Should competitive games intentionally disrupt common strategies/metas?

In most competitive games, you’ll often see a meta (most effective tactic available) develop. On Roblox, where realistically speaking, a game needs constant updates to maintain steady growth. Should forcing players to develop new strategies be considered a viable part of keeping the game alive?

On one hand, I personally believe that changing the strategies players use is incredibly important to keep a game healthy by pushing players to put more thought into their actions and provide meaningful choices in gameplay. While it may cause disruptions short-term, it’s better for long-term game health.

However, I can also see where changes like this might result in player-bases leaving a game because they feel like the developer “doesn’t understand their game” or additionally if a meta becomes so entrenched in a game’s core theme, that changing it would fundamentally alter the game. Finally, there may be ethical concerns if adapting to a new meta takes considerable effort/money (e.g. a card game where more packs may cost real-life currency)

What are your thoughts on this, and how should competitive games react to strategies that develop within their game? What if the players enjoy a meta?

Balancing is always a difficult topic, but Roblox is a bit of an outlier compared to other big games due to the relatively young audience and the more casual gameplay experience. This is something important to keep in mind for later.

Some serious competitive games have very defined metas, especially when the power of a player is heavily influenced by their strategy rather than their in-the-moment actions. A game like Starcraft 2 has had very defined metas in the past when I played it years ago, because your choice of units had a significantly bigger impact than the way you control those units. Similarly in a game like Overwatch, you can sometimes easily win against a team with more experienced players when your team composition outclasses or counters the enemy team.

I would argue that having a stale or defined meta is hurtful to a game, but only if the players take the game seriously or if there is potential for a big audience that likes to watch the game. For example, there have been units in Starcraft 2 that incentivized defense play and as such you would sometimes get matches that were hours long, as opposed to the usual 10 - 20 minutes. No one wants to watch that. And in the case of Overwatch, a meta called Goats plagued the game for over a year, and as a result the viewership numbers for the Overwatch League dwindled.

However, having a stale meta does not mean the game is doomed and players will stop playing en-masse. Because in most cases players do not ‘play the meta’. In the case of Overwatch, lead designer Jeff Kaplan mentioned that players below the rank of Diamond (which is almost 90% of the competitive player base) either did not use the ‘Goats’ strategy, or they picked those characters but did not use them correctly.

The reality is, south of let’s say diamond, no-one’s playing GOATS. Or even if they’re playing Reinhardt and Zarya and Brigitte, and all the other characters that comprise GOATS, they’re not playing GOATS.

And the same is true for many other games with defined metas. Take Team Fortress 2 for example. Their competitive scene applies additional constraints on top of the game’s rules to form a healthy competitive community. So for example it forces teams to use specific characters.

That said, most competitive TF2 games follow the standard competitive format, which has set class limits and certain gameplay settings that try to encourage fairness and reduce the impact of chance.

However, even though Team Fortress 2 cannot have a healthy competitive scene without additional constraints because the game’s meta is ‘broken’ as some would say, the game still has many active players. According to Steam Charts the game averaged more than 60.000 players online at the same time in past months. And I think this is because most players do not care about the competitive side of the game, and rather have a casual experience with the game.

You see this in other games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate as well. Even though there are characters that are clearly stronger or weaker than others, most people experience the game on a casual level. It doesn’t matter that Kirby is considered ‘bad’ if you can have fun playing that character.

I think the same is true for Roblox games. Most players are casual players. A ‘competitive’ Roblox game is usually only a game where players want to win, not a game with an audience that actively studies the game’s mechanics. Many Roblox players are even still learning how to use a mouse and keyboard! Balance is of course still important; Players do not like it when they are matched against a player who kills them over and over with a weapon that is too strong to beat. However, a meta is only in effect once enough players have figured out what the most effective way is to play the game. And in the case of Roblox, where the experience is generally very casual, I don’t think you will ever realistically run into this situation. Most developers will keep updating their game with new content anyway, leading to a refreshing experience every few months. And when you update your game you can always slightly tweak some variables you deem too overwhelming or underwhelming.

So no, I do not think competitive Roblox games should intentionally try to disrupt ‘the meta’. Tweaking variables is still important to enhance the experience for the casual players, but generally speaking your ‘competitive’ scene will not grow fast enough to figure out the meta before your next content update hits. And when they do, it’s probably because you made a big balance oversight that you should change anyway.