In video gaming, a nerf is a change to a game that reduces the power of a weapon or skill in order to maintain game balance. The term is also used as a verb for the act of making such a change. The opposite of nerf is buff (in either of that term's two usages).
Origin and context
The term originated with Ultima Online and refers to the Nerf brand of toys which are soft and not likely to cause serious injury. It is used in the context of virtual worlds such as MMORPGs (like UO) and MUDs, but has become a part of the general vocabulary of gamer slang and can be found in various places where adjustment of power levels from one version of a game to the next is relevant.
Among game developers, MMORPG designers are especially likely to nerf aspects of a game in order to maintain game balance. Occasionally, a new feature (such as an item, class, or skill) may be made too powerful, unfair, or too easily obtained to the extent that it unbalances the game system. This is sometimes due to an unforeseen method of using or acquiring the object that was not considered by the developers. The frequency of nerfing and the scale of nerfing vary widely from game to game but almost all massively multiplayer games have engaged in nerfing at some point.
Game developers have been known to promise to "tweak" games rather than specifically "nerf" aspects of them, in order to appease critics and fans alike. This was notably the case with the 2014 MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online, when the game's developer ZeniMax Online Studios responded to criticism about one class of playable character being much more powerful than competing classes.
Nerfs in various online games have spurred in-world protests. Since many items in virtual worlds are sold or traded among players, a nerf may have an outsized impact on the virtual economy. As players respond, the nerf may cause prices to fluctuate before settling down in a different equilibrium. This impact on the economy, along with the original impact of the nerf, can cause large player resentment for even a small change. In particular, in the case of items or abilities which have been nerfed players can become upset over the perceived wasted efforts in their obtaining the now nerfed features. For games where avatars and items represent significant economic value, this may bring up legal issues over the lost value.
- Bartle, Richard (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. p. 305. ISBN 0-13-101816-7.
Now you're only making 40 UOC per pelt63. What do you do? Either you accept the realities of the free market or you dash off an email to the community service team screeching "Your STOOPID game NERFED snow wolves!!!"64. [...] 63 Or, if things get as bad as they did in Ultima Online, one UOC. 64 To nerf means to adjust the tangible effects of a virtual world element downward. Although nowadays it can apply to everything from skills to classes to races to spells, it is traditionally used for objects. It comes from the Nerf brand of safe-play toys. A Nerf gun does less damage than a real one.
- Kaelin, Mark (3 May 2006). "Playing a MMORPG is not all fun and games, you better have the right vocabulary". Tech Republic. CBS Interactive, Inc. Archived from the original on 1 July 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
- Koster, Raph. "Nerfing". Raph Koster's Website.
For the record, the term "nerfing" entered online gaming vocabulary because of UO. At some point, we reduced the power of swords in melee combat and players started complaining that they were hitting each other woth nerf swords.
- Schiesel, Seth (10 October 2002). "In a Multiplayer Universe, Gods Bow to the Masses". New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
In online parlance, nerf, after the soft, squishy real-life toys, means to make something drastically less effective.
- Burke, Timothy. "Rubicite Breastplate Priced to Move, Cheap" (PDF). 1-3. Retrieved 16 September 2008.
- "Owned: Finding a Place for Virtual-World Property Rights" (PDF). Michigan State Law Review. Michigan State University College of Law: 789. 2006. ISSN 1087-5468.