Power Creep

Regular players of multi-player games will recognize the power creep meaning all too well, even if they may not know the term. You start off playing the original version of a game and everything works fine. Then a new release comes out, an expansion pack maybe, and suddenly that magic wand that served you well has been upstaged by a brand new version with twice the power. The original wand suddenly looks pointless.

What Exactly is Power Creep?

Power creep, sometimes known as feature creep, occurs when new elements are introduced into a game, with increased strength or abilities, making the existing elements much weaker or even useless. When this happens several times, the original elements end up being pointless. As the newer content becomes more powerful, it can mean the game loses balance and fairness, and strategy is impacted. Power creep is especially common in multi-player video games, trading card games, and other competitive or collectible-based games.

What Causes Power Creep?

Unfortunately, power creep is usually a combination of the game's creators wanting to make more money by selling add-ons or new versions of games, but not having the motivation or the inspiration to do it creatively. Rather than invest time and resources into developing brand-new features or gameplay, they simply bring in stronger characters or upgrade existing features - the original version of a weapon for example simply becomes version 2.0.

Is Power Creep Always a Bad Thing?

Generally yes, feature creep in games is accepted as having an overall negative impact on gameplay and player engagement. There will always be exceptions to the rule of course, and some players might argue that improved powers and characters can make games more fun. There's also an argument that power creep can help to cut playing time and make very long games more manageable, although this feels like clutching at straws when compared with the downsides.

What Is an Example of Power Creep?

A good example of feature creep can be seen in the Pokémon franchise. As new generations are released, new species of Pokémon often come with higher base stats, making them more powerful. This can impact the balance of battles as the new Pokémon potentially overshadow the originals.

Imagine for example that a new generation introduces a fire-type Pokémon with higher base stats than most existing fire-types. Players will gravitate towards the new Pokémon because of its superior strength, leaving older fire-type Pokémon less desirable or viable in battles.

New generations can also introduce new moves and abilities that further enhance the power of certain Pokémon. While power creep can create excitement by introducing fresh gameplay elements, it also poses the challenge of maintaining a diverse and balanced metagame, where players have multiple viable options for team composition rather than just focusing on the newest and strongest Pokémon.

To address power creep, game developers might implement various strategies, such as buffing older Pokémon, introducing new mechanics, or carefully designing new Pokémon to have unique roles that don't directly overshadow existing ones.