Why Super Mario Maker's Starring System is So Broken
There are a lot of good things I could say about Super Mario Maker. In fact, to someone who's been making Mario levels for years already using the fan-made Lunar Magic, having a Nintendo-endorsed level editor packed with awesome features and built-in sharing capabilities is like a dream come true.
However, there is one thing that continues to frustrate me, and that is the starring system present in this game. Rather than getting into another argument on Reddit about it, I thought I'd try to explain my views as clearly as possible on here. So, without further ado…
What is the starring system?
The starring system is a sensible idea in principle. Initially you can only upload 10 levels, and as people "star" your levels, your upload limit increases. This prevents poor level designers from uploading hundreds of terrible levels, which not only clogs up Nintendo's servers, but makes it harder for players to find good levels.
So what's the problem?
First, I want to stress that, at least for me, being able to upload levels is a crucial part of the game. I enjoy making levels, but if I spend hours making a level and I can't share that level with others, then to me, that time has been wasted. This makes the upload limit extremely significant, as the game essentially ceases to be fun for me as soon as I hit that limit.
The problem with this system then, is my upload limit, and thus my enjoyment of the game, is inherently dependent on other players, who are often needlessly stingy when it comes to starring levels - perhaps because the starring system is never explained in-game, leaving the criteria for starring levels ambiguous and down to personal interpretation.
Another concern is that, as the game ages, the player base will decrease, and it will become harder and harder to accumulate stars.
I've heard a lot of arguments supporting this system, which I will try to respond to below.
Just advertise your levels
As far as I'm aware, there are 3 ways that people will typically find your levels:
The "Up & Coming" tab in Course World, which lists newly-uploaded levels.
Obviously, this is of limited usefulness as it will only show levels for a brief period of time.
The search feature of the Bookmark site.
This allows for only very limited searching - no searching by name, and only a very limited selection of tags.
Randomly, in the 100 Mario Challenge.
Here, your levels are at the mercy of Nintendo's level-picking algorithm, and it is not uncommon for players to skip levels that they deem too hard after a few attempts.
Obviously, if your levels don't even get played, they are not going to be starred.
Thus, many players resort to advertising in order to boost their star count, often to great effect. I've advertised several of my levels, and seen a noticeable increase in my star count. In fact, I would posit that anyone who advertises their levels enough is likely to receive some stars, even if it's just "for effort".
I have two problems with this:
Firstly, it is unfair (albeit inevitable) that people who advertise their levels should get more stars. Their levels aren't necessarily better than other people's levels. They don't deserve more stars just because they've advertised their levels.
Secondly, we shouldn't have to resort to advertising our levels online for them to get played / starred!
If your level is good enough, it will get stars
This is a very common argument, and it's true, to a degree. I'm sure if you make a truly exceptional level, it will naturally accrue stars. But most levels aren't exceptional - often they're just "good". And good levels don't accrue stars so easily.
I'm sure some people out there would argue this point because it's been true for them, which is understandable; I'd probably be making the same argument if I was sitting here with thousands of stars. But in my experience, this is not true for everyone. I have come across plenty of good level designers who have not had much luck with stars. Ultimately, I believe that luck can play a large part in the popularity of a level.
How can the system be improved?
I'll stop ranting now, and try to suggest some actual improvements to the system:
In-game bookmark integration.
This one is a no-brainer. The Bookmark site is great, and a much-needed tool, but having to access it through a web browser is a pain.
Lists of "most neglected" (upload time divided by play count) and "least recently played" levels.
This would steer people towards levels that are lacking attention.
Ability to give levels arbitrary tags, and search by keywords.
In other words, a vaguely sensible search system - similar to YouTube. This would help people to find levels that interest them.
Prompt users to star levels.
After playing a level, users should be prompted, e.g. "Would you like to star this course?", or even "Did you enjoy this course?" Making it a conscious decision may encourage more users to award stars.
Customisable 100 Mario Challenge parameters.
For example, the option to exclude levels tagged with "Automatic", or play only levels tagged with "Puzzle". This would make the 100 Mario Challenge a lot more fun, and hopefully encourage more people to play it.
Players should receive 1 star each time they complete the 100-Mario challenge.
Having an incentive to play the 100 Mario Challenge - even a small one - would result in more levels getting played, and a reduced dependency on other players for stars. Perhaps higher difficulties could award more stars.
Creators should be able to claim 1 commiseration star per day, if they have not received any other stars.
Again, this reduces the dependency on other players. It would also just be a nice way to counter the disheartening feeling of logging on to find that you have not received any new stars.
Arguably some of these suggestions could mean that "bad" level designers are able to get stars more easily, thus undermining the whole purpose of the system. Perhaps that's true, but I think the system needs a bit of undermining. Besides, I think the rate of obtaining stars through these methods would be slow enough to discourage all but the really serious players.