This is another "inspired by a PC game" post. I've come back to Mechwarrior:Online after a hiatus of perhaps 9-12 months and really noticed the changes to mechs. Or rather, the "power creep" of how newer mechs are better than/have obsoleted many old ones. This primarily is in the placement of weapon hardpoints; high mounted guns are easy to peek/snapshot over hills/from cover vs low mounted guns which need you to fully expose your mech to enemy fire to shoot; where rounds often hit low outcrops and terrain instead of the target. So if there are two 75-ton Inner Sphere mechs, and one has identical hardpoints, some very low (Cataphract) and the others high (Warhammer, Marauder) the latter are straight-out better.
This is not always on purpose (aka evil greedy money-grab forcing players to pay to "keep up") and can be done unconsciously - designers want to make new, cool(or cooler) toys and as MW:O was originally based on tabletop models, but now - several years on - designers now have a "feel" for how tabletop mechs work in a real-time FPS so they may unconsciously be optimizing them. That's what designers want to do, right? Make things better?
The problem with this is when the new shiny directly obsolete the old one. It's like many RPGs - for example in Terraria I was discussing with a friend how we have crates full of dozens of +1, +2 and +3 etc swords... ...because I now have a +30 sword. When items are functionally the same, the best version renders the old item(s) worthless.
I'm sure you've come across it in competitive miniatures games - a particular unit is taken ad nauseam as it is simply flat out better/replaces a rival unit. It becomes a snowball rolling downhill; if x unit gets a +1 sword, then new units must be equally powerful or more so or no one will buy it - other units/factions will have to be buffed to compensate. It seems an attractive idea from a sales point of view (make a new unit better, everyone will buy that new unit) but it reduces diversity in the game and can turn off players if it invalidates previous content. It can cash grab in the short term - but there are long term risks....
Let's use me as an example: for a returning player... who maybe quit because of balance/p2w issues (clans) to come back to find all his old content (mechs in this case) worthless - will they be be inspired to start from scratch; or pay to catch up - or merely quit again, this time for good? In addition, the introduction of more powerful items tend to make everything else in the game "creep" in power to keep up or be rendered irrelevant.
OT Rant: This topic reminds me of PC MMO games that focus on "endgame" content. If "endgame" is so much better than the "grind" to get to the endgame... ...then why isn't the rest of the game as good? Why do you have to play 69 inferior levels so you can be a special snowflake at level 70 and get to the good bit - the end game, the holy grail. Shouldn't just playing the game be the "good bit?" Why would you split the game and make the larger portion less relevant/viewed as a hurdle? The designer is then trapped with the demand for more "endgame content" when the whole game should be just as fun.
Stats vs Incomporables (Special Rules)
If things can be directly compared - i.e. a sword vs a +1 sword, or let's say a model with stats of move 3" melee 4 shoot 3 morale 2 vs a model with move 4"melee 4 shoot 6 morale 4 - then it is easy to see at a glance that one model is better than the other. Given the choice, players tend to pick the stronger, which is where point systems gain excessive importance and focus (i.e. correctly costing the superior vs inferior models so it makes both equally attractive.
This is particularly easy with stats which can be compared against each other easily. If it functions the same (i.e. a machinegun) and one has better stats (1200 dps va 1300 dps) then one is clearly better. The old one gathers dust. It might as well not be in the game.
I've heard the term "incomparables" used. This is kinda special rules in most wargames. These are things that are not directly comparable because they function very differently. Let's say we want to compare an AoE invulnerability shield to a teleport spell to a lightning bolt spell. Unless they are obviously out of balance, often their value depends on the situation. Which one is best depends if you are trying to stay alive, escape with an artifact, or the entire enemy army is standing in a pool of water within lightning-bolt range....
Warmachine is a good example of this. There are so many incomporables (powerful, unique special rules) that the game has a pretty wide range of what is balanced (I'm putting it nicely!) - there's simply so many combos of "overpowered" and unbalanced feats and powers (incomperables) that pretty much anything can be countered by some other whacky OP combo or special ability.
The problem with special rules is that they tend to introduce a higher load on the player/steep learning curve (Infinity and Warmachine for example have hundreds). They also tend to be difficult to playtest properly, compared to stats. I mean, if a baseline trooper is 4" move, 4+ to shoot, 4+ to melee, has a 4+ defence save and passes morale checks on a 4+ on a d6; then I can pretty much guess the comparative impact/value of a soldier with a 5" move, 5+ to shoot, 2+ to melee, 3+ defence save who passes morale on a 3+ with commonsense and math. However deciding the value of troops with incomparable skills like teleportation, magic shields and lightning bolts respectively can be trickier. I've always found indie games tend to emphasize special rules (many sets have abandoned stats almost entirely - which I regard not a clear cut "better option") which is ironic as playtesting is usually not their strong suit. Stats are actually "universal" special rules everyone is familiar with (I mean, a MOVE 5" stat does not even need an explanation) which are actually simpler than 101 special rules aka "exceptions."
The steeper learning curve can introduce a higher skill focus (which can be good or bad) - for example I noticed newbie Warmachine and Infinity players tended to get slaughtered more ruthlessly by more experienced ones compared to many other games) but the concern is it is not always better tactics that prevails - but experience/memory to remember 101 special rules. In any case, it may make the game less attractive to casual players.
Anyway, just my musings on power creep/special rules - and may provide a counterpoint to my stats > special rules post in the link above. ....My kids have just charged out to play in the rain, so I better stop now and go supervise... ...they've gone suspiciously quiet. Better get towels....