In a lot of games, specifically multiplayer games where there is a lot of diversity in the weapons/characters/abilities that you can use, there is normally a meta, which defines who you should be playing and how you should be playing them. A meta is almost always considered a bad thing, especially by the people who want to see every character played at the top levels and in competitive play, which is perfectly understandable, but I think that a meta in games, so long as it doesn’t stay for too long, is a good thing in some ways.
Now for those who don’t know what a meta is, I’ll explain how the term is used in the gaming world. If a weapon/ability/character is “meta” they’re one of the best around at the current time, and due to the situation with their counters/their own situation they can be either super strong (meta) or weak (off-meta). Metas come and go with time and with various balance update’s in a game’s life. An example of Metas coming and going would be in Overwatch, where the Tank-heavy meta of the Christmas period at MLG Las Vegas 2016 and the Winter Premiere slowly disappeared with the balancing of it’s core heroes such as Ana, Soldier: 76 and Roadhog, and 6 months later the “Dive” meta is everywhere, where you play high mobility heroes, dive the enemy backline and kill their support heroes.
Going back to the Overwatch example, a lot of people are unhappy with the current meta, due to the small hero pools that would be considered “viable” at the high levels of competitive play, and the unusual fast pace of the game, which is not only little fun to play, but also not spectator friendly, and with the World Cup Group stages coming up in 2 weeks, changes are wanted badly. This would be an example of why Metas in games can be unhealthy for the game, making it less fun to play and watch, and they can turn the game into something you aren’t used to, especially if changes take a long time to come in. You may not be able to play your favourite heroes in competitive modes, have to pick up a new weapon or character, or learn how to better use certain abilities, and know how to counter the strong heroes of the meta right now, which can be difficult at times, the reason one character may be strong is because their direct counter is weak.
However, there are also reasons why a meta can be a good thing for some games, but whether they out-weigh the cons is debateable. For example, seeing which characters/weapons/abilities are currently strong and “must-picks” helps the developers to see which balance changes must be made, to potentially tone-down a forefront of the meta which could be considered overpowered. In my opinion, metas exist because of the wide array of characters/abilities/weapons/etc. a lot of Online games have, examples of these games with big differences would be Overwatch, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and various other online games. A meta is kind of unavoidable, if you wanted to create a game where metas wouldn’t exist, you’d be creating a game where the differences between characters, playstyles, weapons and abilities would be so small or non-existent that the game would just be lacking in diversity of gameplay options, as well as fun itself (most likely).
I don’t entirely think having a meta within a game is a bad thing, obviously there are negatives, but it’s only just come to me that there are positives too, so long as a meta doesn’t stay around for too long.
Cover image: http://www.leagueofgraphs.com/champions/stats