourage AI abuse, it seems that the game penalizes these players for their unrealistically good performances. Doing realistically well is fine, but don't do too well.
  • NCAA Football:
    • There are often achievements for winning all of the various bowl game trophies. However, many of the bowl games are consolations for the schools who finished #2, #3, or lower in their conferences, so you'll need to lose 1-5 games to even play in them.
    • Demolishing records with your star player should make him a shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy, right? So why does he lose it so often to players with far inferior stats? Well, to thwart AI abuse, the game keeps track a player's sportsmanship, and since it is not possible to so thoroughly destroy existing records without ruthlessly running up the score every single week, it works against your player when it comes to award voting.
  • Similarly, NHL 2 K had a persistent issue across all versions that the +/- would wrap at 128. Worse, the chemistry stat for lines would go to pot when this happened as clearly these two defensemen don't play well together when they're sitting at -120.
  • Mario Golf N64 had bronze, silver, and gold trophies for finishing tournaments in the appropriate place. Silver and Bronze need to be earned separately from Gold, but they don't do anything anyway.
  • As this video shows, speedruns of Wii Sports Resort Golf need to complete each hole in as few strokes as possible, but landing a particularly impressive shot like a hole-in-one or a long putt will trigger an unskippable replay that wastes time. So speedrunners need to play each hole with shots just good enough for optimal times, but not quite good enough for replays. Runners also deliberately shoot their ball into the water on Hole 1 until the game's Mercy Mode kicks in and automatically skips them to the next hole. This is because the game puts the pin on trickier sections of the green if you have a good overall score, and on easier sections of the green if you have a bad overall score. Deliberately failing Hole 1 is slower than playing it, but saves time overall since you'll be guaranteed to get easy putts for the rest of the game.
  • Sports Jam gives trophies in Original Mode for getting the #1 high score, the #2 high score, and anywhere from the #3 to #10 high score. The tricky part was that it has to be in that place on the high score chart at the time. So the best way to get #2 is to play one really good game, then get a score higher than the default #1, 40,000 (pretty easy) but not quite as great as your best score. Not too hard if you plan for it, but it can get frustrating if you don't.
  • In Punch-Out!!, you have the Challenge with Glass Joe that requires to knock him down three times, and let him win by decision, and the Challenge with TD Mr. Sandman that requires you to almost get knocked out, and then return to win. Also, there's the protective headgear unlocked for losing 100 times in Career Mode. It becomes Permanently Missable if you clear all of Career Mode without getting it, since Career Mode goes away upon completion. That's the only mode you can use it in anyway, though, so it's not a big loss.
  • In the (originally) MMO golf game Pangya, Approach Mode is a competition to put your ball as close to the hole as possible - without going in. If your cup winds up in the hole, you come in last.
  • In the My Career mode of the new gen. version of WWE 2k15 the player is expected to win matches, build up their character and ultimately acquire title belts. However, winning the ultimate prize of the WWE title will immediately and unexpectedly put the player past the Point of No Return and force them into a retirement match. In order to prolong the game and acquire certain unlockables it is necessary to lose any WWE title matches, and often to throw other matches as well in order to avoid the title shot storylines in favour of the ones with the desired rewards.
    • The next iteration, WWE 2k16, has a mechanic in career mode that rewards move variation and prolonging matches by means of near-misses, failed pins, reversals, and so on. So ending the match quickly with an efficient-but-repetitive technique will only gain modest rewards, while putting on a good show and building drama will award the player with more virtual currency and prestige. Well, it IS Professional Wrestling.

  • In Call of Duty, the Domination game mode requires a team of players to control areas on a map (up to three); a team scores points every few seconds for every area they control. One area is near a team's spawn point, one is near the other team's spawn point, and the third is somewhere between the other two. Because of a quirk in the game's respawn rules, it's usually more effective to control only two of the areas instead of all three. Besides spreading forces thinner, controlling all three areas makes the losing team respawn anywhere on the map, whereas controlling only two keeps them respawning around the one area they control, making their movements and strategies more predictable.
  • The Battlefield 3 MVP 2 and MVP 3 dog tags for multiplayer are unlocked by receiving enough MVP 2 and MVP 3 ribbons — which means that the player has to come in 2nd or 3rd each time, as scoring MVP (first place) only counts towards the MVP dog tag.
  • Battle Garegga requires the player to die a certain amount of times, or the rank will get too high and the final stage will become near impossible. Normally, this isn't enough on its own, so letting enemies escape and missing powerups are often employed to lower the rank further.
  • A challenge in TimeSplitters requires you as the Veiled SWAT to keep bank robbers from taking more than four bags of loot to their base in order to play as Veiled SWAT in Arcade Mode. Finish the challenge without the robbers getting away with a single bag though, and a glitch will keep him forever locked, even if you retry and letting the other team score a bag or two. Just hope you didn't already save, and reset.
  • Failing an optional mission objective (but completing the mandatory one) in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere occasionally "punishes" the player with a secret level.
  • The homebrew NES game Thwaite, a game inspired by Missile Command that parodies Animal Crossing, has a Canon Ending where the culprit is found and a non-canon ending activated by a No-Damage Run. It goes through a couple scenes including bad puns on "TAS" before an ending where nobody discovers what really happened because no evidence ever landed, and then a developer thanks the player for having the dedication to make a tool-assisted run.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II has two endings to the "Karma" level (either you catch up with/snipe the main bad guy, DeFalco, and rescue a high-value individual, or they get away and you have to play a Strike Force level to rescue said HVI). However, if you want to be able to apply the Flecktarn camo pattern to your weapons, you have to let them get away and rescue the HVI in the Strike Force level. Even though the game gives you the option to play it anyway even if you already rescued the HVI, beating it in that instance doesn't unlock the camo pattern. There are also other incentives to letting DeFalco get away; in particular, he will continue making appearances throughout the campaign (if you kill him, a generic mook with a much less interesting personality will take his place), and there's also an achievement that requires you to let him get away and skip the second chance at a rescue.
  • Warframe has a mission in the quest The Glast Gambit where the player must win a match in The Index by being no more than 10 points ahead of the other team, otherwise the other gambler will back out if he thinks that he's being hustled.
  • Red Faction II's best ending is basically a somewhat silly joke ending. The second-best ending is the one that's actually the most satisfying and sensible in terms of plot.
  • Doom shows off your item collection rate at the end of the level. If you don't particularly need these items due to playing well, your collection rating can be pretty miserable, especially on lower difficulties. This is mitigated by the fact that the only items that count towards this percentage are ones that you can pick up even if you don't need them, such as small health potions - larger health packs and ammo pickups don't count.
  • Players can use this to their advantage in Rez. Depending on your performance in a level, you face a different version of the end boss. Shoot down less than 90% of the enemies, and get the Mega version. More than 90% but less than 98%, get the Giga version, which is somewhat tougher. More than 98% and you face the Tera version, which is even harder. Now, before playing the final stage, you can replay the previous stages. To get the most out of this, you want to kill enough enemies to get as many Progress Nodes and Overdrives as you can find, but not so much that the end boss will be tough enough to take them all away from you.
  • Certain stages in Raiden Fighters Jet can only be reached through requirements such as dying in a particular stage, not triggering the gold medals, or using continues. So if you're trying to achieve the Level 35 or Level 50 endings without continuing...
  • Your story progression in Raiden V changes depending on what percentage of enemies you've destroyed at the end of the stage. In the event that you qualify for a B, A, or S route (the latter for Golden Ending), you cannot pick a lower route. This means if you want to see the Downer Ending, you will need to let a significant number of enemies live.
  • In Hydorah, the final stage of the Red Eden boss can only be approached when its shield is open at the same time as it is on the right side of the screen. Since the shield and the screen move on different timers, it takes a long time before they sync up if they start in a bad position. Since the initial position also depends on how fast you beat the first two stages, you're actually better off taking your time. If you beat the first two stages too fast, you'll be left waiting forever on the last stage before you can even attack.
  • In the Hunt: If playing alone, defeating the Final Boss after using at least one continue allows your submarine to escape and receive a hero's welcome home. If you don't use continues however, neither you nor the boss survive.

    Simulation Games 
  • In Autonauts vs Piratebots there is a milestone as well as an achievement for repairing a certain number of buildings. Only damaged buildings can be repaired, and buildings can only get damaged by Piratebots, who only occasionally decide to attack your base and are rather easy to fend off. Therefore to get the achievement you either have to build an imperfect defense to let Piratebots hit some of your buildings before you kill them, or deliberately move some buildings out of your base and into harm's way.
  • The early 1980s DOS board game Bye Bye Boris (where you are a Soviet trying to defect to the United States) has a square where you try out for the Olympics (in wrestling, swimming, or weightlifting). Do poorly, you get mocked for your efforts. Do well, and you get a significant cash prize. Do perfect, and you will be selected for the Olympic team and the KGB will have you hauled away to an advanced training facility, giving you a Game Over! Unfortunately, the outcomes are random.
  • In Cold Waters, a submarine simulator game set during the Cold War era, the ideal way to play in most circumstances is to never be detected by the enemy at all, the only evidence that you're even in the area being the fact that torpedoes keep coming out of seemingly nowhere and blowing up their ships. However, in particularly rough weather, the ambient noise generated by the storm may be so loud that you can't hear anything at all, least of all enemy ships or submarines. In this case, the only way to achieve your mission objective (typically sinking a submarine wolfpack or surface convoy) might be to deliberately give away your own position by doing something loud or otherwise obvious, like pinging with active sonar or sticking your radar mast up above the surface. The enemy's reaction will then give away thier positions, allowing you to deal with them, assuming you can survive the inevitable onslaught of torpedoes and depth charges this will provoke.
  • Game Dev Tycoon:
    • The criteria for your game's review scores is based on the last game you made to receive a 9/10 average or higher. Essentially, if you make your game too good, you may find it to be a Tough Act to Follow, and none of your followup games do nearly as well.
    • There's an achievement for getting "a perfect ten" in reviews. Scoring above ten (like getting 10, 10, 10 and 11) does not unlock it (but will unlock the "up to eleven" achievement).
  • There are 42 possible careers you can get at the end of Growing Up based on how many skills in a certain subject you've mastered, but some of them can only be achieved by getting C or lower in the SATs.
  • It's caused by a bug rather than intent, but achieving a perfect 999 Ranch Master Rate in Harvest Moon requires you to have all 5 girls' affection at 511, rather than the maximum affection value of 999. Due to a calculation overflow, raising their affection to 999 will result in a Ranch Master Rate no higher than 994. This is particularly complicated by the fact that a perfect score also requires you to have 2 children, which means that your wife's affection must have reached 800 at some point; you have to actively reduce her affection after she bears your children (eg by giving her poisonous mushrooms and weeds) in order to achieve the perfect score. Most players settle for a "good enough" score instead.
  • In Harvest Moon: Magical Melody, the only way you can enter a certain horse race and win an item that ups your stamina capacity is to keep your horse's heart level at a certain place. That means that if you let your horse get too happy, you have to either abuse it until it is less happy, or you can't enter the race.
  • In Hometown Story, continuing to play after you have gotten and used you first blue feather will grant you fragments to build a new blue feather. New blue feather fragments will appear in the morning after a day of taking good care of the store. However, if you get married (for which a blue feather is necessary), your new spouse will come with a couple of event chains, for which at least the first cutscene will only play out on mornings on which you do not get a new fragment. Players that are doing well enough to get a fragment every day may hence have to intentionally neglect the store to see their spouse's event chains.
  • Idol Manager:
    • Staffers with voice, dance or style coaching skills start out with a level beyond which they can't train an idol. That level increases as they teach idols with a level low enough to benefit from their coaching. Players who want to hire poorly skilled coaches for cheap and train them on the job will want to make sure that the idols they hire aren't too good at signing, dancing or natural looks to be trained by the poorly skilled coaches. This can also cause any business plan that involves packing the agency with the guranteed silver-tier idols from regional auditions and gold-tier idols from national auditions to backfire, as the most skilled coaches for hire only train up to level 80 out of the 100 level cap. Higher-tier idols start out with higher average skill levels, which make them much more likely to have at least one skill just under or well over the 80 mark.
    • The game expects the player to have hit 1,000,000 fans by the transition from Chapter 4 to Chapter 5, with the most obvious hint being that it's a requirement to commit to Aya Naya's route at the end of Chapter 4. Chapter 5 is centered around a two-month Timed Mission for which one of the tips is to grow the fanbase by at least 20% over that period. All reliable means of growing the fanbase grow it by a fixed number, so players who gave too much of a boost to their fanbase numbers between the beginning of Chapter 5 and getting the mission will have a harder time getting an extra 20% in two months than players who have been neglecting fandom growth during that same period.
  • I Just Want To Be Single! is an "anti-dating sim" where the protagonist Aya isn't interested in dating and has to convince her Unwanted Harem she just wants to be friends. Each girl has a relationship meter you have to keep high enough they'll want to hang out with Aya, but not so high that they end up falling in love.
  • Lobotomy Corporation is a game centered around containing "Abnormalities" to gather energy from them. Most of your monsters are straightforward with how they work, and better tends to be better. However, most Abnormalities can cause problems from working with them incorrectly, ranging from breaching containment to instantly possessing whoever is working on them to go on a murderous rampage. And these can happen for pretty much any reason depending on the monster, including getting most of the energy you can from one work session or having a certain stat be too high.
    • Plague Doctor will activate its ability on anyone who gets a Good work result on it... and also, if that employee gets a Bad work result. It's generally advised to get a Neutral result from working on it, unless you desire to obtain the deadly (yet more profitable) WhiteNight.
    • Getting a Good work result on Grave of Cherry Blossoms will cause it to bloom and the Qliphoth Counter (a counter that triggers an Abnormality's ability when it reaches a certain number) to drop. Getting too many Good work results will allow the Abnormality to call more employees to it, killing them.
    • Getting a Good or Bad result on Alriune will cause her Qliphoth counter to decrease, meaning a player must strive for Neutral results to keep her in check and prevent her from breaching. The same criteria also applies to The Silent Orchestra.
    • The Queen of Hatred's Qliphoth counter will drop if three employees haven't died before each Qliphoth Meltdown.
    • The Firebird's Qliphoth counter goes down when you get a Good result, and up when the player gets a Bad result. Unless you can withstand the damage, it's generally advised to go for a Neutral result.
  • In Microsoft Flight Simulator's instrument flight lessons, tracking a VOR too precisely will cause the pilot to fail. The reason: VORs have a cone of silence immediately above the station in which no signal is transmitted; flying into the cone causes a loss of signal on the indicator in the instrument panel, which the sim interprets as having wandered extremely far off course.
  • Mitsumete Knight has a few Titles that require this to get them so you can complete your Titles' list, most notably the Knight Titles and the "Blade of Darkness'' Title, which require a combination of a specific Level and number of Medals to get them.
  • In Princess Maker 2 (Refine), two of the highest-scoring endings — the Queen by Marriage and Royal Concubine — have identical parameters, except in one category. One requires 499 Glamour and the other a flat 500, respectively, with that one point making the difference between the daughter ruling the kingdom as a Hot Consort High Queen or simply being a mate for the king.
  • In the first The Sims, once a Sim reaches the level 10 of their career, there is a random chance after every workday that they will be demoted to a mid-level job in another field: for example, a military general will become a SWAT team leader, or a movie star will become a Congressman. While this can add variety to the gameplay and keep things fresh, it's extremely annoying if you just want to rake in the dough, not to mention that the new career path will probably require your Sim to build more skills and make new friends to get promotions. To avoid this, many players simply have their Sims stay at the level 9 jobnote , never meeting the requirements for that last promotion.
  • In the Trauma Center series, getting the XS rank (or S in Under the Knife) is always a challenge, but some missions are even worse because curing the patient as expediently as possible (like a real doctor would) will not produce enough points to qualify for the S and XS rankings. Thus, you have to let the GUILT/Stigma pathogen create lacerations and tumors for you to fix up and get points from.
    • X-3 in Second Opinion. Go too fast, and you lack the chain bonus needed to get an XS; you need to let some thorns regenerate so you can achieve a high enough chain.
  • Yes, Your Grace:
    • When choosing Lorsulia's wedding dress, the cheapest option will get negative comments, while the most expensive one will get negative comments and be hated by Lorsulia herself. This makes the middleground option the best one.
    • Taking too much of a cut of the profits from the tarvern will result in it going bankrupt quickly, while taking the owner's intial offer result in Eryk clearly getting ripped off.
  • In War Thunder sometimes you will have tasks that require to score assists, which you can get by damaging enough an enemy vehicle without destroying it (another player has to do that for you). When such tasks are available you will find yourself in the bizarre situation that you are fighting NOT to kill your opponents, which otherwise is what you strive for. However, the required amount of damage is not tiny, so you usually have to consistently fire at your opponent, often to the point when you read "critical hit" on screen (or "Player damaged Enemy" in the battle log). The problem is that this might easily cause you to kill your target anyway, either because you do too much damage and it burns out/crashes on the ground before a teammate can land the final hit, or because a lucky shot kills the pilot or the crew (it's also possible that the adversary bails out because of the frustration). It's not unusual to see disgruntled players because they are doing too well, complaining that they "only" manage to kill enemies when they need assists.

    Stealth-Based Games 
  • Metal Gear Solid:
    • In the first game, the player will receive an item as a reward for finishing the game. If the player gets the good ending, they receive the infinite ammo bandana, which is handy but not indispensable. The bad ending gives them the stealth camouflage, rendering them invisible to enemies. In a stealth game, that's much more useful.
    • There is a torture scene that must be survived through button mashing. If you mash too fast, the game will think you're using auto-fire and punish you for it.

    Strategy Games 
  • Battle for Wesnoth: In the final scenario of The Rise of Wesnoth, the player will actually lose if they defeat all orc leaders - instead the player needs to leave one of the orc leaders alive so that Haldric's plan would work.
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics, you get experience and skill points every time you successfully execute an action. Because of this, it can be very beneficial to prolong a fight by casting Sleep or Frog on the last remaining enemy and then take turns beating on your own guys with Throw Rock or a weak physical attack (if you're a caster). Other effective and non-damaging ways to up experience include the squire job Accumulate and Ramza's Yell skill. Completing the battles quickly and efficiently nets you far less points.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2:
    • One of the Bangaa Bugle missions gives you a different item for completing the quest in a certain number of turns. Completing it in 3 or less gives you an item which is rare but obtainable by other methods, while completing it in exactly 4 gives you an item which could otherwise only be obtained by choosing it over an item whose alternate method of collection is much more difficult to achieve.
    • There are goals in auctions you can only achieve by getting 2nd and 3rd place when bidding for a territory or item a certain number of times.
  • Advance Wars DS and Days Of Ruin have medals requiring B-Ranks and C-Ranks. Good luck getting those naturally, especially since the levels in those games are mostly easy.
    • Also in Game Boy Wars 3, some maps in Campaign are only accessed by clearing certain other maps slowly. If you clear those certain other maps quickly, you don't unlock BOTH maps. Just the one obtained by clearing the map quickly.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 had a smaller example: every campaign level has a "par time" value. Finishing the map faster or slower than this changes the debriefing between "good work, people" and "good work but we lost many good men". It also determines your rank.
    • Especially aggravating if you see this, and go for a No Casualties Run the next mission, only to be again told many good men were lost...
  • In Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, the Good conclusion requires only destroying some, not all, of the brains. Otherwise, the character's Karma Meter is dinged as not perfect, leading to the second tier ending.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Oftentimes throughout the series, a unit being too powerful can cause problems for the player. A classic example is the problem of a unit being so strong that they kill every enemy they fight in one round—this can result in them being bumrushed and worn down by a bunch of enemies, whereas if they let the enemies live, those enemies would quickly block off access to your unit by crowding around them. The DS games even encourage this by way of enemy gains on Hard being mostly focused on offense—when your units can only survive maybe one or two hits, opening themselves up to additional attacks can be life-threatening.
    • In Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, there's a case of Mutually Exclusive Party Members with Karel and Harken, a Swordmaster and Hero who each show up a few turns into a later chapter—however, the one that shows up is dependent on how much of the chapter you've completed at that point (either you've killed lots of promoted enemies, or you've opened a lot of doors, depending on version). Harken is a far stronger character than Karel—his attacking power and durability is roundly superior, his speed is barely any lower despite Karel being a Fragile Speedster, he can use the much stronger axes while Karel is stuck with swords, and he joins with the game's only Brave Sword while Karel uses the much weaker Wo Dao—but he's the one who shows up if you haven't killed a sufficient amount of promoted enemies or opened a sufficient number of doors by the deadline. Hence, stomping the chapter too effectively results in you getting a worse unit. What's more, either way, they only show up on the seventh turn; it's very possible to complete the map before either can show up and lock yourself out of an incredibly strong unit.
    • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones has Cormag, one of the best characters in the game, show up as an enemy reinforcement in Chapter 13 on Eirika's route. If you complete the chapter before he shows up, he's Permanently Missable.
    • In Fire Emblem: Awakening, try not to have perfect stats when playing the Spotpass chapter "The Wellspring of Truth." It's a Mirror Match where the enemy copies your units, skills and stats perfectly. It's cool if you can hit half the enemies with Lethality, but you don't want the enemy to hit even one of your units with it due to the game's permadeath mechanic. It's recommended to take only one or two of your strongest units, unequip any dangerous skills or weapons from them, fill the rest of the army with your B-teamnote , and abuse the Pair Up mechanic (which the AI will never use, even when mimicking you).
    • In Fire Emblem Engage's Maddening Mode enemies will generally not target your units if they will deal 0 damage or have a 0% chance to hit. This can lead to an odd balancing act where you want your unit's Defence or Avoid stats to be as high as possible without quite reaching that level, unless you have some other way to make the enemy acknowledge you (e.g. Emblem Soren's Assign Decoy skill, which will force the enemy to target such units).
  • In Front Mission Alternative, failing the final mission unlocks a new mission with a better ending.
  • Homeworld's Dynamic Difficulty results in an interesting situation where sometimes it was best to scrap your entire fleet (especially after the one level that lets you go to town stealing ion frigates) so that the next level was tuned to a smaller, more balanced fleet.
  • While the end goal of Kaiju A Gogo is to make every city bend the knee to you, there are times when it's preferable to lay off on a city and let it rebuild so that you can come back and re-harvest resources. Once a city surrenders it will give a monthly income, but you can't smash it up for resources any more.
  • In Dawn of War Dark Crusade, during the campaign, it's generally not actually a good idea to attempt to rush a single-base enemy and kill them quickly when invading a new area - your bases are persistent, meaning that it's usually smartest to just pin the enemy in place while you claim as much of the map as possible, then go in and crush them. The end result: access to top-tier units from the start of the next battle there, which is a wise course of action since by about midgame your enemies get to start with mid-tier construction buildings like their faction's vehicle facility.
  • In Reigns, you have to carefully balance the power of the Church, your People, the Army and your Treasury. Letting any of these meters fall completely to zero will ensure your ruler meets a grisly end; however, letting one of those meters max out completely also seals their fate.
  • The later Total War games have the 'expansion' or 'great power' diplomacy malus you get from expanding. If you're too good at early expansion, you may find AI factions you're not interested in fighting will start things with you anyway, or refuse diplomatic deals that may be necessary to maintain your economy and stability mid-game.
  • The Flash game Infectonator World Edition has an achievement for all upgrades, but completing a level perfectly locks it from grinding. Also, you can upgrade far in excess of what you need to beat the game.
  • Library of Ruina:
    • Opponents will drop more copies of their books the higher their emotion level is. It's better to intentionally keep them alive and allow them to win clashes if you're looking to grind for books off of them.
    • The Queen of Hatred has a gauge that will rise if she loses clashes or is attacked by marked librarians, and decrease when she wins clashes or attacks marked librarians. If the gauge fills up all the way, she'll transform into her One-Winged Angel form, healing the damage she previously took and making her stronger altogether. The player must lose clashes on purpose in order to prevent her from transforming.
    • In earlier versions of the game, the Servant of Wrath would cause a Non-Standard Game Over if you denied her the final blow to the Hermit of the Azure Forest. This was changed in a later version of the game, allowing the Servant to be the only one who can land the final blow. (Though you still must keep the Servant alive lest you suffer a Non-Standard Game Over.)
    • Similar to the example above, the player must also battle the Big and Will be Bad Wolf with the Little Red Riding Hooded Mercenary. If you deny her the final blow against the Wolf, Little Red will fully heal, gain a health buff, permanently become enraged and turn on the player.

    Survival Horror 
  • Silent Hill 3 is a weird example. There are only two endings, and while the "Possessed" ending is bleaker than the normal ending, it isn't considered a "bad" ending, as it's impossible to get on the first playthrough, and many players actually strive to achieve it on their second playthrough, as it's rather difficult. The game has a hidden point system, which goes up every time you kill an enemy or take damage, and in order to get the Possessed ending, you must exceed 4000 points. This means in order to get the (objectively) "good" ending, you need to avoid as many enemies as possible.
  • Parasite Eve 2: You could unlock different weapons in Replay Mode depending on your ending score. Some good items required low scores.
  • The Suffering. In order to get the neutral ending, one has to save some innocents, do some good. But not in all situations. It's okay to shoot the guy who keeps firebombing you by accident.
  • This is the AI director's take on the team's progress in Left 4 Dead. Doing too well will make less health and bomb items appear and the director is more likely to spawn a Tank - except when the game just feels like giving you all the special Infected, including the Witch and Tank, with no medkits until the end of the level when your team all has less than 20 health left from the Tank that smashed them earlier, or when the Director decides to spawn three tanks in a row because you've been killing them with impunity the past few games. The Director is a fickle bastard and is wholly impossible to predict.
  • Eternal Darkness introduces nightmarish delusions when you're low on Sanity. This arguably gives the player an incentive not to finish off wounded enemies.
  • In a similar vein, successfully disarming traps in Illbleed deprives you of getting to see the various gruesome and/or wacky effects they cause.

    Visual Novels 
  • Your Turn to Die
    • The work has an In-Universe example with the Final Attraction of Chapter 2-1, as the 'perk' earned by the winner of the Sub-Game is the ability to switch places with the one who performed the worst, taking a potentially lethal shot of venom in their place. The only truly 'safe' positions for that game are those who placed second, third, fourth and fifth, as all others are endangered.
    • In that same chapter, the only way for the player to prevent the death of Alice is by failing the game and not sacrificing the fake Reko before time runs out. However, doing so leads to another fatality instead — that of the real Reko — so who do you care about more?
  • Phantom Thief Silver Cat: The Golden Ending involves Ginka briefly surrendering during torture, as Mineko's guard is dropped long enough for Ginka's staff to rescue her, whereas one of the two Bad Ends involves Ginka resisting completely and Mineko deciding to just sell her to the highest bidder instead of keeping her around for amusement.
  • Failing the first case of Aviary Attorney is actually the more morally correct outcome. As your client is guilty, deliberately letting her be convicted avoids a Miscarriage of Justice.
  • One section near the end of Case 2-4 of Phoenix Wright: Justice For All has Phoenix Hold the Line in court by stalling for time until the police can find a kidnapped Maya, by throwing suspicion onto an innocent Adrian Andrews. However, you have to make sure not to Hold the Line too well, or else you throw enough suspicion on Adrian that the judge decides that the real culprit couldn't possibly have done it and convicts her instead. Thankfully, you don't have to manage this because of the linear formatting of the series.
  • Progress in WILL: A Wonderful World is made by rearranging the order of actions in a scene to change its outcome, which is then ranked from S, for perfect, to X, for failed. However, some plot lines necessary to complete the game are only seen with failure (or at least less-than-perfect) outcomes, as what a character wants to happen may not be the same as what they need to undergo development.
  • In Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem, going to certain places during certain weeks rewards you with Secrets- politically useful hints about what the other characters are involved in. Secrets are good. But many of them are found in the same places that normally boost stats, and they take priority over stat you can easily get a Secret instead of the boost you were planning to get in that timeslot. Unfortunately, in the early game, stats are much more important than anything else- if you don't grind the right ones enough before you meet the Matchmaker, she will kick you out of the Summit. So you have to not figure out what your fellow delegates are doing- in defiance of everything the plot has told you to do thus far- and just focus on training yourself. (And finding out through trial-and-error when the training places won't be useful.)
  • Danganronpa occasionally has an antagonistic variant, where suspicion falls on the culprit because their case was too perfect.
    • The first game's third case has this happen to Celestia Ludenberg. Their plan involves getting an airtight alibi by being involved with the investigation at every stage and providing an Orgy of Evidence against her frame-up victim. When they run their mouth a bit too often, the other students start to get suspicious of how many coincidences were involved to place them at every single crime scene with some sort of evidence.]]
    • Kirumi Tojo from v3 is pinpointed as Chapter 2's culprit because of how neatly it was cleaned up; nobody but the highly perfectionist Ultimate Maid would've been so thourough.

    Wide-Open Sandbox 
  • Endless Sky: To loot or capture an enemy ship, you have to bring it down to a fraction of its Hull Points to disable its systems, without destroying it completely.
  • In several Grand Theft Auto games you can earn plenty of money by repeatedly doing a timed race and improving your result a tiny bit every time. When you first do one of these races, the game gives you a set time limit to beat the race, which is usually lenient. You can then repeat the race, this time going against your previous best time, and every time you improve on it, you win money. Thus, if you deliberately dawdle on your first attempt and finish just under the time limit, you can keep winning money from the race over and over by finishing just a second or two faster every time. If you try your best on the first attempt, you lose out on all that cash.
  • In Sid Meier's Pirates! 2004 remake, there are three different types of "Governors' Daughters" to romance, being the Beautiful, Attractive, and Plain daughters. While you get the best overall reward for marrying a Beautiful daughter, some of the best early-game rewards (namely the Special Items) can be gotten through romancing the Plain and Attractive ones, but not the Beautiful ones. In addition, the rewards you get are partially dependent on how well you dance with said daughter. If you dance well with an Attractive Daughter, she will give you a quest to infiltrate an enemy colony and arrest some criminal, a reward worth less than the price of an item and generally takes considerable time and effort. However, if you only dance partially-well with her, she will give you an item instead.

Non-video game examples:

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bakuman。, there's a scene where Takagi does Mashiro's homework for him so that Mashiro can keep working on their manga. Since Takagi is significantly better than Mashiro at school, he mentions that he deliberately made some mistakes so that the teacher wouldn't get suspicious. Azuki was also said by Takagi to have deliberately lowering her score to come out average to avoid unnecessary attention because traditionally women are not expected to be "smart". He guessed right that she lowered her grades but for the incorrect reason.
  • This is the motto for Mayuri Kurotsuchi from Bleach. As he tells the dying Szayelaporro Granz, perfection is a dead end for scientists as being perfect means there's no more improvement, imagination and intelligence. Always strive to be better than everything that came before you but not perfect.
  • This is the advice Jet gives Spike in an episode of Cowboy Bebop when the crew visits a casino. Instead of doing so well that he draws suspicion to himself, Spike goes around helping other people win and taking tips for himself from their winnings.
  • In Hikaru no Go (and in actual Go), this is what you have to do in order to have a tied game, although it can happen by accident. It's treated as something only high-level players can do every time. Although having to try for a tie seems true for just about every game out there.
  • Invoked in The Kindaichi Case Files. In one story, Kindaichi reveals the murderer by having all of the suspects take a multiple-choice test, with all of the questions secretly pertaining to the case (For example, asking where one would buy a certain type of rope, with that type of rope being what was used in the murders). All of the suspects did an average job on the test...except for one, who got every single question wrong. It turned out that she was the murderer and, in deliberately failing the test to try to clear her name, she just proved her guilt (with other evidence provided after).
  • This is the backstory of Saki's title character. During her family's mahjong nights, she would get punished if she did too well and made fun of if she lost, so she would get perfectly no score and tie... which is actually harder to deliberately get than a clear win or loss, meaning she's far better at mahjong then she initially appears. Unfortunately, this leads to some early friction with Nodoka, who, after she realizes that Saki could win if she played normally, gets frustrated with Saki's playstyle and insists that she play normally.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • For the tournament in the Buu Arc, the participants qualify by whoever can punch the hardest on a punching machine. The heroes, in particular Android 18, have trouble reining in their planet-destroying power to appear competitive to the normal humans. Except for Vegeta, who has no patience for that and just sends the machine flying through a wall.
    • Gohan suffers from this in high school sports in the same arc as he tries to fit in despite his extremely unorthodox childhood: he takes a screaming baseball pitch to the face without blinking, and accidentally jumps higher than a building to catch a home run ball.
  • One episode of the 1979 Doraemon anime had Gian stealing one of Doraemon's gadgets, a pencil that automatically fills in all the correct answers, and using it to ace an exam. He ends up getting a thrashing from his father, who figures there's no way he could've gotten that good in such a short time without cheating. Nobita presumably wouldn't have had to worry about this trope due to already being a nerdy kid.
  • Discussed in Chapter 35 of New Game!. Hajime's worried about planning her company's end-of-the-year party with Aoba and Yun, since if they don't do well, they'll be considered employees who can't work well with others, but if they do well, they'll get the job every year. Hajime then suggests that they could do a decent but forgettable celebration, but Aoba wonders if being forgettable is worse than being seen as uncooperative, and Yun argues that they have nothing to lose by doing well.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Dawn, Ash's traveling companion in Sinnoh, struggles early on to compete in the Coordinator Circuit because she's too focused on perfecting her performance, and not on having fun with her Pokémon. This winds up causing her to fail to clear the qualifying round—twice—despite her efforts, because the Pokémon giving those performances go unseen. Her Friendly Rival Zoey points out that Dawn needs to loosen up and have fun. Dawn takes that advice to heart and does much better in her contests.

    Card Games 
  • When playing Blackjack, card counting will swiftly get you kicked out of the casino and barred for life from playing the game there or anywhere else nearby, since they share information with each other. Doing so suboptimally can still give you a smaller advantage over the house, while making it much less likely for the aforementioned to happen.
  • In Spider Solitaire, it's possible to do so well that you clear almost all the cards off the table without ever pulling cards from the pile. Since you NEED to draw all the cards from the pile and clear them to win, though, and since you can't draw from the pile without having at least one card on every stack, it's possible to end up not having enough cards to populate every stack, and thus render the game Unwinnable by doing too well, too quickly.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, this is a strategy strongly advised in the in free-for-all multiplayer formats. Since you have multiple opponents to worry about, appearing to be the strongest player is a good way to get them to gang up on you and eliminate you first. Holding back creatures and pieces of your combo until you have a means to counter multiple opponents is commonplace. Conversely, you also don't want to look like the weakest player either, since you'll be seen as an "easy out" and, thus, eliminated quickly.
  • In the party game Dixit, the "leader" in each round chooses a card with a piece of surrealist art on it, and thinks up a word or phrase that fits that picture. The other players choose their own cards that they think fits the phrase, then vote on which card they think best fits. The leader scores no points if none of the other players vote for their card, but also scores no points if all the other players vote for their card, so the best strategy in the game is to avoid making your phrase too on-the-nose.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City:
    • Samaritan works as a newspaper fact-checker in his Secret Identity. He has an advanced computer to actually do the work while he goes on his superheroic rounds, and it slips in occasional errors as part of the facade.
    • Invoked in "Show 'Em All" — the Junkman pulls off a major heist without a hitch, then lives a life of luxury while everyone wonders who was the brilliant criminal who committed the robbery. However, he becomes frustrated at not getting recognition for the heist, especially since the public assumes the perpetrator must have been caught for another crime. He decides to repeat the robbery again, but with deliberately-included mistakes, so he can get captured and be recognized for the first heist.
  • In the Batman storyline Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, after Bruce Wayne is framed for the murder of his ex-lover Vesper Fairchild, the Bat-Family discover an electronic journal (so carefully concealed that only a tech expert like Oracle could have found it) that suggests Vesper was killed because she deduced Batman's identity. However, Oracle comes to suspect that Vesper's notes on that topic were faked when she runs a "fingerprint" program that lets her see even the keystrokes Vesper made before corrections and finds no trace of any such amendments; Barbara explicitly states "Nobody's that perfect", reinforcing the suspicion that the journal entries were planted to create a scenario for murder that even Batman's allies would believe.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In a comic where Donald trains to become a cop, the instructor has him arrested after discovering that someone broke into his office at night and put full marks on Donald's test. The other trainees immediately realize Donald was framed, because even if Donald had falsified the test results, they know he isn't stupid enough to give himself a perfect score.
  • In Watchmen, Ozymandias, the world's smartest man, decided to only get above-average grades as a child so that he wouldn't stand out.

    Comic Strips 
  • Big Nate's title character Nate invokes this trope. He basically gets C and B grades, but is shown to be far far more capable of being a Straight-A student. In one story arc, he gets paired with two of the smart kids in class for a group project, and their final grade is based off of all their work. Nate of course does a good enough grade that he gets an "A". When asked why he doesn't normally do that, Nate points out that bringing home "A"s all the time means he won't be rewarded as much for when it does happen, and that he finds it quite tiring to do so all the time. In this case, it's also because he's Brilliant, but Lazy.
  • Discussed by Calvin in Calvin and Hobbes - when Susie brags about getting an "A", Calvin says "I would hate to be you - I got a 'C'!". When Susie asks why Calvin would be glad about that, he points out that life is esasier the lower you keep their expectations.

    Fan Works 
  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon mentions that Yuki's average is only short of being perfect by the four percent of answers she simply didn't bother completing. A perfect score would attract unneeded attention to her. May be a Shout-Out to a certain member of the Unseen University of the Discworld (see Literature).
  • In Valkyrie on Fire, Glimmer explains that she relied on this philosophy when going into the Games, justifying her score of 8; as she explains to Katniss and Peeta during their alliance, 8 is good enough to show that she deserves to be with the other Careers, but it's not so good that they'll be paying particularly close attention to her before the final battle.
  • In On the Run, Lex Luthor muses that Clark Kent’s B+ grade average from high school reflects an attempt at this, as nobody could keep up a marking scheme like that unless they were actively trying to hide something.
  • In Kimberly T's Gargoyles, when Demona is invited to join the Ishimura Clan, she has to remember to give the impression that she's struggling to learn Japanese even though she learnt the language when she lived in Japan a couple of centuries ago, as she doesn't want to reveal her true history to anyone in her new potential clan.
  • In The Cutting Edge, this is basically Laurel's philosophy when she adopts a vigilante outfit when she starts going out with Ted and Isaac after being sent back in time. She deliberately adopts a more basic costume than her familiar attire, such as a ski mask to hide her face, so that she doesn't look like an experienced fighter.
  • In From Muddy Waters, Izuku doesn't want to stick out lest his parentage be investigated and discovered. He tries to do well enough to ensure that he won't get expelled, but not enough to make his scores exceptional during Aizawa's exam. Aizawa catches onto this and chews Izuku out, threatening to throw him out on the spot if he plans on half-assing every test given to him.

    Films — Animation 
  • Many superheroes need to learn to do this in order to fit in with friends and/or protect their secret identities. For example, in The Incredibles, Dashiell "Dash" Parr's power of Super-Speed prevents him from participating in school track competitions until he learns to hold back enough to finish in second place.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, both the Rainbooms and the Dazzlings decide to play well enough to avoid elimination in the Battle of the Bands, but not so well that they tip their hands too early and reveal their magic to their enemies. Provides a case of Dramatic Irony though, as the Dazzlings already know the Rainbooms have the Magic of Friendship and they secretly manipulate all the turns of events to get them to fight so they can feed on their magic, something Sunset Shimmer points out when stopping the fight.
  • An odd inversion occurs in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Miles, trying to flunk out of his new school so he can attend the same one as all his friends, gets a 0% on a test (he also listed the month as "Decembruary"). However, the teacher points out to Miles that the test was true/false — the odds of him guessing wrong on every single answer is borderline impossible, since even choosing answers at random would have gotten him around a 50%. She correctly surmises that he deliberately picked the wrong answers — which is only possible if he knew all the right answers. Had he only marked half the test answers wrong, he wouldn't have been noticed.
  • When working on Frankenweenie, Tim Burton noted that the stop-motion animation of his previous animated movie, Corpse Bride, ended up being so fluid that many people mistook it for CGI. He thought it undermined the beauty of the artform, and thus decided to make the animation cruder for Frankenweenie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The film adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules has Roderick clean the house after throwing a party, only to make a smaller mess afterwards to avoid suspicion from his parents.
  • In The Producers, this is the ultimate reason that Springtime for Hitler becomes the Trope Namer for "trying-to-fail project that turns out successful." Bialystock and Bloom do everything they can, from top-to-bottom, to make the play a flop: they find a script written by a deranged former Nazi about the greatness of Hitler, hand it off to a flamboyantly Camp Gay director, and cast a strung-out beatnik in the title role. Any two of those elements would have probably doomed the play to close in a single night—but all of them together manage to force the material so far over-the-top that the audience interprets the play as a satire, with its depiction of Hitler as an absurd buffoon and the Nazi regime being introduced with the goofiest musical number you've ever seen.
  • In the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), the painting found in Crown's home is a forgery painted on top of "Dogs Playing Poker". And anyone can form a famous painting (since they've been reproduced so very many times). However, this forgery also includes the paint hidden behind the frame.
  • In Tropic Thunder, the secret to playing Inspirationally Disadvantaged characters according to Kirk Lazarus is to play the character as just pathetic enough to garner audience sympathy but try not to "go full retard" (in other words, get too into the character to the point of coming off as actually disabled, at which point the "inspirational" part of the trope is lost and the character comes off as incredibly uncomfortable to watch).
  • In Wrath of Man, Patrick Hill is looking to get hired by Fortico and is told he needs 70% to pass the pistol marksmanship test. He scores exactly that much. The audience gets the hint that he's actually much better than that, but doesn't know why yet.

  • In the Carmen Sandiego Gamebooks written in a "which way" format, you would be reprimanded if your score at the end was too good. Getting such a score would require you to not "waste time" looking for clues, the implication being that you're either very reckless, or memorized the answers before playing.

  • In Ascendance of a Bookworm: With Rozemyne:
    • Rozemyne "invents" shampoo and sells the formula to a merchant during the stage of the story during which she's still a poor commoner. Part of the formula involves filtering oil through a rough cloth with relatively large pores, but the people producing it use expensive cloth instead and the formula fails: the original recipe relied on a certain amount of debris to pass through the poor-quality cloth, so using better fabric made it fail. This gives her the chance to sell the recipe a second time, only this time with an improved formula resulting in a better quality end product because it does rely on the properties of the good cloth, and then adds in another ingredient afterward to act as an abrasive.
    • Rozemyne at some point tells others she intentionally only barely meets the goals of her well-known spartan mentor Ferdinand in order for him to not raise the bar higher. She still comes out to be best in class and totally lacking in common sense in terms of abilities because of the spartanic training others cannot take, and actually Ferdinand already raised the bar up numerous times because she meets the goals so casually.
  • In the short story "So Much Unfairness of Things" by C. D. B. Bryan, this is the protagonist's strategy for cheating on his Latin test: he copies a previous translation into the exam book, but purposely rewords it less fluently in hopes of avoiding suspicion.
  • In the first book of The Demon Headmaster series, Dinah Glass is accustomed to doing this so she won't stand out. When she arrives at her new school, she has to take a test and makes a few deliberate mistakes. Then she finds out it's run by a supervillain with Hypnotic Eyes...
  • Discworld:
    • In Moving Pictures, one student at Unseen University aims to stay a student as long as he can and live off his student's allowance (left to him by a relative who was willing to pay for his education, but no more). He puts more effort into getting halfway between 88% (pass) and 80% (where he would lose the allowance) on the exam than most students put into simply graduating. One of his instructors catches on and gives him a final exam with just one question on it. The question being: What is your first and last name? Due to shenanigans, he switches exam questions with another student.
    • The Patrician, Havelock Vetinari, actually failed Stealth Class due to not attending the final exam. However, this is due to the proctor simply not noticing Vetinari because the latter was camouflaged too well.
  • Similarly, in Doorways in the Sand, by Roger Zelazny, the protagonist strives to stay an eternal student (again, because he has an inheritance that will pay for his education and no more). His obsession with having passing grades, but never completing a diploma, leads to a weird war with his University, where they keep trying to change the rules just enough to force him to graduate. The University wins. He gets stuck with a degree (a Ph.D., no less—in anthropology) through some misuse of obscure rules.
  • In the Marine Corps novels by W.E.B. Griffin, the veteran marines know that when a unit undergoes inspection, the inspector will not stop looking around until he finds something wrong. So they make a point of having a handful of obvious minor issues with whatever is being inspected so that the inspection ends quickly and they can get back to doing something useful.
  • In the book The Homework Machine, Brenton rewrites the software for the eponymous machine to have it make mistakes at random when answering homework sheets when he realizes the teacher may be aware that he and his friends are cheating.
  • In The Hunger Games, the gamemakers assess each tribute before the games start and rank them from 1 to 12. Getting a low score is dangerous, because it marks you as easy meat and makes getting sponsorships near impossible. When Katniss pisses off the gamemakers, she's surprised when they give her a perfect 12, until Haymitch explains that's actually worse, because it encourages everyone else to gang up and kill you first, so they don't have to face you one-on-one later.
  • In the "Groundhog Day" Loop novel Replay. On subsequent replays, Jeff tries to avoid investments that would turn him into a multi-millionaire to keep himself out of the spotlight.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • A New Dawn: Kanan has been doing this on all of the various jobs he's had for years so no one realizes he's a Jedi.
    • Servants of the Empire: In Edge of the Galaxy, Zare and friends get revenge on their unjust athletics director this way. He can't convince his Grav-ball teammates to outright throw the game, but then learns that the director placed a significant bet on them winning by a large margin. So he adapts a defensive tactic once they're in the lead.
  • In The Legacy of Giants, the guide on an alien safari starts to suspect that one tourist in the group seems just a little too average, as if he's trying not to stand out. At one point, they have a shooting contest, and the tourist in question hits the targets exactly 75% of the time, raising the guide's suspicion even more. It turns out he's a special forces agent on vacation.
  • Gentleman Bastard: One school of master artists deliberately left minor flaws in their paintings, which were otherwise flawless technical masterpieces. The paintings Locke and Jean invest two years, a small fortune, and the enmity of very powerful men into stealing don't have those flaws, which gives away the fact that they're forgeries worth only a tiny fraction of the originals' value.
  • In "Letter to a Phoenix" by Fredric Brown, the protagonist remarks that after thousands of years, it's no problem for him to become wealthy when he's living among people, in fact, it's far harder to stop before his wealth draws attention.
  • This was the problem Dirk Gently had with being a Not-So-Phony Psychic. Having been "persuaded" to predict the answers to an exam under automatic writing, and further persuaded to let select people look at it for a fee, all while throwing out a Suspiciously Specific Denial that he never claimed to be psychic anyway, he expected the results (based on nothing more than normal exam prep) to be just accurate enough that people would continue to believe, and just wrong enough that he could continue to deny it all. When they turned out to be entirely accurate he was expelled for cheating and arrested for fraud.
  • The protagonist of Robert Silverberg's Dying Inside is a telepath who kept his ability secret for his entire life. He almost gets busted when a teacher tests the class with Zener cards, and he scores a zero.
  • Futuretrack Five: The protagonist's life goes off the rails when he scores 100% in his Achievement Test of Destiny, meaning that he's classified as a Technician rather than leading a cushy life as an Established Person. His teachers warned him not to get a perfect score, but he didn't take them seriously.
  • In the short story Slaves of Spiegel by Daniel Pinkwater, the protagonist Steve Nickleson is abducted by the Fat Pirates and forced into a contest for best cook in the universe. He remarks that his second-place prize, 600 pounds of alien garlic and a trip back to Earth, was better than the first place prize of being the personal chef slash slave of the pirate king.
  • To the frustration of Kastanessen in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, he has to put at least one intentional flaw into every spell he crafts, since perfection is inherently impotent.
  • The novelization of Space Quest V: The Next Mutation had Roger cheat on his StarCon Aptitude Test. After copying the answers from a star pupil's test, he altered a couple of them so as to not arouse suspicion. Turns out those changes ended up right and Roger got a perfect score. (Just like the game proper, he ended up captain of his own ship, the SCS Eureka.)
  • The Night Circus: Hector and Celia use their magic powers to entertain the masses, though in different ways (Hector as a solo stage magician, Celia as a circus performer.) They both use their magic to create amazing, otherwordly sights, but they always make sure the magic appears just a little flawed, so that audiences won't be too convinced that it's real.
  • Subspace Explorers, by E. E. "Doc" Smith, mentions at one point that after inheriting her father's oil empire, Barbara Warner starts deliberately using her divination abilities to have the company sink dry wells at a comparable rate to others, so as to conceal what she can do, instead of simply going for an unbroken string of gushers.
  • The Scar: Wielders of the Maybe Sword, which simultaneously hits from every possible angle the sword could be swung, have to be good at swordfighting, else the Maybe Sword will also hit the wielder in every possible outcome where they'd accidentally hit themselves. However, if the wielder gets too good at swordfighting the sword ironically becomes less effective, as the wielder will stop using sub-optimal attack options and thus the possible outcomes of every swing are reduced.
  • In one of the non-canon Babylon 5 novels, someone has been tormenting Commander Ivanova by sending her data crystals with recorded videos that seem to implicate her deceased father and brother in illegal activities. Garibaldi has one of his men analyze the recordings, and the guy determines that, while the videos are technically flawless, the dialogue is too perfect to be real. No one in the videos ever stutters, misspeaks, or hesitates with finding the right words; only a prepared script would be lacking in those kinds of errors.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: A rookie witch at an evil Wizarding School named LaTasha is forced to run a race through a lethal obstacle course which serves as her school's orientation. She decides that she won't try to win her heat but will instead just try to finish the course alive. Her class rank will suffer for not coming in first, but she just wants to survive the course and would happily drop a few ranks if it means she doesn't have to slug it out with the frontrunners. (The protagonist Emily notes that only thirty-two students at maximum can pass orientation and there are forty-eight competitors, meaning that if enough students finish the slowest ones will be rejected and killed anyways, but LaTasha checked on how previous classes did and is sure there won't be thirty-two survivors at all. If true, that means everyone who finishes would automatically pass orientation and not be killed.)
  • In City Spies by James Ponti, the teen spies need to place between sixth and tenth in a competition put on by a tech billionaire. Any lower and they won't win a private meeting with him, meaning they wouldn't be able to protect him from potential kidnappers. Any higher and they'll win prize money, which would also bring them unwanted attention from the news media.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Game Show example: On The Bank Job, at the very end of the series, the two "winners" were given the Prisoner's Dilemma choice in the form of giving each other a briefcase full of "Cash" or "Trash". if both chose "Cash", they'd split the jackpot, if one chose "Trash" and the other "Cash", the player who chose "Trash" gets it all and the player who chose "Cash" leaves empty-handed, and if both chose "Trash", they'd both leave with nothing. So far, it's a standard Prisoner's Dilemma, but here's the twist: If both chose "Trash", the money they had and lost would be split evenly between the players who were eliminated in 3rd through 5th place, so as to prevent the entire series from turning into a "Shaggy Dog" Story. Since the equilibrium in the Prisoner's Dilemma occurs when both players defect (in this case, choosing "Trash"), the runners-up splitting the money becomes arguably the most likely scenario, which meant the optimal strategy would be trying to get 3rd, 4th, or 5th place. Certainly explains why several contestants who previously proved themselves skillful at the trivia portion suddenly started to perform significantly worse the instant they started the round of 5.
  • On the $20,000 incarnation of Pyramid, this was the only way to win the full 20,000. Your first attempt at the Winners' Circle was for $10,000, your second for $15,000, and your third on for $20,000. Because you were retired immediately upon winning, you had to lose in the Winners' Circle twice in order to play for $20,000.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Peak Performance" shows Data realizing that he cannot beat his opponent in a certain game, but he can consistently keep his opponent from winning by simply playing for the tie instead of trying to win; ultimately his opponent abandons the game.
    • Defied in the episode "The Measure of a Man". After Riker is ordered to be the prosecuting attorney in a hearing to determine whether or not Starfleet will reclassify Data as Just a Machine and taken away to do research on his positronic brain, the judge mentions that if she has even the slightest suspicion that Riker is holding back because he considers Data a friend, she will immediately pass sentence - and it will be the one Riker does not want.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Doctor Bashir, who was the subject of illegal genetic augmentation. In order to appear normal, Bashir deliberately got the second-best grade in his class in medical school. This is part of a ret-con from an earlier episode that wasn't intended to go anywhere. In a Bashir-centric episode, he comments that he only got the second-best grade because he missed one single question. However, this was a basic biology question on the function of a type of brain cell — which, logically, would be an easy answer for an enhanced genius. Years later, the writers returned to the point and explained that the incorrect answer was deliberate.
  • Star Trek: Picard sees that its titular lead resigned from Starfleet in disgust when a terrorist attack on their shipyards on Mars led the Federation to call off the Romulan evacuation efforts, as Picard felt they were throwing in the towel and abandoning the Romulans to die. Years later, when a new mystery drags him out of his estate, most every other character is quick to call him on his attitude; not only was he ignoring that the entire Federation was against the idea of helping out their oldest enemy, but the fact he gave up so quickly rather than at least try to help those he could proved he didn't heed the same lesson Data had learned back on TNG. In his own words, he "allowed perfect to become the enemy of good."
  • The Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode "A Quality of Mercy" has Captain Pike sent on a Time Travel event by a future version of himself in an attempt to show him how attempts to change his fate with knowledge of the future will result in a worse timeline for everyone. This places Pike into commanding the Enterprise during the events of the classic TOS episode "Balance of Terror." The goal was not to fix a mistake during this event, as it is just one of many such changes, but that Pike needed to understand that his participation in this conflict was the problem rather than letting others take over.
  • In American Idol, The X Factor, and similar TV shows, this is a good strategy during the rounds post-first audition but pre-viewer vote rounds. If you do too well during those rounds, the judges will expect much more of you during the viewer vote rounds and be harder on you, thus making it look like you're worse than you actually are, and losing you votes and possibly causing your elimination. Conversely, if you don't do that well in those rounds, the judges won't be as tough on you later on, making it look like you're better than you actually are. Furthermore, viewers tend to like the narrative of an underdog bursting through the pack and becoming a contender. Indeed, in such shows, the early favorite rarely wins. Therefore, in those rounds, a good strategy is to sing at about 80-90% of your maximum ability: well enough to get you to the viewer vote rounds, but not well enough to heap unnecessary pressure on yourself.
  • In Charm School, a reality show with the high conceit of "reforming bad girls from other reality shows", but which also used elimination-style gameplay, kicking one girl each week until there was one left, who would win a rather large cash prize, this was most likely the strategy: do too poorly and you'll get eliminated for not making enough progress, do too well and you'll get eliminated for "not needing to be there as much as the other girls". (Indeed, one woman from the first season was eliminated because she didn't need the reformation.)
  • In Hustle, the episode "A Bollywood Dream" sees the group's current mark realise that he's the target of a scam because the scenario was too perfect moments before he loses his personal memory in a car accident. Seizing the opportunity to con the same mark twice, the group decide to re-do the con making it a bit more imperfect, musing that a man like their current mark, who has a reputation for seeking perfection, would know how hard it is to achieve. With this in mind, they adjust their scam to make the characters involved less prestigious, such as the director having a less notable reputation or their actress having studied at a minor college rather than a more famous one, while keeping a focus on their original agenda.
  • On White Collar Neal and Mozzie realize too late that a painting Mozzie sold is on a FBI watchlist. The painting was supposedly destroyed earlier in the season and if the FBI recovers the painting and authenticates it as real, they will have proof that Neal and Mozzie stole the treasure cache the painting was part of. Their only hope is to steal the real painting from its new owner and replace it with a forgery. Neal has to make the forgery look good enough that it would have reasonably fooled a knowledgeable buyer but have just enough flaws that the FBI experts can figure out it is a fake.
  • This is often regarded as the best overall strategy behind the game show The Weakest Link. Do too poorly and your competitors will want to vote you off immediately for holding the team back. Do too well and your competitors may be more likely to vote you off just before the head-to-head so they can be up against an easier opponent.
  • Contestants in reality game shows such Survivor and Big Brother will typically invoke this. Players who distinguish themselves by either; doing very well during challenges, being popular with their fellow castmates, or by being strategically strong may get far, but are unlikely to get to the end as their competitors will likely vote them off for being a threat win. However, if you don't make a big enough name for yourself, then jury will find your game lacking, and will opt to vote for one of your competitors to win instead of you.
  • The original Dutch version of 1 vs. 100 awarded money on each question based on the percentage of the remaining Mob eliminated, not the absolute number of mob members eliminated. This resulted in a system where the longer the One drags out the game, the more money he/she would win if he/she successfully defeated the entire Mob. Example scenarios  This means that the best-case scenario occurs by eliminating the Mob one member at a time over the course of at least 100 questions, answering every single question correctly and using the Double on the question which eliminates the last Mob member; doing so would net the One a bit over €309,000.
    • In the American version, this was at first partially fixed: it was still beneficial to knock out a greater number of Mob members at higher levels, but the prize for taking out the entire mob was $1,000,000 no matter what. In later seasons, a fixed cash prize was awarded for every 10 Mob members the One knocked out.
  • RuPaul's Drag Race: Chad Michaels was repeatedly critiqued by the judges, in particular Michelle Visage, for being too perfect and not showing vulnerability. Some fans speculate that this was the reason she lost the crown in season 4. Subverted in All Stars when the judges decide that Chad's inability to be less than perfect is her vulnerability, leading to her victory.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: Invoked in one episode where the Wilkerson brothers clean up their home while their parents are away so it'll convince them to pull Francis off military school. After they're done, they agree that they'll never buy it because the place is too clean and make it a mess again.
    • When Dewey takes a test to determine if he should be put in the gifted class, Malcolm coaches him to deliberately fail and avoid doing so as Malcolm found his time miserable. Subverted in that Dewey winds up sabotaging himself so much he is moved into the remedial class.
  • On The Orville, the titular starship is testing upgrades to its Deflector Shields by allowing a Moclan warship to fire on her in a simulated battle. Ace Pilot Malloy initially does so well evading the Moclan attacks that Captain Mercer has to order him to dumb it down so that the shots will actually hit the shields like they should.

    Music Videos 
  • Played for Laughs at the end of the video for Céline Dion's single "Ashes": Deadpool applauds Céline's performance... then tells her that they have to redo it because her performance was too good as the song is for Deadpool 2, not Titanic. He even tells her to go so far as to "phone it in".

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Damien Sandow put a trivia quiz on that mocks participants for not doing well but accuses anyone who passes it perfectly of cheating.

  • Daniel Kitson tells Flight of the Conchords that they have to hit the "comedic middle ground" when they open for him in the BBC Radio Show, if they're not funny then people will leave before the headliner, but if they're too funny then the headliner will not look as good in comparison.
  • In the Radio 4 sitcom The Break, the episode "A Fun Day Out" has Jeff and Andy visit a village fete, at which Jeff takes the "How Many Sweets In The Jar" type contests absurdly seriously, doing intense calcuations to come up with the answer. When he turns out to have won all of them, he quickly realises that, if he goes up to the podium to collect his prizes, he's going to be lynched.

  • The Imperial Trust from Embers in the Dusk is a polity with technology half the galaxy would pay anything for and a number of other advantages besides. Unfortunately, it's only sector sized or so, therefore, it must avoid drawing too much attention from the big players. Unfortunately, about five centuries into the quest, that particular effort failed, and it can only hope the favors gained with more powerful allies will be sufficient to hold said big players off.

  • Pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, entirely dominating his sport, had a habit of only beating (often, his own) world records by just 1 cm. This was due to substantial prize money regularly offered for new world records. Every time such a prize was offered, Bubka beat his record slightly, but it was often apparent due to the amount he cleared his jumps that he was physically able to jump a lot higher than he did.
  • When bowling in a handicap league, you will get more wins if you only bowl well enough to win by a few points than if you bowl a great game. This is because people get handicap points to even out the differences in their average. If someone is bowling under their average, you can lower your handicap by bowling under your average too and still win, while if they play above their average, a close win does less damage to your average than a spectacular game. Bowling a 300 will only hurt your average, with no benefit unless it was required to win that game, and even if it was, the damage it will do to your handicap next session will almost guarantee a loss. This is a form of sandbagging (playing badly on purpose), which is against the rules, but very difficult to prove. People who are good enough to pull this off really should be playing "scratch" (non-handicapped), but in practice there's an area of skill where someone isn't good enough to win money in a scratch league, but can win a handicap one easily by sandbagging without getting caught.

    Some bowling classes in schools have "improve your average by a particular amount" as part of your grade, in which case it's best to actually play poorly on purpose (but not poorly enough that your grade gets docked for failing to follow proper technique, etc.) at the beginning of the course so you have room to improve your average; playing your best on the first few days of class means you can only go downhill from there.
  • As shown in 2012 Olympic badminton, poorly-designed tournaments can have this issue. Sometimes your best option is to just barely qualify with a low score, in order to face a weaker opponent in the next round. However, doing this on purpose is considered cheating. Four pairs were expelled from the Olympics for trying it.
  • This thinking can save a whole season for smaller clubs in Association Football. If a small club manages to qualify for a continental or major cup, it should be an achievement for obvious reasons. But many times, the club doesn't have enough structure and ends up not only doing badly in the continental cup they managed to qualify, but also struggling in their national league, since their players can't manage playing two major championships in one season.
    • Leicester City's 5,000-1 triumph in the English Premier League in 2015/16 is a textbook example. For starters, their star players (notably Riyad Mahrez and N'golo Kante) had all attracted the attention of teams with far more money and reputation, and Leicester simply weren't able to hang onto them or adequately replace them after they left. While they did reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, they endured the worst title defence in Premier League history, as the players they were left with simply couldn't cope with the demands of both competitions at once and their domestic rivals had figured out their tactics. While they weren't relegated, they were in serious danger of it for most of the season, and only after title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked were they able to claw their way to a 12th-place finish. While they managed to steady the ship and achieve consistently good results thereafter, they've never been anywhere near as good as they were in 2015/16.
  • The 1982 World Cup group stage match between West Germany and Austria has stood as an infamous example of this. After an exciting stage that saw Algeria score a huge upset victory over West Germany in the opening match of the group, Algeria would advance to the playoffs alongside Austria if West Germany lost or drew, or alongside West Germany if they beat Austria by at least 3 goals. West Germany scored in the first 10 minutes, before both teams spent the remaining 80 minutes idly kicking the ball around in what was accused of being an organised effort to prevent Algeria advancing. The outrage was so bad that an Obvious Rule Patch was implemented, requiring the final two games of each group be played simultaneously.
  • This is common during the heats of strongman competitions, where expending too much energy just to get through the heats will leave you struggling during the final. If you need 8 reps to take the lead in an event, you do 8 reps and no more; if you only need two points from the final event to qualify, you do just enough to get those two points and no more; if you've already qualified ahead of the final event, you do as little as you can get away with.
  • The postseason tournaments for North American baseball, basketball, and ice hockey consist of a series of best-of-seven series. Since the schedule makers can't know in advance how many games each series will require, later rounds have to be scheduled assuming that earlier rounds go the limit. Teams who win their series in fewer than the maximum number of games will have some days off before the next round. While this time off can be useful in terms of resting starting players and allowing injuries to heal, teams who have too long a layoff tend to get rusty. In Major League Baseball, for instance, seven teams, to date, have won a best-of-seven League Championship Series in a four-game sweep. Six of those seven teams went on to lose the World Series.
  • A common strategy in endurance racing. Pushing faster means more stress on the car which means more mechanical failures, and more stress on the driver, meaning a larger chance of making a mistake. Those out front will push as fast as they are willing to without taking unnecessary risks, those behind will pace themselves as fast as they need to in order to stay just close enough to make a sprint in the final hour. It gets even more confusing when you add those fuel strategy and driver swaps in the mix. Needless to say, the real winner doesn't pop up till the very end, and even then nobody is driving perfect because of all the stress, wear and tear.
  • At the 2020 Russian GP, Valtteri Bottas deliberately chose to qualify third rather than second, which he achieved by giving rival Max Verstappen a slipstream down the main straight. Why? Because by starting there, he could get a slipstream down the main straight, courtesy of the driver on pole position (his teammate, Lewis Hamilton). Subverted in that the slipstream wasn't quite enough for Bottas to take to lead, but he still won the race anyway, after Hamilton was penalised for doing practice starts in the wrong place.
  • In the National Football League, seven NFL teams have won at least 15 regular season games since the NFL implemented the 16-game schedule in 1978note . For one reason or another, only two out of those seven teams went on to win the Super Bowlnote .
    • The 2011 Green Bay Packers are a particularly noteworthy example because in the previous season, they went 10-6 in regular season games, just squeaked in for the sixth-seed playoff berth, and ended up winning the Super Bowl. In the 2011 season, they went 15-1, got the first-seed playoff berth, and didn't even make it to the conference championship, getting eliminated in their first playoff game.
  • In most motor racing series, drivers want to get in front and stay in front, but not in the electrically powered E-Prix series, in which they want to be near the front. Drivers a few places back from the front face lower air resistance, and so save battery power for a final sprint. However, if you get too far back from the lead then you might be unable to regain lost places, and you are at greater risk of getting caught in a crash, so everyone ends up wanting to be third.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In oware (one of the more popular and strategic mancala games) it's possible to chain-up captures to take more seeds and get closer to the 25 seeds needed to win. But a move that would capture all the seeds there — a grand slam — is severely restricted. Depending on the variation being played, either the move is not legal, or the move happens but the capture doesn't, or the capture happens but your opponent then gets to take all the seeds on your side.
  • In Smash Up, points are awarded by getting minion cards onto a base card themed around one of the game's factions. Once that's done, points are allotted to the players whose minions have the most, second-most, and third-most total power. Normally the player with the most power gets the most points, but a few bases are exceptions. For instance, the Ninja faction's bases give 2 points to the first-place and third-place players and 3 points to the second-place player, meaning it's better to aim for second place rather than first.
  • In Paranoia, the Mandatory Bonus Duty Determination Test combines this with I Know You Know I Know:
    Anyone who scores a perfect 30 points in a section probably cheated and should be terminated. Of course, anyone who reads this will know a perfect score is grounds for termination and might intentionally miss one. So anyone who scores about 29 or 30... hmm.
    However, if they read that last line, they may be inclined to miss lots of questions and... hmm. If anyone scores very low or very high... double hmm. But if they read that line they may work toward an average score and...? Sheesh! Terminate everybody and start again!
  • In any tabletop game that relies on a game-master who decides what challenges you will face (and isn't working off a pre-written plan), succeeding too flawlessly/effortlessly will likely make the GM ratchet up the difficulty in future sessions. Thus, if you want to have an easy time at the table... don't win too easily.
  • In Tabletop Games that are Powered by the Apocalypse, failing rolls is the primary way in which to get XP and advance one's character. There is thus some incentive for "strategic failing" and deliberately making rolls that are likely to fail if one believes that they can afford the consequences that will result.
  • Blades in the Dark has a Heat system for tracking the degree to which your criminals' antics have pissed off what passes for the law in Doskvol. Naturally, because the Bluecoats are basically just a gang of thugs with government backing, you want to minimise Heat to keep them off your back...except that if you get no Heat, you don't earn any Rep with the criminal underworld (a useful currency), because nobody even knows that it happened or that you did it! (Assassins can get an upgrade that allows them to score Rep for no-Heat jobs, but basically everyone else is out of luck.)
  • The Tabletop Game based on Battlestar Galactica:
    • It deals out loyalty cards (which tell you if you're a human, a Cylon, or a Cylon sympathizer) both at the start and mid-point of the game. This means that even players who start out on the human side don't want the fleet to do too well, since if they end up becoming a Cylon at the mid-point, they will have a harder time winning. This applies even more to anyone holding a Cylon sympathizer card, since when the mid-point loyalty card is dealt out, Cylon sympathizers are assigned to the side that is currently in a weaker position.
    • In fact, including the sympathizer can make it worthwhile for the human team as a whole to do this. If any resource runs out completely, the humans lose. However, if all resources are in the blue (healthy) area when the game reaches the halfway point, the sympathiser joins the Cylon team, making the game much harder for the humans. So a common strategy is to deliberately let one resource drop into the red area, but not so low it threatens to end the game. There's a reason one of the first official variant rules was a 'no sympathiser' game, and why all three expansions included replacements for the sympathiser.

  • Tamagotchi had several different critters to raise your egg into. Getting a specific one required knowing exactly how often to ignore or how long to delay attending to its beeping.
    • By extension, the Digimon virtual pets have the same issue, complicated even further by some Digimon being inherently stronger than others. Getting a specific 'mon or even helping it grow to a certain stage can sometimes involve needing to ignore your pet's needs a certain number of times.

    Web Animation 

  • This Freefall comic has Sam Starfall justifying intentionally losing a contract because a perfect record would be something he'd always have to live up to.
  • A failed attempt at this occurred in El Goonish Shive, during a trading card game tournament. Luke entered the tournament in order to have an excuse to hang around the game store so he could investigate some of the other players. He intended to lose his first match quickly so he could get on with his real objective, but still play well enough that it wouldn't be obvious that he was trying to lose. However, because his opponent insulted him, Luke was angry enough to play well enough to win the match (after many time-consuming turns).
  • In Homestuck, this is one of Karkat's philosophical issues with living in a world where You Can't Fight Fate: if the random caprices of whatever Eldritch Abomination controls it hold that you have to fail at something, but still survive it, then doing "too well" at your given goals will literally cause your death just as easily as a decapitation.
    Karkat: We've met alternate versions of ourselves who became God Tier, but their timelines all got erased. So despite being more successful than we were, at least by that particular measure, they were punished for it, because it wasn't "the thing that needed to happen"?
  • In Love and Capes, Darkblade relaxes with a monthly pub quiz. But consistently winning would attract attention, so instead he aims to get precisely 67%.
  • This is the takeaway Millie has from the idea that the people who live extremely good lives get reincarnated as cows, because she doesn't want to be "big, stupid, and rectangular." Which works out great for her, because she doesn't want to strive to be perfect either.
  • A pair of old gladiators in The Order of the Stick describe this as their survival strategy. The most desirable fighters are either really strong guys who can put on a good show, or absolute weaklings who will die spectacularly in the early rounds. Therefore, the best way to avoid getting picked is to be passable but unimpressive.

    Web Original 
  • In The Salvation War, it is actually a staple of living for the demons: if they do things bad, they get punished, but if they do things too well, they will wonder why this is not a constant and demand that level of perfection in the future, so everyone does just well enough to satisfy their superiors.
  • SCP-2599 is a 14-year-old Korean girl who is compelled to obey any command given to her, even if she has to break reality to do it. However, she is mysteriously unable to fulfill any command to completion, for reasons even she does not know. For example, if you tell her to pick up three objects on the floor, she'll pick up two and then stop. If you tell her to turn a sheet of white paper blue, she'll touch it with her finger and it will instantly turn purple.

    Web Videos 
  • A web original game show titled Tension requires its contestant to answer 10 questions, getting exactly five right and five wrong to win $100. Here's the "sneak preview" episode.
  • This is essentially how the Final Boss of Critical Role goes at the end of Campaign 1. The party had to damage Vecna in order to attach the Divine Trammels to him and seal him away. But reducing his HP to zero would cause Vecna to reform at his phylactery, tantamount to making a Villain: Exit, Stage Left and only causing a minor bump in the road for his plans. Vox Machina manages to weaken Vecna enough to seal him away without killing him; after their victory, the DM revealed that Vecna only had ten hit points left, which meant one more attack would have taken him out.
  • Yoshi of The Straw Hat NO imposes this on himself for his LP of Punch-Out!!. For the career mode, no matter how easy his fight may be, he will always throw the first round to show off everybody's patterns. He mentions a few times how he has had to re-take videos because of this. He does not do this for the Title Defense mode, though.
  • In part 33 of Chuggaaconroy's Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga LP, he makes many futile attempts to nab a pair of Hoo Beans, which is rewarded if he finishes the surfing minigame with a net time of 39-40 seconds. He finally gives up on it when in his final attempt, he undershoots the target time by a tenth of a second, giving him the Casual Coral instead.
  • Played for humor in an episode of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, where the Duck gives Red Guy three guesses to guess what he's holding behind his back. Red Guy gets it on the second try, but Duck insists he ask a third time anyway, just so they can know what his third guess would have been. When a rather annoyed Red Guy gives a deliberately wrong third guess, Duck declares victory, since the last guess made was wrong—meaning the only way to "win" the game would have been to get the first two guesses wrong.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • This is the basis of the "Pareto Principle", which says that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This can be applied in many areas of life: economics (20% of customers bring 80% of income), sports (20% of training brings 80% of impact), studying (20% of the time used will get you a B, but to get an A you'll need the other 80%), and software development (20% percent of the work solves 80% of the problems, so don't waste time on clever algorithms). It can be applied to basically anything where diminishing returns are true; in other words, being perfect instead of being good enough may cost too much.
  • "Perfect is the enemy of good" is supposed to have been the personal motto of Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov (a variation of this quote appears in Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October, still attributed to Gorshkov). Other versions of this maxim are associated with Voltaire and Clausewitz, among others.
  • This a deliberate choice by Muslim tapestry weavers, who intentionally add one flaw because only Allah may be perfect. During the tour of the United Nations, one's guide will often point to a tapestry that is several stories tall and challenge you to find where they deliberately made a mistake.
  • Visit any Roman villa and you'll see every mosaic has a single break in symmetry, to show that the makers were only human.
  • Similarly, the legend of Polycrates. He was a most fortunate ruler, successful both personally and politically. So, his friend advised him that such a perfect fortune might mean the gods will decide to flip it in a very disastrous way, and advised him to do so himself less disastrously. So, Polycrates threw a ring he really loved into the sea. A few days later, that ring returned to him in a fish someone caught, which was a sign his downfall is imminent; the gods refused him the chance to have the lesser disaster.
  • During the American Civil War, a number of enterprising printers in the Union printed fake Confederate dollars in order to cause inflation and disrupt the South's economy; the authorities did nothing to stop them, because, after all, it wasn't like the Confederacy was a real country, right? The fakes were immediately obvious because they were of much better quality than the real dollars, but they were used anyway, since everyone knew that Confederate dollars were subjected to Ridiculous Exchange Rates.
  • Surena, the Parthian commander at the Battle of Carrhae (which was famous for being one of the most crushing defeats the Roman Republic was ever dealt), ended up suffering this. The victory was so great that his king, Orodes II, thought it made Surena look too good; Orodes II had him executed out of envy.
  • Hallmark German perfectionism doomed quite a few Nazi spies in World War II.
    • They would have impeccable forged documents on them, stapled with staples of stainless steel, which was the giveaway, since Russians used ordinary steel, and it always had rust on it.
    • Some German spies attempting to infiltrate the Americans were discovered because they knew the second verse of the American national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner". Although the anthem has four verses, only one is ever played when used for a national anthem, and the lyrics used are those of the first verse. This anecdote of spies being exposed by knowing too much of the national anthem may have begun with the Isaac Asimov short story "No Refuge Could Save", in which the German spy is caught by his knowledge of the third verse.
  • When the Canadian Forces were changing one of the standards used for fitness tests at military colleges from pull-ups on a bar to push-ups, they conducted trials to determine what the number of push-ups required to pass the actual test should be. Knowing that they would be setting the minimum standard which they would later have to also pass during the twice-annual fitness tests, the vast majority of cadets would do a number of push-ups less than they actually could do, but enough to show they were putting effort into it, and then make a show of collapsing as if totally exhausted.
  • Enforced in Stalin's Soviet Union. If you did your job poorly enough, you have failed the country and communism as a whole and must be dealt with accordingly. However if you did your job too well, you had, to paraphrase comrade Stalin, become indispensable and therefore must be dispensed with.
  • Bernie Madoff scandal showcased both sides of this trope:
    • Most Ponzi schemes fail quickly by offering incredible returns which immediately attract suspicion. Madoff pitched his scam as a conservative, blue-chip, 10% yearly return fund, where his clients could securely hold most of their assets, while investing the rest in riskier ventures. Since getting 10% return a year is feasible on the stock market, no one batted an eye for decades.
    • On the other hand, getting almost the same returns year after year eventually attracted suspicions in the early 2000s. The whistleblowers were unfortunately ignored and the scam went on, until the 2008 crash made Madoff's investors withdraw money en masse, which exposed the massive loss of money the fund made.
  • In the UK in the 1950s, a run of forged National Insurance stamps were detected because they had fewer misprints than the real thing.
  • When you want to cheat on a test, there are some rules to not get caught, like don't finish it right away but wait until someone else finishes it, don't give all the answers correct (or of you are copying from another peer, change the answer).
    • On the flip side, another common tactic is to wait until about a minute after the first person to finish to hand over the paper so as to avoid false accusation of cheating just in case. Others may try to hand it in mid-way through the test, pretend to struggle on a problem.
    • Serial cheaters may often also try to establish a "Brand" as well - as tempting as it may be to hand in a near perfect test, going from a failing-barely passing grade to a near perfect score may rouse suspicion, whereas much more gradual improvement will be seen more as being "on brand".
    • Those who cheat in groups will also establish another rule as well - don't copy the same answer(s) verbatim, don't turn in the tests at the same time, don't turn them in in the same order, try to get different scores (ie, one person gets a 90-95%, others get 80-89 or 70-79%), try to keep them within the same range, don't be afraid to drop down a grade or so, etc.
    • Additionally, when cheating on online classes? Most of them will record how long you have taken an assessment. Thus, a high score with a small timeframe often means that you are cheating or were making lucky guesses.
  • Swoozie intentionally toucched upon this in his Cheating in High school video. He had a cheating ring of four people. Swoozie not only mentioned cheating for a "B" on the first test, but he also participated in the class to deflect suspicion.
  • The same principle applies to cheating in a game, too. Some people who are cheating will do just this on purpose because a person who seems to be performing perfectly, unimpeded by Fog of War, can see through walls, etc will rouse suspicion of cheats. Others may intentionally do just this to test the waters - sometimes to catch cheaters.
  • One effect in employment is called the ratchet. In jobs where compensation is centered around production, but where said compensation does not increase commensurate to the rate of production, employees will often collude to prevent a job from being done to the fullness of their ability... just enough to meet the quota. This is because said employees correctly reason that, should they exceed the quota, then the next day's quota will be 'ratcheted' up, and those who do not successfully meet this new, onerous requirement will be subject to severe penalties.
  • Common knowledge says that doing your job well will bring rewards, like promotion and job advancement. Realistically? If you do this particular job perfect, promoting you to a "higher" position may be counterintuitive, as skills from the lower end may not translate to the higher position. So sometimes, the promotion opportunities go to the person who fits this trope - did well, but not perfect.
  • This is often the case with a restaurant or bar. Many people who did take the advice from Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescue to heart and wound up doing well still had to close up shop a few years in the future - simply because they were unable to renew their lease. A lot of restaurants and bars don't actually own the property they're set up on - because this is quite risky (as this can make you unable to relocate and going under means now you have to sell the property - which may often be done at a loss). If you do well enough, you can actually cause your lease to become too expensive for you. And if you are in a complex, you can even run your neighbours out of business for a similar reason.
  • Back in his college days, Rami Malek helped his twin brother Sami pass his Greek studies class at UCLA by pretending to be Sami and performing a Greek theatrical monologue. Rami nearly ruined the plan because he performed the monologue too well; the professor was surprised that "Sami"'s acting skills were on a similar level as those who actually studied the art.
  • The developers of the "Garfield's Nightmare" ride at Kennywood Park were told not to make the attraction too enjoyable, as a large number of people wanting to get on it would have overwhelmed the boat ride's limited capacity.
  • It used to be easy to detect a submarine's position by the noise that its engine put out, so naturally, developers would work to reduce the engine noise. At one point, the engines were so quiet that subs became detectable by the *absence* of noise. Then they had to work on pumping out some artificial sea noise to stay hidden.
  • This is the reason why extremely infectious and lethal diseases don't tend to become pandemics. If a disease kills too many people too quickly, all its hosts will die before they have the chance to interact with others and spread the disease further. The few that don't go extinct immediately tend to survive by being specialized to their environments (ebola, which kills between 50% and 90% of those infected, spreads through bodily fluids and proliferates in areas where access to clean water and medical care is a problem), or by being extremely long-lived (rabies, which only has a handful of known survivors, can survive and be contagious for years after its host has died).

In case you missed it, the error is "inculde" in the first linenote 


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Mousers are too effective

The reason why Baxter Stockman's mousers were rejected by the exterminator company is because they are too effective at exterminating rats, the invention capable of driving exterminators out of business.

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5 (7 votes)

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Main / DoWellButNotPerfect

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