REPLY TO ALL: Fix Online Multiplayer: Part 1

Our question this week addresses one feature of gaming that seems to have stagnated in recent years. Though the games and the features continue to improve, the hurdles preventing people from jumping online to play multiplayer have remained mostly the same. We want to know if you don’t play online, what is stopping you? If you do, what would make it better? Let’s fix online multiplayer.

Halo: Reach

Find the douchebag

JDevL

Diving back into the world of Halo multiplayer has once again increased my fondness for muting people. It seems as though I prefer to play multiplayer in a vacuum where I only want to hear my party and I want to know a majority of that party before I’m willing to play one game with them. Games have the potential to be a much greater social experience, but online multiplayer still has some major hurdles that prevent me from diving in all of the time. The problem is I want a lot of filtering of the cast of online characters that I will be randomly playing with, and the more filters you add, the harder and slower it is to find a group to jump in and just play. Unfortunately, being the achievement whore that I am requires that I have to dive into public matchmaking if I ever want to get the good achievements. That restriction either makes me commit fully to a game just to get through it, or I never play the game online. I’m sure I can’t be the only one and XBL, PSN, and Steam have to be building up a lot of demographic information on us gamers in the past few years. I say use that info and allow us to join one of several large groups that a separated by desired play experience. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I’d like to have the option of playing with similar gamers first. Give me a 23-30 year-old gaming group that wants competitive games, zero bullshit, who average 3-10 gaming hours per week. Douchebag and obsessive filters would make me come out to play a lot more often.

Coopopolopolis

I’m definitely in line with JDevL on this one. Even back in my days of competitive Counter-Strike, I was extremely annoyed when the younger generation moved in and started taking over the pubs. Which lead us to buying our own server and just playing against ourselves all the time to practice for matches. The 10 year-old trash talk gets so old, and getting kicked from servers because they think you’re cheating just because you killed them was even worse. I feel the same way about Halo or any other current game with multiplayer. I despise jumping online by myself and playing straight deathmatch. I definitely have to mute everyone if i do. I do give Bungie loads of credit for their auto-balance system. I think it actually helps players get better and probably even keeps more people from giving up. Nothing is worse than buying a new game, getting excited about it, and dying before you know what happens over and over and over because you’re playing on a server with someone who obviously plays more than you. It would be nice if the autobalance could also figure in a douchebag rating of some type. Anyway, jumping online with Halo: Reach was the first in a long time, but again i didn’t really have a desire for deathmatch kiddies. I think i could play the doubles arena all night though. Nice and quiet with some definitely teamwork needing to happen. To sum it all up, I really only want to play on a team with friends, and i don’t want to have to listen to the other team. I’m not 100% sure that the actual multiplayer experience can be altered much that wouldn’t make it more of a pain. Our group of friends needs altered more so that we’re actually online at the same times. :)

Wizardtrain187

The douchebag filter is genius. The reputation system could be further improved upon to reward people for being good teammates and sticking to the rules while also highlighting less than admirable traits for others. You wouldn’t just get a thumbs up or thumbs down, but instead taglines such as “loner” for not being a team player or as stated above “douche” for being an annoying twerp. The only way to really cut down on true idiots is to take away anonymity, but that would more than likely prevent some from jumping online in the first place. If people want to hide behind gamertags in order to mock others, they should at least be labeled appropriately.

World of Warcraft

If only there was a threat of a Cataclysm.

In terms of a multiplayer experience, I am turned away from MMO’s for some of the reasons you all mentioned above but also because I hate mouse mashing and never feel like there is any sort of urgency to the game. I touched upon this in my RIS: Hellgate article, but presenting some sort of game altering consequence to every gamer playing would be cool. This would make it completely necessary to look out for your world and add in that urgency that MMO’s lack. I can imagine it being set up like the seasonal content for WoW, but on daily or weekly intervals. So maybe a week in advance all players are given notice that an alien race has targeted Earth and X number of spaceships need to be destroyed by a certain day or else everyone loses a level. I can imagine the excitement of a new threat leading up to the date but also the fear of your actions or lack there of having dire consequences.

Pixelmixer

When it comes to matchmaking, as much as I hate to admit it, we could probably learn something from all those online matchmaking websites. If they do nothing else, they at least present an idea that people (players) can be grouped together based on a series of personal (gaming) attributes. Halo:Reach has this to a short extent and I have yet to really find a big issue with it so far. Though, this could be expanded upon to include other areas of gaming interest. One place to start might be the online services like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. A centralized location to determine our gaming habits and match us with others who have similar habits would be a good start.

Jadetiger CG

I think it was Quake online that made you first play a few rounds against an AI to determine your skill level. In games like Halo rank doesn’t always matter, especially in the first few weeks of the game. Sure that guy is a rookie, but he just killed me 47 times in one match. Not a good matchup. As far as muting players, I only need to do it in Big Team Battle, and ever since I turned on the quiet chat and co-op filter I’ve been getting decent mannered parties. When I do need to mute someone, if I don’t do it in the first few seconds of the game lobby, its difficult to get to them and shut them up. Sometimes its hard to tell who is the annoying one when 14 people talk at once. Mute All would have been a nice feature, or some kind of hot key that mutes whoever is currently talking.

I also wish there was a game type in Halo that would allow you to join and quit in the middle of a game like Call of Duty does. It sucks when u spend forever getting your party ready, you start a game, and then your friend comes on and you either have to quit or wait 20 min for the match to end. Same goes for campaign. You should be able to invite someone in mid game. I’ve probably pissed off 4 or 5 people this last week because of the lack of this feature. When your buddy only has 15 more min to play and someone wants to join you, you’re gonna lose 10 of those minutes quitting, inviting, waiting for them, and loading a new game.

JDevL

Not to derail, but Ethan brings up an interesting point about MMO’s. There should be a more competitive incentive than just gear to keep players coming back (who want to get into that sort of thing). Real consequences to your actions within the world could be interesting.

But the real issue at hand seems to be matchmaking. The douchebag filter/reputation along with the mute who is talking right now shortcut would be great additions. To solve Christina’s join mid-game dilemma, I’d like to see an option where you set whether or not you are playing competitively or for fun. In the more casual games (which still would allow for achievements and ranking up) swapping teams, adding/dropping players, should be tolerated. But when I want to be serious, I want my friends to see that I’m in the middle of something important and not ignoring them. Each game should come with a status setting for your current play style, rather than just the default Online, Away, Busy, settings that Xbox Live has.

Overall though, I think Dustin is onto something with taking a cue from dating sites for building up your social gaming profile. This needs to be integrated at the dashboard level in Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam. Sure people are going to find ways around it, but knowing the system is making efforts to filter the noise is all I’m looking for. It is getting better, but we have a long way to go before I’m going to start trying to make friends with strangers in public servers.

Xbox Live

No apparent d-bag filter in the new interface. Damn.

EndlessBen

This issue is basically the biggest reason that I just stopped playing Modern Warfare 2 all together. Playing with and shooting my friends was fun but too often I was confronted with listening to some of the most ugly, racist, homophobic crap I’ve ever heard. Most of it coming from high pitched 12 year old voices or, strangely, people with really exaggerated southern accents. I refuse to believe that Xbox Live gets a majority of it’s log ins from rural Mississippi. If it’s not racism and homophobia, it’s the obsessives, as Justin called them, constantly complaining about “camping” because they are losing. Never playing that game again would be completely worth it if the phrase “noob tube” would never ever be a part of my life again. These people are the same reason I never got into raiding or the serious dungeons in WoW. I just don’t want to have to deal with those people who blame me for not tanking or healing correctly or for Leroy Jenkins-ing it into some horrific slaughter.

Beyond that, those situations have also taught me that, when it comes down to it, I’m pretty antisocial. Sometimes it boils down to the fact that I just don’t want to have to talk to people. I just want to shoot people or slaughter some creature repetitively for hides or something and not have to have a conversation while I’m doing it.

It does sound a little silly but I actually really like the idea of a “matchmaking” service. I would be much more likely to log on to online multiplayer experiences if I knew that I would be joining in with other reasonable mature and recreational gamers. Of course, it would probably just end up putting me with us Cursed and the HorribleNight family/readers all the time. And that actually sounds pretty awesome.

JDevL

Are we all just antisocial?

Jadetiger CG

No! Now, shut the hell up!

Colefacekilla

Mapathy

I'm sorry I was distracted by the girl that obviously doesn't play video games.

I don’t see what the big issue is. I don’t stop playing multiplayer games or avoid them because of ignorant imbeciles. I stop because I get bored of playing the same maps over and over again. I will be buying Halo: Reach when I get home because it offers something different than the Modern Warfare games and thus will be fresh to me.

I am perfectly okay playing with strangers because they can always be muted. Yet, sometimes I refrain from muting them because if we get put on a separate team in the next round, it makes it that much more fun to kill them. Repeatedly.

Granted, playing with people you know is the best way to have the most fun, but remember a few short years ago this type of stuff was impossible. I’ll take the bad right now while the XBLA and PSN go through their growing pains. If it continues into the future with no solution, then I’ll start to complain.

Jadetiger CG

I can tell you for sure that I stopped playing Modern Warfare 2 because of the a-holes, which is what lead to my harassment rant on the podcast. I was so pissed off at people, I ended up blocking four or five in a week. On top of that most of my friends had stopped playing, which left me no choice but to play with a-holes.

Pixelmixer

I’m actually with Cole on this one. I can deal with the a-holes usually, and if they piss me off enough that muting them won’t fix it, then it’s easy enough to just drop out and jump in a different game. Halo makes it a bit more difficult to leave during matchmaking, but it is possible. I find that playing with friends is the best way, but isn’t always possible, so o deal with it and try what I can to make friends with the others out there that are looking for the same thing we are. The problem with that is that its harder to find those people because the a-holes are louder and Stan out more than they do. I’m sure we’ve all played with dozens and dozens of people that want the same thing we do, but they are all drowned out by the noise. Our best bet would be to create our own very very large clan, of sorts, based around those people. I see no reason why we couldn’t be proactive and just make it ourself until something better comes along.

EndlessBen

I will admit, Cole and Dustin, that often it is (was) like that, I would either just mute or take pleasure in killing them when they were on the other team. But, in my personal MW2 experience, it’s the combination of the racist douchebag personality with the abundance of free time to put into the game that pretty much just meant me, in a game full of a-holes, getting destroyed. Not worth the time to go through and mute everyone, I’d rather just leave the game. But then again, like I said before, I’m lazy and antisocial haha.

Modern Warfare 2

A-holes. All of them.

Pixelmixer

To be fair, at least in the case of MW2, if you’re getting smashed in a game, then it’s probably best to leave anyway. I can vouch that it sucks whether I’m being smashed by a douchebag or if I’m being smashed by a quiet player. The difference there is that if it’s a douche that I’m dealing with, then I’ll have to just leave, whereas losing to a class act, I might just stick around. Not every game out there has the same ability, but I’ve found that jumping out of a game and into a new one in MW2 can be more easily measured in seconds than in minutes. Halo: Reach for example will take at least a couple of minutes to match you up and start a new game. I do understand your point though, those racist dbags are not fun to play with, and we shouldn’t have to. I went through an antisocial phase where I just set up xbox to allow chat with friends only – it was nice, but I felt a bit lonely after a while since I don’t always play with just my own friends.

JDevL

We’ve got some great ideas of how to avoid the a-holes out there. It’s tricky because like Dustin said, sometimes you don’t want to be anti-social. But forming a larger clan that extends to multiple games is a great idea, I’d just like to see a way to manage that in game or on console rather than on external websites.

Next Up

Anonymonity fuels our love and hate of online multiplayer, but we are starting to see filters improve to ensure that you aren’t playing with the worst offenders. Next week we will continue the conversation to focus more on DLC and support options to keep our favorite games alive without costing us the price of a new game.

Sources:

Giant Bomb (image)