A Changing Battlefield

by Matt Bertz on Mar 11, 2010 at 02:52 PM

Modern Warfare 2 online multiplayer is a glitch-filled mess. For Infinity Ward, it’s time to explore new tactics

Having problems finding a decent match while playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? You’re not the only one. The list of competition-crippling bugs in the game is so long it looks like a tracking sheet of known issues from an alpha build. First it was the javelin glitch, an exploit that allowed players to become a suicide bomber, taking several enemies with them to the afterlife upon the explosion. Not to be outdone by the javelin, the akimbo shotguns came next, a fearsome dual-wielding kit with the range of an assault rifle that resulted in impossible long-distance deaths every round. And who could forget the nuke boosting, super speed care package knife deaths, players hiding in walls, elevator glitch, unlimited ammo, private matches that earned people experience, and the Ground War/Rust map bug?

A lot of these could have been avoided had Activision set up a public beta, which many shooters (including the original Modern Warfare) employ to discover and eliminate major issues before the games ship. Even the best quality assurance testers in the world can’t match the unpredictability that arises when the public gets its hands on a multiplayer game and starts jumping into objects, unearthing imbalanced weapon/perk combinations, and discovering new exploits. Without the benefit of the beta, Infinity Ward was caught with its pants down in front of an audience of millions.

The talented studio is doing its best to address glitches as they arise, but anyone who logs onto Modern Warfare 2 on a regular basis will tell you the inmates are running the asylum. As soon as one glitch or hack is addressed, another arises to take its place. The stat-chasing cheaters have rendered leaderboards meaningless, the glitches have destroyed the competitive balance, and lobbies sound more like support groups for disgruntled fans than a place where people are having fun. It should not have spiraled this far into oblivion.

In a sense, Infinity Ward has become a victim of its own success. As of mid-January, Modern Warfare 2 had already amassed a mind-boggling $1 billion in sales – more than game publisher Capcom made for the entire fiscal year. A game of this magnitude crosses out of the niche population of many online shooters and into the mainstream, a new problem for any game not named Halo. In the same way Windows faces more threats to its stability than the infinitely less used Apple OS, games this popular tend to attract a much larger pool of annoying gamers hell bent on hacking and griefing their way to victory.

The old reactionary model of addressing bugs incrementally via patches and title updates no longer suffices for this large a community. When a game is under constant duress like Modern Warfare 2, maybe it’s time to hire a full-time staff trained in policing hackers, stomping out bugs, scrubbing leaderboards to eliminate the cheaters, and refining game balance. If Microsoft wants to keep encouraging people to use (and pay for) Xbox Live, it needs hold up its end of the bargain as well, giving studios the ability to release patches in a timely manner and more aggressively banning users of modded Xbox 360s.

Though the Call of Duty franchise is a cash cow, Activision likely won’t sign off on extended post-release support without some kind of monetary kickback. Given the problems that the Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer has faced, perhaps the shooter community would not be as jilted toward throwing in a few extra dollars toward fixing the problem as one might expect. If Infinity Ward could deliver glitch-free action, balanced gameplay, a steady flow of new content, I for one would be more than willing to shell out a few dollars a month for an evolving standalone multiplayer experience.

Whatever decision Infinity Ward comes to for its future releases, I hope the team doesn’t just settle with the unsatisfactory strategy it is currently employing. A less-hyped game would have lost all credibility had it shipped with so many issues. An industry-leading game as popular as Modern Warfare 2 deserved better, and so do the fans.

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