What do “nerf” and “buff” mean in gaming?

Battlefield 3 - a game that's had its fair share of nerfs and buffs

If you play enough video games, particularly shooters or MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), you’ll soon across the terms “nerf” and “buff”. But what do they mean and where did the terms come from?

Devaluing an element of a game is called a “nerf”. The opposite is a “buff”, which indicates that an element has been improved. Both can be achieved by changing other elements or introducing new ones. Both terms can also be used as verbs for the act of making such a change.

Any items can be modified in such a way and weapons, abilities or characters will often be nerfed or buffed during an update to make the game more balanced. This often happens after the game has come out, or soon after new elements have been added, and need to be further tweaked.

Where does the gaming term “nerf” come from?

This term comes from the Nerf foam toys. The weakness of these darts is what provides the expression – the idea that something has been made weak, like a Nerf gun.

It’s thought that the term was first used in the MMORPG game Ultima Online around 2002. The game, when released, was so broken that “players started complaining that they were hitting each other with Nerf swords”.

These days, you will often hear Fortnite players complaining of weapons being nerfed! Or demanding a new gun be nerfed to stop them getting crushed on the battlefield…

Where does the gaming term “buff” come from?

This likely came from the bodybuilding term of “getting buff” – the idea that they’re improving their muscles and “buffing” themselves.

Again, originating in the world of MMORPGs, it was initially used to describe temporary enhancements to a player’s offensive or defensive capabilities. The opposite of buff in this context is “debuff,” which is where you do something to slow enemies or deal damage. Over time, the term “buff” has come to describe permanent as well as temporary changes.

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About the author

David Artiss

Works for Automattic Inc., the company behind and Tumblr. Tech geek, international speaker and occasional PC Pro podcaster. Lover of Lego and video games.

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