There’s a certain level of ownership you feel as a game designer. Even if your game doesn’t tell a direct story, as a game designer you conduct a symphony of experiences that you want players to have. What happens when players improvise in your composition?
When you write a game design doc, you try to create not a 100% complete account of everything can or will ever happen with your game. It is a chief desire that through playing the actual game, what is fun will emerge and through the process of iterative development, you will hone that fun to a razor sharp edge. Despite weeks of playing the game, talking about the game and showing it to as many people as you can gather, you toss it out into the world with the hope that people will catch it and run with it.
Inevitably, after days or weeks of playing the game, players will reach corners of your game that you never reached. In the case of social games, they will amass hundreds of more friends playing the game with them than you ever tested the game. As you constantly make improvements to the game, they will find new ways that these features interact with their play patterns. You will expect players to take one change that you make one way and they may take it an entirely different way.
Sometimes these different play patterns can imbalance the game. For games that are on the Internet, some argue that if the imbalance affects only that person and they seem to be enjoying the game and are not imbalancing other players, they should be allowed to continue in that manner. I would argue that if the play pattern they are experiencing is so far removed from the intended patterns of play so as to become unrecognizable, it’s a problem. I know that once you’ve let something imbalanced release, it’s out there and it’s difficult to take back what once was given (“nerfing”). However, I feel that those who are most vocal are the most invested and they will continue to play after an exploit is fixed. They will find a new play pattern that they enjoy. There will be many more new players that deserve to have a more enjoyable, balanced game.
Imbalances, even if they don’t give one player a distinct advantage over others, can have unforeseen consequences. If you find a strategy that gets you massive income with minimal effort, eventually your own economy is so out of balance that any future monetary rewards decrease in perceived value exponentially. This can have a profound long term effect on a desire to stick with the game once you’ve (too) quickly powered through all of the content available and see any future monetary rewards as worthless. I know that even though a cheat code may exist that will give me unlimited money in a builder game, I won’t play the game that way because the fun is in the journey, not the destination. There’s a reason that builder games don’t release with an infinite amount of money at the player’s disposal (at least, by default). Once you’ve got all the money in the world and one of every piece of content, what new is there to work toward? What do you get the player who already got themselves everything?