"What kind of metagame do we want?" Every discussion, every analysis, every rule, every suspect test, and every tier actually depend on the answer to this question. And although there have been several threads in the past that have discussed this question to some degree, I don't think we have clearly answered the question in Smogon. Many people think we have answered it. Or perhaps, they think the answer is so obvious and so unanimously shared by everyone in the community, that it is silly to even ask the question. We haven't answered it yet, and we won't answer it in this thread either. But, perhaps we can lay the core foundation to BEGIN answering the question. I think everyone has different opinions of what kind of metagame is "good", and they base all their arguments, actions, and decisions based on that opinion. But, people rarely actually explain what kind of metagame they believe is good. People sometimes forget that WE ARE THE GAME MAKER, when it comes to the metagame. The metagame is not owned by Gamefreak or Nintendo, it is owned and manufactured by us. Not, "us" as in Smogon specifically; but "us" as in the collective players of competitive Pokemon. We make this metagame, and as such, we should probably have a solid idea of what kind of game we want. You can't write a good story without making a good plot. By the same token, you can't make a good metagame without knowing the general end result you are trying to achieve. I'd like to use this thread to discuss various characteristics of the metagame, and see if we can rationally discuss the merits of these characteristics. Even if there is no clear consensus of which characteristics are good or bad, or which characteristics are more important than others -- I think it might be helpful if we can get the characteristics out on the table. At the very least, perhaps we can agree that these are the fundamental factors underlying other discussions and arguments like, "Pokemon X is hurting the metagame" or "We should do Y to make the metagame better". In this discussion, I will often refer to "elements" or "aspects" of the metagame. These terms are not synonyms for "Pokemon". In this context, an "element of the metagame" is anything that is considered a meaningful part of the general construct we call "the metagame" -- pokemon, moves, abilities, mechanics, clauses, techniques, actions, strategies, tiers, data, etc. These terms are intentionally abstract and do not specifically address any given pokemon, ban, tier, etc. I'm going to lay out several possible characteristics of a "good metagame", and give an explanation of each one. I will also try to present some possible issues and opposition that could be involved with each characteristic. This is really just to give everyone an idea of the kinds of characteristics I think we should be looking to define, and how these characteristics might be evaluated. The Characteristics Explanation: This characteristic may seem incredibly obvious, but it isn't if you consider how many aspects of other games are intended solely for enjoyment or entertainment. Nowhere is this more prevalent than ingame Pokemon, where the vast majority of the game is focused on exploration, adventure, collecting stuff, and general amusement. The metagame should place little value on anything that is not inherently competitive, where players are directly or indirectly competing against other players with clearly defined results that determine winners. The metagame environment should reward winning, and encourage players to do anything possible within the rules in order to win. While some players may "play just for fun", or carry personal opinions about "winning the right way" -- these ideals should not be a focal point of the metagame. The metagame should attract players that find pure competition to be enjoyable in itself, and are most entertained when they win. Issues and Concerns: This makes the metagame "too serious" or "cutthroat" "C'mon, this is Pokemon..." Other Comments: This characteristic is really the fundamental underlying difference between the Pokemon GAME and the Pokemon METAGAME. Essentially, we are stripping out all the non-competitive elements of ingame pokemon, and playing metagames with the remaining competitive elements. Anyone serious about arguing this characteristic should read "Playing to Win" by Sirlin (www.sirlin.net) to get an understanding of the general concept of "competition" in this context. Explanation: As they say, "Variety is the spice of life". And nowhere is that more true than in the world of gaming. Game makers discovered long ago that players crave diversity, change, and improvement. That's why most successful games are very broad, and are constantly adding new elements. For this reason, a high-quality metagame should be inviting to a wide number of people and personalities. By constantly striving for maximum variety, we can maximize the potential player base, which has the inevitable effect of increasing the number of good players, good strategies, and overall quality of competition. A varied metagame is fresh and exciting, and provides a constant source for investigation and discovery. If we limit variety, or allow it be reduced, we effectively "shrink" all aspects of the metagame. A game with limited variety is boring to all but the most diehard participants. In a low-variety metagame, the best playing strategies become widely known and predictable, and participation wanes. For this reason, we should constantly strive for as much variety as possible. And, when limits to variety become apparent, the limits should be removed, if possible. Issues and Concerns: Too much variety is chaos. Variety without quality is useless. No one can master a game with too many options "Wide" is sufficient, not "widest" How knowledgeable should players be? Other Comments: This characteristic is typically underlying arguments about "centralization", or when people complain about the game being "boring". Explanation: When any elements of the metagame are considerably better than others, it gives an intrinsic advantage to players that prefer or excel with the superior elements, and handicaps players who are most proficient with other elements. This skews the player base, and hinders the potential to develop new ideas and attract new players. In order to ensure widespread appeal, the metagame should not be unbalanced for or against any particular viable strategy or expert playing option, if it is reasonably possible to avoid. Issues and Concerns: How unbalanced is too unbalanced? Imbalance is easy to detect, but hard to quantify Balance can be bad, if the balanced level is mediocre or worse Other Comments: This characteristic is typically underlying arguments about something being "overpowered". Variety refers to the breadth of aspects of the metagame; Balance addresses the magnitude of those aspects relative to each other. While these characteristics are probably closely correlated, they are two distinct aspects and care should be taken when discussing the merits of each. Explanation: In order for the metagame to be analyzed, mastered, and proliferated -- it must not fluctuate excessively. This characteristic applies to both the scope of changes and the frequency of changes to the metagame. While the metagame will voluntarily and involuntarily experience changes, large or frequent instability should be avoided if possible. Issues and Concerns: How do you measure stability? Stability is fine, but what about stagnation? What does it mean if the metagame fails to stabilize? Other Comments: Stability is likely to be cyclical. With each change there will be a period of instability, and the subsequent relative stabilization is an indicator that the metagame is "ready" for the next change. Explanation: We are not making a new game, we are metagaming the existing game of Pokemon. The actual Pokemon game itself should be the canon of the metagame. While we can question the choices and wisdom of the game makers, we must abide by the evidence of their creation. Any departure from the game itself, disconnects us from our foundation and begins down a slippery slope away from being a true "Pokemon metagame", towards becoming an entirely new game unto itself. If that happens, the metagame will lessen its fundamental appeal and connection to the player base. Adherence to the actual game ensures that all players can readily understand the mechanics of the metagame, and provides a common bond for all metagame players of all skill levels. This makes the metagame accessible to a wide audience of players, and creates an intrinsic recruiting base for new players. Issues and Concerns: Which version or versions should be adhered to? What elements of the game are considered canon? Basic gameplay, ingame challenges, sponsored tournaments, special events? Is branded literature and game guides considered to be an authentic source for information? The Pokemon game makers do not design for or care about the metagame -- why should we "obey" every stupid thing they do? Other Comments: We will never have access to the source code of the real games, nor can we read the minds of the game makers. As such, we can only make educated guesses as to the rules, mechanics, and spirit of the pokemon game. And since the game itself has many hidden and unpublished mechanics, we must rely on ingame research to inform our opinions and metagame designs. Explanation: Although the metagame is based on Pokemon, which has fairly simple basic gameplay, the metagame should require skill to master. The ability to increase proficiency through study and hard work is the hook that draws players to become avid practitioners of the metagame. The metagame should recognize and reward players with the most knowledge, talent, and dedication. All players should feel that it is within their power to "master the metagame". Issues and Concerns: Simple essential gameplay should not be compromised Don't add artificial complications to increase skill requirement Intellectual and strategic skill, not physical or execution skill Do skills erode? Ratings systems, tournament formats, rankings, etc... Other Comments: This characteristic addresses how the metagame is played, and how success is defined and rewarded. While it can be difficult to truly determine who is "the best" at any given time or in any given competition -- the overall metagame should cultivate a perception (if not reality) that more skilled players will experience greater success than lesser skilled players. Explanation: Game players love the excitement, tension, and unpredictability associated with luck factors in games. While Pokemon is not a game of "pure chance", luck is a contributing factor in almost all major gameplay elements. If the metagame seeks to eliminate or unreasonably reduce elements of chance, it would run contrary to part of the basic appeal of Pokemon gameplay. The metagame should have many features that rely on random probability, and allow luck to have a significant role in determining competitive outcomes. Issues and Concerns: Should luck be zero sum? How much luck is "reasonable"? What makes luck "unreasonable"? Are Skill and Luck mutually exclusive? Or complimentary? Other Comments: While some players supposedly despise luck, it is a compelling underlying lure for many players. While this characteristic can be maddeningly hard to quantify and analyze, it's existence as a positive feature of the game should not be ignored. Explanation: Anything that does not directly help the metagame, hurts the metagame. Many elements of ingame Pokemon require little more than time, perseverance, or rote repetition to succeed. The metagame should place no value on these things. For serious competitive players, these elements are boring and distracting. They lessen the competitive challenge of the game and discourage expert players. The metagame should present the most direct and efficient mechanisms for players to play the game and determine winners. Any game element that does not directly contribute to improving the metagame, is inefficient and unnecessary. Such elements should be mitigated or removed, if possible. Issues and Concerns: Defining "unnecessary" complications and distractions What's the hurry? Playing the game should not be "hard work" Play vs preparation/practice Other Comments: Don't make players "earn" anything. No wasting time. No frills. No inconsequential elements. Get on with it. Game on. Practical Applications These characteristics are each listed as individual distinct concepts, and I intentionally tried to avoid overlapping definitions. But in practice, any issue of the metagame will usually involve multiple characteristics at once. When discussing overpowered pokemon that centralize the game, it will likely involve questions of both Variety and Balance. If the issue follows closely on the heels of other changes, there may be questions of Stability at stake. Discussions of clauses like OHKO and Evasion, will certainly bring arguments of both Skill and Luck, with possible ramifications of Balance. A heated debate on "Glitched Acid Weather" is obviously an Adherence issue, but creative debaters might also argue Variety and Luck, possibly even Efficiency (although that's quite a stretch). Those are just a few examples. The number of situations and the issues that apply, are endless. These characteristics are not intended to uniquely define every metagame situation that may arise. They simply define the broad categories of issues that will underlie specific situations. It is the job of future discussion participants to present which characteristics apply, and to what degree they should weigh on a given call to action. Interpretation of these characteristics and their applicability to a situation, should comprise the heart of the discussion. When arguing about the metagame, these characteristics, individually or in combination, should represent the basic building blocks of the debate. If we can successfully articulate the general characteristics of a good metagame, then perhaps later we can develop criteria for comparing the weight and importance of different characteristics. Perhaps we can even develop ways to quantify conformance and/or deviation. If we can get to that point, then we could seriously consider completely new processes for evaluating and changing our metagame. Who knows how far we could go with this? But, we can't go anywhere if we don't establish a general framework for defining the kind of metagame we desire. Background I have read countless arguments and discussions about the metagame here at Smogon. A while back, I realized there is really no way to evaluate a good argument or a bad argument in these cases. Because there is no solid basis for what can be argued! For much of my life, I have been involved in competitive policy debate -- as a debater, a coach, and a judge. In policy debate competitions, you have "stock issues" that represent the fundamental basis for all arguments, both affirmative and negative. The stock issues, or "stocks", are commonly labeled Solvency, Harms, Inherency, Topicality, and Significance -- or SHITS, in crude debate parlance. I'm not going to explain all the details of the stocks here. Google them if you are interested. But the point is -- these are the things being argued in policy debate. They are unquestioned. For example, in policy debate, if your affirmative argument cannot "solve" the problem of the status quo -- then you have a bad argument in terms of the "Solvency" stock issue. When attacking or defending a Solvency argument, it is not acceptable to ask the question "Why does Solvency matter? Why is Solvency relevant to this debate?" Solvency is a stock issue, and as such, it is relevant. It is one of the underlying factors that define the debate itself. Competitive Pokemon metagame arguments do not currently have any "stock issues". We have the Characteristics of an Uber, which do provide ground rules for arguing about the power of individual pokemon (which, in the context of the characteristics listed above, uber-ness arguments would be a focused form of debate on Balance). But, we do not have any unquestioned building blocks upon which to build arguments about the metagame in general. Without stock issues, you really can't conduct any meaningful adversarial discussions. Because there is no common definition as to WHAT IS BEING ARGUED. These characteristics are an attempt to provide a set of stock issues for the metagame. For those of you not familiar with competitive debate, I'll put it another way: These characteristics are functionally similar to Constitutional Laws. For example, a common constitutional law in many countries is the Freedom of Speech and Expression. You can legally argue as to whether Freedom of Speech is applicable to a given situation, you can argue to what extent the law applies, you can even argue what actions should be taken as a consequence of breaching the Freedom of Speech -- but you can't normally argue, "Why does Freedom of Speech matter? Why do we want free speech in the first place?" Questions like that are not valid when arguing a case involving free speech. Yes, technically, the constitutional law itself can be questioned, if elevated to the proper judicial body. But for all normal legal intents and purposes -- the Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, and is legally regarded as a desirable and just rule of society. These characteristics of the metagame are intended to be a sort of "Constitution of the Metagame". They are the broad definitions for things we consider to be "good" in a metagame, and are generally not questioned when discussing or arguing specific issues. We may argue as to which characteristics apply to a given situation, or which characteristics are most important, or what actions should be taken in order to achieve one or more characteristics. But we should not normally argue the validity of the characteristics themselves. That is not to say the characteristics are perfect and can never be altered or changed. It just means that questioning the validity of the characteristics themselves would be considered a completely separate class of argument, and would presumably not occur frequently. Conclusion Do not misinterpret my intent here. I am not trying to "lay down the law" for the metagame, by shoving a bunch of definitions down peoples' throats. I simply want to come up with some common ground for intelligent debate. Whether we establish ground rules or not, people are going to be discussing this stuff -- so we might as well have some common goals and make the discussions somewhat productive. I formed these characteristics based on my general interpretation of the things that people are already arguing and discussing. I tried to categorize all the meaningful policy arguments that commonly occur here, couched the definitions in broad wording to allow plenty of room for interpretation, and then filled in a few gaps that seemed necessary to present a comprehensive whole. Some of these definitions may be universally unquestioned, and may only require minor wording changes. Some other characteristics could be deeply objectionable to many people, and may need to be stricken completely. I may have missed some characteristics that need to be added. But, I think we need these characteristics to be defined. And I think they should be defined at a "constitutional" level, where they provide a general framework for future discussions and debate, without enumerating every nuance of the metagame down to the details. The details are a constant work in progress. The details are the metagame itself. These are simply the basic underpinnings and characteristics we would like to have in our ideal metagame. We may never succeed in creating a metagame that exhibits some or all of these qualities -- but I like to think it could be fun to try.