Monday, 6 February 2012

Server Side Perks - The Good, the Bad, and the Unbalanced Part One

 Developers and game companies aren't the only ones giving goodies for cash, but what happens when shell out the dough for server side goodies?

I've talked about premium stuff before both in terms of condemnation and praise, but in every aforementioned instance one thing remained constant: the premium or "pay for play" perks were being offered by the people who developed the game for their profit. They controlled what was released and what wasn't, as well as what people could get access to.

Certainly this built in premium is the most common type you'll tend to find in a majority of the circumstances, but until this point I've been ignoring another smaller but no less important aspect of premium services: those of server side premium perks.

Server side perks are sort of in the same vein as regular premium packages in that they're both services that you have to pay for, but the similarities often end there. For example server side perks are limited to whatever servers the person/clan actually has up and running: you can't pay for a perk package from one clan and expect it to work on every single server you visit (unless of course you only ever visit that clan's servers).

Secondly is the fact that since these are in no way official or even sanctioned benefits, you'll see a wide variety of different types of packages offered over different clans and organizations: some things range from purely cosmetic effects and other low key but still useful effects, to things that can skew the balance slightly and always give you an advantage, to monstrously overpowered custom rule sets that pretty much let a bad player beat good players and a good player utterly dominate just about anyone else. I'll be going over each of these and what I think of them -- hell, I might need a whole section for the particularly overpowered ones and spoilers the reasons I think they're a horrible idea -- starting of course with the lower end and then working my way up. Since Team Fortress 2 is the game that I have the most familiarity with (although hardly the only title with server side perks) it'll be most of what I'm basing the following on, in terms of perks offered. Of course different games will run generally different bonuses, although some things are generally common.

The lowest set of perks are generally cosmetic stuff, or things that don't actually affect gameplay in any significant way: on a TF2 server the cosmetic attributes might include being able to wear any hat or item on any class, having any unusual effect you want on any given hat, having particle effects on your weapons or character model itself, and other things of that nature. While cute and distinctive they certainly don't offer any sort of advantage and in fact might draw fire in some cases since 'hey look at that weird guy, let's shoot him!'. Another almost universal perk regardless of game is a reserved slot, something which basically lets you always get into the game even if the server is completely full. Someone else will be kicked to make room for your arrival -- not the fairest thing, but hey not the end of the world either -- so if you frequent a popular server that offers such a thing it can get you playing a lot more and a lot faster. Other minor things for TF2 include end of round immunity, so that if you're on the losing or winning team you can't be killed either by other players or even normally lethal environmental hazards; funny, but not really practical.

The mid-tier perks that are commonly seen are things that start to make a difference, but don't generally have much of an impact on player to player combat. For example you might have been on a server that let you "roll the dice" or RTD for various effects; some effects are good, some bad, and others just kind of mediocre. This isn't a premium service, but it's entirely possible for a premium service to allow you to roll the good more than the bad, or even eliminate the bad effects entirely. Other things include a fan favourite: immunity to autobalance. I agree that there's nothing more frustrating than doing extremely well on the attack, only to die as soon as the game says "autobalance in progress" and wind up on the losing team, but not having autobalance in some cases means that the teamstacks can be overwhelming, especially if it also allows the premium player to switch teams at will. It's kind of dirty pool, but doesn't really affect a lot unless there's a ton of players with the perk on the server that decide to abuse it.

Other mid range perks might include a slightly faster respawn time, or in some cases that start leaning towards the higher end of the spectrum faster recharge times on items or things like that. These perks can start giving some advantage; taking ten or fifteen seconds as opposed to thirty to respawn is a powerful bonus, but it's still nothing compared to the highest (or lowest depending on your point of view) level of premium perks. But that's a discussion better left for tomorrow.

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