Rethinking Online Gameplay - blackheartwolf Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

What's Happening

Rethinking Online Gameplay

There is an epidemic.  Specifically an epidemic among online multiplayer games.  This epidemic is what I would like to call 'closed door' syndrome.  

Now what exactly is this?  Well to put it simply, 'closed door' syndrome is when games get in the way of allowing an online community to grow/form.  Essentially it is every developer feature that makes it more difficult to connect to other gamers that play the game, especially ones in the same game/match as you.

My issue with this isn't so much the large games like Battlefield that do this.  Honestly their player base is so large that it is not difficult finding people to play with at any time of the day.  I will however talk about the things I would like them to fix as I believe this should be applied to all online multiplayer games. The issue is more prevalent when it is a smaller community that has these large community features forced into the game.

I however am not just a complainer with a blog.  I like solutions.  I like to point out the issues and show how to fix them.  And the following 5 things are my ideas on retooling online games.

#1 More communication is better.

If there is one thing that really disturbs me about Battlefield it is the utter silence that exists among the team.  You can only talk to 3 people.  Just 3 people out of at least 31 others.  And that is of course if they even bother to use their microphones.  I hate this.  I absolutely hate the fact that I can't coordinate when a team should push a point and when they should defend.  I hate the fact that no matter what no person ever tries to actually defend a point in conquest, it's all about attacking the next objective.  

And I mostly hate the fact that I have been spoiled by so much better.

My first BF experience was 2142.  I've mentioned the game quite a lot, but I think I need to bring it up again because it seems that Dice has forgotten just how awesome of a system they had.  It was a legitimate chain of command.  There was a commander who could talk to everyone.  Squad leaders who could talk to the commander, other squad leaders, and their squad, and squad members who could talk among their 6 man squad.  And this all led to some of the most tactical play I have ever experienced in a game.  

Sure there is bound to be trolling, Of course some people will be racist dicks.  This is the internet, these people exist.  However to limit the people that we can talk to (and when we can actually talk to them) is such a waste.  If nothing else, expanding this will make people talk more, and when people talk more they feel more a part of something and play your game more.

It's the reason why I played Killzone 2 for over a year.  It's the reason why I hate the third one with a passion.  In 2 you could talk to EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE GAME.  As long as they were within range to hear you, you could talk to them.  This caused rivalry, this caused friendship, but most of all this encouraged people to use microphones because everybody could talk in game.  So pay attention devs, because something as simple as this could be the difference between 1,500 downloads of DLC and 15,000 downloads of DLC.

#2 Include Lobbies

I don't know how this isn't standard by now.  Seriously I probably should have called it 1a considering that it should be a rule of thumb.  However it seems that developers still don't get it, so apparently we need to talk about why this is a good idea.

People need breaks between games.

I know this is quite the shocking development, but please try to follow along.  A person can only play so many games in a row without taking a minute or two to: 

a) Change equipment

b) Alter settings/options

or c) take a leak

So why is it that multiplayer games anymore see fit to usher you straight from one game right into the next? I'm sorry, I was under the impression that we play games to relax, not hardcore grind out games till we're elite gamers.  I like to pace myself, enjoy some time before I have to play again, get off tilt.  

But still we see time and time again games that will rush you from stat screen to loading screen to gameplay all as fast as their little processors will work.

Stop. Time out.

It's a simple request,and even ties in nicely to the last point.  Lobbies are where people talk.  People get the chance to be in awe of that guy that went 29-3 in the last game.  Also they get to relax and enjoy the company of other gamers.  After all they clearly have at least one thing in common.  

It's not like they're going anywhere unless they have to anyways, and if people are that impatient to get into the next game then they can play one of the many games that already ushers you through menial battlefield to menial battlefield.

Personally I need some water though, I dried myself out after that ass-kicking.  Hope you liked the taste of nuts.

And of course, there is always the option to mute if you are the guy that went 0-12 and teamkilled 4 guys (not mentioning mute by the way, as this pretty much is in every team game there is).

#3 Clans/Team Support

Now I know that this one means a lot of different things to people, but here is how I define clan support.  Clan support to me means that I have a list of members that belong to the same team/clan as me and that they don't have to be on my friend list to join them in game.  That if people are on I can hop in with them provided there is room.  

As far as games that do this, I can only think of a few.  Even less that actually have any kind of functionality with clans.  This is a shame to me though because clans/groups/teams are how friends lists should grow.  You get together with a few buddies who find some more buddies who find more people to play with.  Then before you know it you have a group of people that whenever you are on you can hop in the game and play with.  

Granted this requires the ability to talk to other players, and we all know how well that is going for games....

But seriously speaking clans are what make real team shooters awesome.  I will never forget my MAG clan, just because when we were playing multiple times per week I could queue up and find 3-4 guys to play with at almost any time of the day, and on weekend nights we could get close to 16 people to play with.  That was 2 full squads in the game, and usually when we did this we could win 80% of our games.

Now though games are going the CoD route where clan tags are just a title.  They mean nothing and no one even bothers to pay attention to them unless the entire other team is a clan.  Usually it's because it's just a pair of buddies that thought it would be 'cool' not because they actually work as a team.

And certainly not because they needed a good gunner and they picked up a random guy they found in game.  

(as an additional note, I would also like to talk about the removal of limited #s of people from clans as well.  I just got armored core V and teams in the game are capped at 20.  Why are teams capped at 20?!?!? I understand there should be some cap, but considering that it's hit or miss to find a decent group of people to work with and there already is 1,532 clans that have 1 member why not raise it and make super groups that can be 50 60 members large?  more people to play with = more time playing = more community interaction)

#4 Server Lists

I hate matchmaking.  Let me say that now.  Seriously IMO it is one of the worst things about online multiplayer gaming right now.  Granted there are exceptions (like CoD, but we'll get into that later) but for the most part no one can ever seem to get it right.

For example I would like to pose the simple question of "WHY AM I FORCED TO PLAY ON GOD AWFUL MAPS THAT NO ONE LIKES!?!?!?!" seriously I already did one rant on map making, but apparently that fell on deaf ears.  My issue though is why can I not avoid these maps that are just the worst things ever made?  I mean really just look at the two examples below.

I'll let your imagination go on this one.  But there is a reason it's shaped like that.....

There are toxic gasses that choke people less than this map..... And I'm pretty sure I know a few rulers who wish they were that linear.

Seriously why am I playing these?  I like the people I'm playing with, I'm getting good games, but why am I subjected to the awfulness that is playing on these maps?  

But it's not just about the maps.  Oh no if it were that simple I'd end here, but let's move on to the fact that for most games matchmaking doesn't even work at all

Seriously any game with less than 25,000 people weekly should just patch in a server list.  Because when you try to do matchmaking when there is less than that there is exactly a 5% chance of it actually finding enough people for you to play.  

Server lists eliminate this.  You could have a group of 100 people playing, at least then they'd be able to find a game (something no matchmaking service could ever do).  I can't count the number of times I tried queuing up in a game like Red Faction Guerilla only to end up waiting for over 5 minutes to just join a lobby (even when it first came out).  And then after that you had to wait for others to join and then hope that they would stay.

Server lists pretty much eliminate all of this.  You can make custom rules, pick a map pool, and if you just want to find a game quickly, join the first nearly full game you find and go.  As it stands matchmaking is far too limited, too slow and too unpredictable to continue to be used consistently.  

(The exceptions to this are CoD and Halo, both of which have the best of both worlds wrapped into one.  Halo has forge mode and the ability to make custom games as well as a standard matchmaking system that has no less than 10 options (don't know for sure, but from what I remember they keep it around that).  CoD has even more options and supplements that with the largest online user base meaning anything you want to play, you can find someone to play with you.  Neither of these games should change their system as it is what works for them.  However it doesn't work for most games that try it and as such it really needs to be fixed.)

#5 Give me a reason to care

This is the most abstract idea of the bunch, but hear me out.  I have seen communities thrive on games that were not all that great.  I've played games like MAG and Killzone 2 where the vast majority of the community moved on to the next shooter to come around as soon as it was out.  I however have seen just how hard a tight knit community will hold onto a game when they really love it.

Up until a few months ago I was still getting messages every friday evening I was online inviting me to come play Killzone 2.  Let me repeat that.  Up until about October 2011 I was still getting messages to play Killzone 2.  A game that came out in February of 2009.  A game that couldn't have had more than 5,000 people playing it still.  A game that for all intensive purposes should have died off entirely.

But that game grew beyond the developers. It became the game of the community.  It became a game where the community would hold huge 16v16 battles and fill up 3 rooms in a matter of minutes because the games were that popular.  

It was because the game was different, it wasn't the same cookie cutter shooter that was being produced.

It was ours.

Innovation is the key to this.  Risks must me taken, dies must be rolled, and chances have to be grasped with both hands because playing it safe is condemning your game to death.  That is why I bought Armored Core 5, that is why I traded in Killzone 3, but not Killzone 2, and that is why I am happy to support games like MAG rather than the yearly Call of Duty release.  Because I love it when games do something original, something different.

I believe if you think of the best online games you've ever played that they'll all have something in common.

And I believe that thing will be 'it was the first...'

So developers fill in the blank.  Don't follow, innovate.  Because it is innovation that drives this industry and it is innovation that causes games like Halo to be made in the first place.

I hate to use puns, but developers and consumers really do hold the hope for online games in their hands.  It's why I believe that consumers need to support games that go out on limbs and why I think developers need to stop following what is popular.  

Because the sad truth is that if you just follow you'll never have the chance to lead, and that is what we should be striving for.  Excellent, not average.

Sorry for being preachy at the end, but I do hope this does motivate people to just try new things.  After all you can only complain about 'shooters being the same old thing' so many times before you should do something about it.  So do something about it.

But most of all, have fun, this is gaming after all.

Thank you for reading,
BHW 

comments