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What is the line between "streamlining" and "dumbing down?"

Coxswain

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Feb 27, 2008
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As far as most people who latch onto that terminology are concerned, they are the exact same thing, in pretty much every situation.

Edit: A more reasonable explanation would be to say that streamlining removes complexity, and dumbing down removes depth, and that sometimes these things happen at the same time, and sometimes they are completely separate. But that first requires that you know the difference between complexity and depth, and then generally requires some discussion pretty specific to whichever game is in question - and there's still going to be a horde of people out there who will insist that any reduction in complexity is a reduction in depth, so signal-to-noise is going to be pretty low.
 

McNum

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Jul 6, 2009
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Streamlining = Improving accessibility (making actions easier to do)
Dumbing down = Removing gameplay depths or features

They're not mutually exclusive.
 

webrunner

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In actuality "streamlining" means not to remove any features which add depth. Reducing the time it takes to return to life after dying, taking away menu options people don't and wouldn't use, making the same actions easier to perform without changing their strategic use are streamlining.

If streamlining removes options that could provide an interesting choice, that's 'dumbing down'.

In message boards however it's basically "Streamlining" = This is fun!, "dumbing down" = WTF SCRUBS ARE RUINING GAMING
 

eshwaaz

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Jun 14, 2004
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For me, streamlining is removing extraneous content; filler that has no real appeal or value. Dumbing down is removing actual, worthwhile depth and player choice. Of course, which is which often boils down to personal perspective.
 

ultron87

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If you're making something that is needlessly complicated and clumsy into something that is easier but aren't removing any actual complexity then you are streamlining. If you are just making the game simpler then you are "dumbing down". Dumbing down is not always a bad thing.

Examples from going from Persona 3 -> Persona 4

Streamlining: You can access all your party member's equipment, abilities and status just by hitting the triangle button. In Persona 3 you had to talk to them individually to do these things.

Dumbing Down: Changing melee weapon damage to all be one type. In P3 there was three kinds of weapon attacks that various enemies would be weak against. In P4 it's all just physical damage whether it is coming from a sword or a pistol.
 

Rolf NB

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Apr 22, 2007
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Both terms describe the exact same thing, only wrapped in a positive or negative light.

Streamlining = successful marketing
Dumbing down = failed marketing
 

Ushojax

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Nov 1, 2009
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Streamlining is something that makes a game more accessible, makes it easier to play or to understand, just lets you have fun faster, it removes the baggage from the experience. Dumbing down is what stupid people call that same process.
 

Sharkington

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Aug 23, 2009
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The only distinction is whether people think the changes helped or hurt the experience. It's like the homage/derivative thing.

 
Jun 7, 2004
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webrunner said:
In message boards however it's basically "Streamlining" = This is fun!, "dumbing down" = WTF SCRUBS ARE RUINING GAMING
I more or less agree. However, going beyond message board arguments, I think it just depends on your perspective. For instance, take a polarizing game like Mass Effect 2. If you fell into the camp after playing the first of feeling that the combat was clunky, item management was cumbersome, and wanted more of a third-person shooter mechanic, then you'll praise the sequel for greatly streamlining all of that stuff. If you were a long time BioWare fan from back in the day where they focused on making RPGs for the PC, then you probably fell into the camp that feels that they dumbed down the combat to placate the console third person shooter fans.
 

1-D_FTW

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Streamlining is when it's still a good game (and maybe even better for it). Dumbing down is when the essence of the game is gutted and it's a POS shell of its former self.
 

Revolutionary

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Dumbed down = removal of features that might be considered too intimidating to some (lol)
Streamlining = making these features easier for players to understand and access

I'll use a 2010 example:

Mass Effect 2 is dumbed down. Removal of inventory management, planet exploration (even if it was barebones in ME1, it still could have been improved upon rather than removed entirely), and various other RPG and non-RPG elements make it a dumbed down game in an attempt to woo in more action gamers. It worked.
If it were streamlined, these various elements would have been tweaked to be more easily accessible. Instead, they were removed.. therefore: dumbed down.
 

Emitan

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Jun 26, 2008
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Streamlining: Mass Effect 2
The leveling up system in the first game bothered me because each trait had three milestones with a whole bunch of useless point sinks in between. What's the difference between 3 and 4 points in Throw? Not a whole lot. In Mass Effect 2 each time you increase the level of a skill it has a large effect.

Dumbing Down: Civilization Revolution
I think this game speaks for itself.

EDIT: I agree with everyone that Mass Effect 2's inventory was a dumbing down. Before you argue with me, I'm only talking about the level up/ability system.
 

SnakeXs

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The minute you remove any single feature, the streamlining becomes dumbing down. To at least one vocal minority. That ends up being nearly 100% of the time.
 

Alucrid

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Billychu said:
Streamlining: Mass Effect 2
The leveling up system in the first game bothered me because each trait had three milestones with a whole bunch of useless point sinks in between. What's the difference between 3 and 4 points in Throw? Not a whole lot. In Mass Effect 2 each time you increase the level of a skill it has a large effect.

Dumbing Down: Civilization Revolution
I think this game speaks for itself.

EDIT: I agree with everyone that Mass Effect 2's inventory was a dumbing down. Before you argue with me, I'm only talking about the level up/ability system.
The ability system was pretty dumbed down. Before you could have access to numerous abilities, now you were stuck with five or so. Sure, it made it easier, but it also made it worse.
 

Arnie

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One comes at the cost of gameplay depth, I'll let you work out which, I'm not dumbing down my post for you.
 

Ushojax

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Nov 1, 2009
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Revolutionary said:
If it were streamlined, these various elements would have been tweaked to be more easily accessible. Instead, they were removed.. therefore: dumbed down.
So taking out rubbish like the awful inventory is dumbing down? Why would anyone want to be fiddling around managing their inventory in a game about shooting space Terminators and sexing up blue aliens? Some things just don't fit or get in the way of things, elements like the bike sequences in No More Heroes or the hub in Mario Galaxy were removed for a good reason. They were shit. I'm sure some strange people enjoyed them but that doesn't mean it was worth building on them.

semiconcious said:
you can make gameplay straight-forward, but still challenging, or you can simply remove any sense of challenge...
This sort of thing is so subjective though. For every person who hates the lack of 'challenge' in the 2008 PoP there is someone who found it alleviated the frustration of having to restart a whole sequence from scratch when you died. This could be seen as streamlining or dumbing down depending on your interpretation. I think it's the former.
 

Emitan

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Alucrid said:
The ability system was pretty dumbed down. Before you could have access to numerous abilities, now you were stuck with five or so. Sure, it made it easier, but it also made it worse.
I guess it's really an example of both. Allocating points is streamlined, but the number of abilities you can allocate them to was dumbed down. But on the other hand, each class was more unique because they usually had at least 2 unique skills which I think adds more depth in which class you pick.
 

semiconscious

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streamlined:



dumbed down:



you can make gameplay straight-forward, but still challenging, or you can simply remove any sense of challenge...
 
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Ushojax said:
So taking out rubbish like the awful inventory is dumbing down? Why would anyone want to be fiddling around managing their inventory in a game about shooting space Terminators and sexing up blue aliens? Some things just don't fit or get in the way of things, elements like the bike sequences in No More Heroes or the hub in Mario Galaxy were removed for a good reason. They were shit. I'm sure some strange people enjoyed them but that doesn't mean it was worth building on them.
The inventory needed to be streamlined, i.e. made more efficient. Easier to navigate, proper categorization, stacking items, and whatever else you would expect from a normal inventory.

Instead they just removed loot and items. They dumbed it down instead of streamlining.
 

duckroll

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There are various different sorts of examples when talking about streamlining vs dumbing down, I think I will tackle how I feel about interface and challenge in this topic.

Streamlining would be like adding continue to a game over screen, checkpoints throughout a level, ability to skip cutscenes, and possibly even an easy mode. The ability to pause at any time, and in RPGs the ability to save (or quicksave) anywhere, would also count as streamlining.

Dumbing down would be replacing actual skill based input actions with automatic actions (like instead of having a jump and/or evade button, using context sensitive auto-jump and QTE evasion).

Having zero penalty for failure is also a form of dumbing down. Games which streamline (continue, checkpoints, save anywhere, etc) can also be guilty of dumbing a game down if the challenge in the game is not designed to fit the streamlined functions. If it becomes easier for a player to want to keep playing because he is not punished severely for failing, then each instance or sequence in the game should be an interesting challenge of value to make up for it.

If you have checkpoints in an action game, the challenges between checkpoints should be significant enough that you actually feel like you earned the progress to the next checkpoint.

If you have save anywhere in a RPG, then the battles and progression in the RPG should remain interesting in each instance, such that poor players get the benefit of the retry features without feeling frustrated, but more experienced players still feel that the challenge is from each individual encounter, instead of a slow wearing down of the player's items and stats. The latter is a form of balance when save points are employed, but without save points the balance could be shifted to making each and every encounter more significant instead.

That's how I feel about this subject anyway.
 

Ushojax

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Confidence Man said:
The inventory needed to be streamlined, i.e. made more efficient. Easier to navigate, proper categorization, stacking items, and whatever else you would expect from a normal inventory.

Instead they just removed loot and items. They dumbed it down instead of streamlining.
But removing the inventory altogether made the game more efficient. The loot was a big loss and they shouldn't have gimped that but the rest was pointless anyway. A game like Mass Effect, a conversational shooting game, doesn't need an inventory, it needs a weapon wheel and a loadout screen, that's it.
 

Coxswain

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Billychu said:
EDIT: I agree with everyone that Mass Effect 2's inventory was a dumbing down. Before you argue with me, I'm only talking about the level up/ability system.
The inventory is probably a better case for 'streamlining' versus 'dumbing down' than the skill system, though. The skill system changes removed extraneous (meaningless 'sink' ranks in each skill, condensing multiple skills that only give benefits in the form of tiny incremental percentage increases to stats into a single class skill, removing the incongruity of having essentially one kind of skill that isn't combat focused but draws from the same skill point pool as your combat skills) and degenerate (Barrier and Immunity skills which obviated several other core mechanics entirely) elements of the sytem, but it also removed the special weapon abilities like Carnage. (Weapon proficiencies were a stupid idea, but the skills attached to them added something, even if what they added is totally overshadowed by the increased depth to other aspects of combat).

On the other hand, the inventory changes not only removed swaths of depthless complexity, but actually added meaningful depth that had been completely absent from the first game, in giving the player multiple 'styles' of weapon in each category that each came with upsides and downsides.


The inventory in Mass Effect 2 is the single best example you can point to when trying to highlight how hard it is for people to differentiate between complexity and depth.
 

Emitan

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Ushojax said:
But removing the inventory altogether made the game more efficient. The loot was a big loss and they shouldn't have gimped that but the rest was pointless anyway. A game like Mass Effect, a conversational shooting game, doesn't need an inventory, it needs a weapon wheel and a loadout screen, that's it.
It's also an RPG. Should Dragon Age not have an inventory because fantasy based hack n slash games exist? Completely removing a feature and not offering something that acts in a somewhat similar manner is dumbing down. It's not streamlined if its gone.
 

duckroll

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Ushojax said:
But removing the inventory altogether made the game more efficient. The loot was a big loss and they shouldn't have gimped that but the rest was pointless anyway. A game like Mass Effect, a conversational shooting game, doesn't need an inventory, it needs a weapon wheel and a loadout screen, that's it.
I think that's debatable. You're ultimately talking about two different types of games. There is no question at all that ME2 is a dumbed down version of ME1 when talking about the RPG aspects of the game. Does this mean ME2 is a worse game? No, because the RPG elements in ME1 were poor and dragged the game down. With ME2, they dumbed down the RPG aspects in the battle engine substantially, and massively improved the action shooting aspects of the game. It ended up with a better game, but there is no question that the RPG part of ME2 was dumbed down. It wasn't streamlined.

Dumbing down isn't always a bad thing, it can be a good thing when a developer realizes that the strength of a certain franchise lies in one area more so than another area, and chooses consciously to dumb down on area and polish up another.
 

Emitan

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soyboy said:
Assassin's Creed = Streamlined
Assassin's Creed II = Dumbing down
How is the first game streamlined? Compared to what? It's the first game in the series. And how was 2 dumbed down? The first game's missions were so repetitive and mechanical. 2 completely fixed that and added variety. Unless you enjoyed "Do 3 out of the same 6 missions, kill guy, repeat" for the entire game.
 

Patryn

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Billychu said:
It's also an RPG. Should Dragon Age not have an inventory because fantasy based hack n slash games exist? Completely removing a feature and not offering something that acts in a somewhat similar manner is dumbing down. It's not streamlined if its gone.
Is it? If ME2 was designed to be an RPG, then it's dumbed down.

If it was designed to be, as put in this thread, a "conversational third-person shooter," it was streamlined.

So part of it depends on how you look at things and what the goals of the developers are.

(For the record, I hated the changes in ME2).
 

Ushojax

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Billychu said:
It's also an RPG. Should Dragon Age not have an inventory because fantasy based hack n slash games exist? Completely removing a feature and not offering something that acts in a somewhat similar manner is dumbing down. It's not streamlined if its gone.
So instead of taking out a shitty and pointless feature it's better to improve it so it's just pointless? RPGs don't need inventory systems they need role-playing elements, and Mass Effect 2 still has those. It just doesn't have the baggage of the first game. Dragon Age is a completely different genre and one that has always involved fiddly inventories, the comparison makes no sense.

duckroll said:
Dumbing down isn't always a bad thing, it can be a good thing when a developer realizes that the strength of a certain franchise lies in one area more so than another area, and chooses consciously to dumb down on area and polish up another.
Totally agree. Would anyone complain if they took the friendship stuff out of GTAIV?
 
Aug 24, 2005
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Ushojax said:
But removing the inventory altogether made the game more efficient. The loot was a big loss and they shouldn't have gimped that but the rest was pointless anyway. A game like Mass Effect, a conversational shooting game, doesn't need an inventory, it needs a weapon wheel and a loadout screen, that's it.
It made it more efficient at the expense of having options to equip weapons, armor, items, or mods on the fly. Same with not letting you level up in a mission or outfit your party.
 

duckroll

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Rolf NB said:
Both terms describe the exact same thing, only wrapped in a positive or negative light.

Streamlining = successful marketing
Dumbing down = failed marketing
DeaconKnowledge said:
Streamlining - What console owners call it
dumbing down - what PC owners call it
Mystic Theurge said:
I like the change = streamlined

I hate the change = dumbed down.
soyboy said:
Assassin's Creed = Streamlined
Assassin's Creed II = Dumbing down
You know, we really don't need posts like this in a thread which is meant to generate meaningful discussion. If you have no actual input on the topic, you don't have to post. Snide remarks and one-line posts do not help in any way, nor are they very beneficial to anyone.

For example, I would like to hear the examples of why AC is considered "streamlining" (streamlined from what?) and why AC2 is "dumbed down". I'm sure a case could be made, and that would have interesting discussion spun off from it. But simply listing it like that doesn't really tell anyone much, and even if someone disagrees, it's hard to debate the points because there are none made.

I know it can often be very easy to just go "haha this isn't worth discussing, it's the exact same thing!" but well, if you feel that way, you can either justify that argument with supported points which can be debated, or you can simply not post a reply to the thread. Extra noise isn't very meaningful.
 

dofry

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Came here to post about Prince of Persia example but it was already executed perfectly. Could no agree more.
 

Alucrid

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Confidence Man said:
It made it more efficient at the expense of having options to equip weapons, armor, items, or mods on the fly. Same with not letting you level up in a mission or outfit your party.
Wow. That's probably one of the most disappointing things ever now that I think about it. Having Wrex walk around in that badass glowing green/blue/red armor was a highlight of ME1.
 

Emitan

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duckroll said:
I know it can often be very easy to just go "haha this isn't worth discussing, it's the exact same thing!" but well, if you feel that way, you can either justify that argument with supported points which can be debated, or you can simply not post a reply to the thread. Extra noise isn't very meaningful.
Mystic Theurge and soyboy have to get Member status somehow :lol

And this thread has me going in circles. I was just arguing that Mass Effect needs an inventory "because it's an RPG" when I'm of the opinion that only role playing (your character is defined by your choices) is a requirement. This entire thread is a negative vortex of logic and reasoning.
 

shintoki

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Streamlining is when a game reduces complexity but keeps most of the depth.

Dumbing down is an elimination of gameplay

In most cases, such things like automated platforming, QTEs, Regen health are results of dumbing down experiences. Uncharted 2 is probably the best example of this where platforming/puzzle solving is nothing more than a giant QTE. Compare that Tomb Raider which became a lot more streamlined, but retained most of the actual platforming and puzzle solving.

But to be fair, it also depends on the title and the developers goals. Uncharted 2 goals were completely different from Tomb Raider. And also were does the player stand at. Which is why there is so much confusion since players come from different regions. WoW is a great example where to Everquest players, or UO it is a massively dumb down experience. But for people who didn't like the cattle herding prior, it's MMO streamlined to be fun.
 

SapientWolf

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duckroll said:
There are various different sorts of examples when talking about streamlining vs dumbing down, I think I will tackle how I feel about interface and challenge in this topic.

Streamlining would be like adding continue to a game over screen, checkpoints throughout a level, ability to skip cutscenes, and possibly even an easy mode. The ability to pause at any time, and in RPGs the ability to save (or quicksave) anywhere, would also count as streamlining.

Dumbing down would be replacing actual skill based input actions with automatic actions (like instead of having a jump and/or evade button, using context sensitive auto-jump and QTE evasion).


Having zero penalty for failure is also a form of dumbing down. Games which streamline (continue, checkpoints, save anywhere, etc) can also be guilty of dumbing a game down if the challenge in the game is not designed to fit the streamlined functions. If it becomes easier for a player to want to keep playing because he is not punished severely for failing, then each instance or sequence in the game should be an interesting challenge of value to make up for it.

If you have checkpoints in an action game, the challenges between checkpoints should be significant enough that you actually feel like you earned the progress to the next checkpoint.

If you have save anywhere in a RPG, then the battles and progression in the RPG should remain interesting in each instance, such that poor players get the benefit of the retry features without feeling frustrated, but more experienced players still feel that the challenge is from each individual encounter, instead of a slow wearing down of the player's items and stats. The latter is a form of balance when save points are employed, but without save points the balance could be shifted to making each and every encounter more significant instead.

That's how I feel about this subject anyway.
I think this is often the case, but I think it only crosses the line towards dumbing down when the skill-based actions contributed significantly to what made the game enjoyable or marketable.

Devs can also add hardcore modes for people who want certain punitive features that could make the game less enjoyable or accessible for the majority of the target audience.
 

GhaleonQ

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To most, I'd say, streamlining is removing features that don't work quite well instead of fixing them. Dumbing down is removing features that do in order to create a purer experience. It really does appear that simple.