With the possible exception of Pong, every player versus player video game ever made has had at least one thing that made players go “That’s not fair!”. Picking Oddjob in GoldenEye 64, Zergling rushing in Starcraft, using the AWP in Counter-Strike; there have always been certain weapons, characters, or strategies that are frowned upon – usually by the people on the receiving end of them. But what is it about them that’s so gosh-danged irritating?
Well, all of these annoying tactics have one thing in common: they remove agency from one player (or at least it feels like they do). Getting beat fair and square is bad enough, but losing or dying in a way that feels like you never even had a chance to fight back is incredibly frustrating – and I would know. One of my favorite games, Dead by Daylight, has a serious problem with seemingly unwinnable matches. In fact, I’d say that of the online PvP games I’ve played, DBD has a bigger problem with “unfair” play than any other.
Unfair Play in DBD: Camping and Comms
A big part of that stems from the fact that DBD is an asymmetrical game. In something like Fortnite, you can have a player who dropped near you happen upon a weapon first and kill you before you can even fire back – but the odds of the situation being reversed are essentially even. While it’s unlucky, it’s not exactly unfair. In Dead by Daylight, if one of the Survivors is found and downed by a Killer playing Bubba, and the Killer camps the hook, the Survivor literally can’t do anything but wait to die.
There really isn’t any way to prevent this from happening. The game is intentionally designed to make it impossible for a Survivor to run from the Killer forever. As a player going up against a soon-to-be-camping Bubba, the only way to ensure you don’t get camped to death is to hide and let it happen to someone else first; you can’t stop it from happening to someone on your team if that’s the way the Killer wants to play. (DBD vets ready to suggest BT and/or DS should note that all this does is trade hooks, and a new person gets camped.)
I just told you there was no way to prevent Bubba from using camping as a strategy, but that isn’t entirely true. There is one way: completely ignoring the person on the hook and working on the generator objectives that allow Survivors to escape. However, the way the timings work out, the only way to finish the generators and escape before the person on the hook dies is to respond with the correct strategy immediately — and this doesn’t help the person on the hook, just the three other players. Additionally, this really isn’t possible unless everyone is running Kindred (which gives Survivors information while someone is hooked), or if the Survivors are all on voice comms together.
NOTE FOR PEOPLE UNFAMILIAR WITH DEAD BY DAYLIGHT
In Dead by Daylight, the Killer wins by putting Survivors on hooks – 3 hooks and the Survivor is out of the game. However, if the Survivor remains on a hook for more than 60 seconds, it counts as a second hook. If they remain on the hook for another 60 seconds, it counts as a third hook and they’re out of the game.
The “Bubba” Killer has a power designed in such a way that it is functionally impossible to rescue a Survivor while a Bubba is actively guarding the hook a Survivor is on. Therefore, many Bubba players take advantage of this strength to prevent Survivors from rescuing whoever ends up on a hook first, usually eliminating that player within the first few minutes of the game.
This brings us to the other aspect of DBD that often ends up being unfair: communication between Survivors. Dead by Daylight is designed to be played with both sides having imperfect information. There is no chat, and no in-game way to communicate for Survivors beyond pointing or gesturing “come here”. However, many people play with friends (a team of friends is called an SWF, named for the old “Survive with Friends” menu option for playing with a premade group). Naturally, SWFs tend to use a VOIP program like Discord, and the advantage this gives them over Survivors who can’t communicate in-game cannot be overstated.
For starters, there are numerous Perks in DBD that solo players run in order to give them some information about their teammates. These perks all come with built-in limitations (like only working within a short distance, or only working when teammates are injured or hooked), because the game is balanced around Survivors having incomplete information about each other.
By contrast, friends in a Discord call can share their locations, the Killer’s location, and exactly what they’re doing and planning – all with no limitations beyond their communication skills. What this leads to is games where the Killer player feels helpless, because the Survivors are all communicating in a way that the game designers didn’t account for when balancing the game.
OP = Fun
However, these aren’t always easy problems to fix (despite what the balance experts on the DBD subreddit might tell you), and there’s a good reason for that: games are fun when the player feels powerful. In a PvP game, developers have to find a way for opposing parties to both feel powerful, which is possible but by no means a straightforward proposition.
One of my favorite examples of a unit that appears overpowered — but is actually fairly well balanced — is the Zerg Defiler in Starcraft: Broodwar. The Defiler has a special ability, Dark Swarm, that protects units underneath it from all normal ranged damage. You can see it in action here:
Being able to make your units invulnerable for an extended period of time would seem to be pretty unfair, but both of the other races have ways to counter it. Terran players can use the Irradiate spell from their Science Vessels to kill it (see 17:56 of the above video), and Protoss players have strong melee units that can fight in the cloud, plus Templars that can use their Psionic Storm to damage units within the Dark Swarm. Still, Dark Swarm is a very impactful spell, and therefore satisfying for the player casting it. But since there is counterplay available, it doesn’t feel unfair, despite being very strong.
This type of game design allows one player to feel powerful, but in a way that doesn’t make the game feel frustrating (unless you’re Artosis [volume warning]). You can see this kind of design being attempted in Dead by Daylight: Killers have powers that appear far too strong at first glance (and therefore very satisfying for the Killer to use). However, there are four Survivors and only one Killer, so the Killer needs to be powerful in order to stand any chance of winning. The issue arises from the fact that the Killer can choose to utilize that power — or just the threat of that power — in such a way that one unlucky player doesn’t even get to play the game once they’ve been hooked.
Making Things Fair
Back when you actually bought games in a store, what you walked out with was what you would play forever. If you didn’t like how short Oddjob was, you had to get your friends to agree to not pick him. Now, with every game having a month-long Beta, day 1 patches, and weekly or monthly updates, developers are usually tweaking their games on a regular basis. Given the ease with which games can be updated, it seems reasonable to expect developers to continue to work on fixing things in their games that feel unfair, especially a game that’s been out for 5 years now like Dead by Daylight.
This mostly works only in theory. Unfortunately, the Dead by Daylight developers have been slow to fix major issues with their game. While they are working on rectifying the SWF communication imbalance, they’ve yet to truly address Killer players camping the hook. It’s disappointing, mostly because there are a number of possible solutions to this issue.
The simplest solution would be to slow hook progression based on the Killer’s distance from the hook. It could scale linearly starting 30 meters of the hook, decreasing hook progression speed by 3.33% for each meter closer to the hook the Killer got — so that a Killer who was directly in front of the hook would completely halt hook progression. Other options include giving Endurance (unable to be downed) to Survivors who attempt to unhook while near the Killer (this would obviously need to only activate after a period of time on-hook), or making Borrowed Time standard.
In a recent Q&A, the DBD devs have said they are considering making Borrowed Time part of the Survivor base kit, and that they are also looking into solutions for face-camping. Given how long it’s already taken them, I’m not holding my breath. In the absence of meaningful changes made by the devs, the question then becomes whether or not it’s the community’s responsibility to play fair. In a game where, theoretically, everyone should be trying their best to win, should Killers feel obligated to play “nice”, and not camp the hook?
It’s a complex question, made even more nuanced by the spectrum of camping available to the Killer. While everyone will probably agree that sitting in the basement staring at the hooked player is camping, is it camping to patrol the generators close to the hook? Is it camping to return immediately when the player is unhooked? Talk to ten players, and you’ll probably get ten different opinions on what exactly “camping” entails.
Yet ultimately none of this nuance matters. What’s at issue here is that sometimes in DBD, a player doesn’t get to have any fun, simply because someone else chose to play a certain way. Because of this, I’d argue that as a community, Dead by Daylight players should make an effort to play in a way that makes the game enjoyable for everyone.
There are a couple of reasons why I say this. The first is that there’s no ranked mode. There’s no ladder, no leaderboard; heck, there isn’t even an in-game stats screen. If players were competing to climb to the top of a list, I could understand wanting to do everything possible to win — but DBD isn’t designed to be a competitive game. At its core, it’s a casual game, and that’s why there’s only one game mode, rather than both Quick Play and Ranked like more competitive titles have.
More importantly, there’s a real person just trying to have fun behind that Survivor sitting helplessly on the hook. They might have waited 10 minutes to get into a game, and this might be the only match they have time to play before they have to pick up the kids from school, have dinner with their family, or get back to work. Almost everyone who has played DBD knows the frustration of having your game end after three minutes because you were found first and then camped to death. It sucks, and no one deserves to have their game ruined.
Kindness is Contagious
Playing nice is a two-way street, however, and far too many Killer players are trolled in game after game. Yes, T-bagging and flashlight clicking are minor in the grand scheme of things, and you don’t actually have to read the post-game chat. But having players tease you while you’re already losing doesn’t feel good, and mistreatment breeds mistreatment. We can’t expect Killer players to play nice if they constantly deal with BM — but then we can’t really expect Survivors to play nice after being camped to death. It’s ultimately a circular, chicken-and-the-egg sort of thing, and what it comes down to is everyone should just be nicer to each other.
So next time you’re in a Trial, whether as a Killer or as a Survivor, try to remember that everyone in the game is a Dead by Daylight fan just like you, and treat them the way you’d want to be treated! Until BHVR gets it together enough to make Basement Bubbas a thing of the past, it’s up to us to make the game fun for everyone.
I have a confession to make: I’ve definitely tunneled the weakest player out of the game when I really wanted to win. I’m trying to stop doing that! Cop to your own bad behavior or share your stories of kindness in the comments below.
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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.