Popularity has ruined your game

Does mass-market appeal cause more harm than good for competitive online shooters?

I’ve been a fan of multiplayer shooters for 15 years. From Unreal Tournament and Goldeneye to Halo and Bad Company, I love competitive FPS games. In recent years however, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated as I play my favorite games.

Over the past couple months, I’ve hit a bit of a breaking point. Halo 4 multiplayer has become so constantly frustrating that I flat-out stopped playing the game for  weeks (which for me, being a HUGE Halo fan, is unheard of). I thought to myself “I can’t play this game anymore. It just sucks”.

Halo 4′s online multiplayer is often as frustrating as it is fun.

This past week, 343 was kind enough to give me early access to their new map pack. So I jumped back online with some friends to try the new maps. For the very first time, I played Halo 4 OUTSIDE of public matchmaking. And I had a blast.

Everything about the game felt fun, exciting, balanced, and well designed. So this got me thinking: Why do I find the game so maddeningly frustrating when I go in solo through public matchmaking? And why do I NOT find some other games that frustrating?

I realized that the answer to both of those questions is the same: It’s because of the people I play with.

When I play Halo online, I am constantly angered by the people I play with. Every single match is filled with players who run around shooting their own teammates, ignore objectives, or are AFK half the time. I often find myself wondering if my teammates have ever played Halo before. The game barely functions because only half the players in a given match give a damn about what’s going on.

It’s not just an issue of skill level… it’s an issue of seriously trying to play the game vs just goofing around. I invite and welcome new players to try new games, but not if they are going to ruin the experience for everyone else. I don’t go to a public basketball court and start kicking the ball around.

When I play Mass Effect 3, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, or even Bad Company 2, this trend is rarely an issue. Sure, I’ll be matched with players of varying skill levels, but at least everyone is on the same page when it comes to working together and trying to achieve the given objective. It seems to me that these games, despite their popularity, are only enjoyed by a more devout fan base that plays because they are genuinely interested in playing, improving, and experiencing each match.

Mass Effect 3

Even playing with “randoms”, the average match of Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer is filled with teamwork and coordination.

By comparison, games like Halo and Call of Duty have reached a level of mass-market saturation. They’ve become a sort of “After School” activity. Kids jump in and play NOT because they really want to, but because their friends are all “hanging out” online together and that’s the only game they all have. So when I go into matchmaking, only half the people I play with have any real interest in playing the game.

So the question is: does mass-market appeal actually HARM multiplayer shooters more than it helps them? Should developers stop trying so hard to make their game accessible to EVERYONE and therefore mastered by nobody? I’d love to know what everyone thinks. Feel free to respond in the comments section below.

- CruelLEGACEY

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14 Responses to Popularity has ruined your game

  1. Pingback: If I was making Halo 5 – Part 1 [Story] | CruelLEGACEY Productions

  2. Bizargh says:

    You’ve pretty much read my mind.

    I’ve played & loved Halo since shortly after it debuted in the UK 11 years ago. I love the campaigns of each game for their various strong points, I have had some of the most incredible fun in all of their custom game modes, and it’s the creative opportunities that Custom Games, Forge & Theater combined that keeps me loving & buying Halo beyond following the story. But when I talk to people about my matchmaking experiences from Halo 3 – Halo 4 (I missed out on the Halo 2 days), I often have not a great deal positive to say about it in terms of fun. And it’s pretty much because of the commonly disruptive attitude and/or behaviour of the players who play it.

    I often say I favour playing multiplayers such as Burnout Paradise, Battlefield 1943 & Mass Effect 3, mostly because player behaviour is generally enjoyable to play with. I’ve had much more friendly encounters with players in Burnout Paradise’s Freeburn Challenge modes than any other console game short of Halo’s Custom Games, and they along with the Mass Effect 3 players are equally objective driven & not so easily frustrated. As for Battlefield 1943, it’s very simplistic in design & fun to play, especially with the players who play the game undisruptively & general lack of in-game voice chat. And I can say I generally have more fun with other online games with smaller player crowds such as Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit & Left 4 Dead 2. Team Fortress 2 is an exception because although it is a vastly well-known & played game, dependant on the server and/or admins, you can have a great deal more fun than just playing competitvely, with genuinely disruptive or offensive behaviour most often untolerated & dealt with (like I said, dependant on the server and/or the admins running them).

    But when it comes to playing Halo Matchmaking, 99% of the time I join a lobby alone, it is nothing short of frustrating. It’s no fun at all when you play with a player crowd whom a significant enough number of it’s members commonly only want to berate you for playing more Firefight, Campaign and/or Custom Games than Matchmaking, deviate from the objective of the game only to “maintain or improve” their statistics, or deem Slayer the only game variant worth playing as “Race, Haloball, etc. don’t belong in a shooter”.

    With Halo 3 & Halo: Reach’s Matchmaking, playing with a friend was fun, especially in the more recreational or creative gametypes (I for one deem Rocket Hog Race & Haloball as my favourite online gametypes in Halo: Reach), but even with friends in Halo 4 Matchmaking, it rarely entertains me very long at all. Mind you, I generally enjoy playing multiplayer games recreationally or co-operatively, so regarding Halo 4, it’s solid focus on competitive multiplay, it just doesn’t provide me much enjoyment as it also tends to funnel me towards the player attitudes and/or behaviours I prefer to avoid whatever I choose to play. And to add the current lack of Theater for Campaign & Spartan Ops, the lack of Elites for Custom Games, the absence of Race, bugs relating to Theater & weapon lowering, I’d rather play or get creative with other games (how I hope if not at least able to update Halo 4′s theater to work with all modes of play, Halo 5 returns much of what 343 couldn’t fit, abandoned and/or left unfinished with Halo 4).

  3. Bryan Newman says:

    You nailed it: Children are the problem. There needs to be age restricted playlists.

    • Owen Spence says:

      Hey, aren’t you that guy that won that machinima contest a few years back? If so, I LOVED your machinima. I’d recognize your name ANYWHERE. if not, I’m sorry. I’m getting you mixed up with someone else. By the way, Alex is a bitch.

    • CUJO says:

      It’s not children that are the problem, I think you’re talking about maturity. In which case, I’ve played plenty of children who were A-ok and plenty of adults who were complete morons and Jack-asses.

  4. If designers make games too hard the mass market won’t buy them and then you won’t have a game to play at all… I wonder if this supposed ranking system for Halo 4 will fix your issue somewhat.

  5. CUJO says:

    Great article. You’re absolutely right about what makes the game fun. I regularly play the game with my buddies in custom matches because everyone is there for the same purpose. Being competitive with your friends is different, as I’ve never lost to my friends and hated my life because so. I don’t like playing objective games online without my 4 or 5 buddies because it turns into a game where I’m the only one touching the flag over and over, and everyone else on my team shoots me, blows up my hog, runs past the flag as if it wasn’t there and essentially play Slayer. These people that goof around and try to turn every gametype into a deathmatch is what makes this (and any) games unbearable. I know from experience that playing custom games online, and the occasional LAN party makes all the difference in the world. I’ve found that H:CE, H2, H3, H:Reach, and H4 are loads of fun when you have your crew, but I’ve found myself hating the games when that’s not the case. I agree with some people that the loss of a real ranking system is what’s turn the games into a mess of explosions with no direction or teamwork. If you have something to lose, you attempt to play as a team.

  6. H2O Camper says:

    My biggest issue with Halo is there is no longer an incentive to win. That’s not just 343′s fault however. It began with Reach. When you have a ranking system that’s based on credits that are earned regardless of whether you win or lose, you’ve essentially taken away the incentive to win. Sure you earn a bit more credits with winning, but even if you lose every single game you play, you’re still going to continue to rank up.

    I understand why both Bungie and 343 went with these systems, but I think they made a huge mistake.

    I’m sure everyone remembers the social playlist ranks that Bungie eventually introduced in Halo 3. I thought that system was perfect for social games. You only earned ONE credit, but still if you lost, you earned nothing and didn’t advance towards ranking up. That was all the incentive players needed to actually play to win.

    At least in Halo 4, the length of a game doesn’t seem to account for how many credits you earn as it did in Reach. 343 did get that right.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the CSR thing works in Halo 4, once it is released. If it proves effective in returning that incentive to win, I’d love to see it implemented in all playlists.

  7. RC Master says:

    Nah, it’s not about popularity, it’s all about design IMO. See, ME3 and Battlefield are actually just better designed MP experiences than CoD or Halo.

    For all 343i’s talk of making it ‘fast-paced’ and ‘focussed’ Halo 4 often just devolves into a chaotic mess. Slayer is actually a horrible gametype for guiding players into the game. Especially without respawning power weapons, there are no obvious positions of control, no in-built strategy suggestions. So of course players are distracted and unguided and turn to griefing or goofing off to find fun. Same with CoD – it’s just chaos or epic camping.

    Whereas Battlefield? The core of Battlefield (Rush and Conquest) is pure objective-based. If you’re on defense and just sitting back and killing – whereas that would utterly break most of Halo’s objective gametypes – you’re actually helping your team by keeping the enemy suppressed and lower their reinforcement tickets. On attack you’re keeping the enemy suppressed so your teammates can move in for the objective.

    The most you can really do to your teammates is take a vehicle they want – but then they can usually just hop in a side seat and benefit by association from any of your success too. It’s not perfect, but Halo and CoD could learn a lot from BF’s gametype design. Much of their success is, IMO, to do with nailing the core mechanics and then iterating well on them. Lots of the pieces of design around that range from poor to exploitative.

    In Mass Effect 3, though I abhor the uber-random distribution of weapon/mod upgrades, everything is team-focussed. You’d rather have a weak 2nd, 3rd and 4th than none at all. Rewards are distributed equally amongst the team at the end, and damage done is awarded well in scoring – so there is no ‘kill-stealing’ to speak of. The team fails, and the game ends early and any side-fun you were having messing around ends to – so at least at certain points in the game you have to pay attention. Whereas in Halo, if you ignore the objective or don’t really try for it (even in slayer) the game just goes on LONGER => more time to dick around. (see also: Grifball)

    So it’s all design.

  8. petetheduck says:

    I generally avoid playing competitive matchmaking alone. There have been rare occasions where I’ve given Team Slayer a try by myself and have actually met up with good players in the game, and we stuck together and played multiple games as a group… but what is that? That’s basically playing with friends.

    Team games are just, well, more fun with a team. I think that is their nature. If I’m alone, I’ll generally stick to FFA games like Flood. I’m not sure that there is a way for designers to make a team game that can function in spite of the misbehavior of individual players. Perhaps putting more support into FFA experiences will help make sure, whether you have friends or not, you’ll have something fun and worthwhile to play in matchmaking.

    Oh, and quack quack.

  9. Despite being a long time casual gamer, I really haven’t gotten into multiplayer before Mass Effect 3. And I love that so much, I have yet to finish the campaign.

    Part of what appeals to me about ME3 is the sense of relying on your teammates for objectives and I agree that popularity is a problem, but team work can also be built into the structure of the games.

    I haven’t played too much of Halo 4′s multiplayer, and my MP experiences are pretty limited. But ME3′s whole structure is designed to be difficult to do unless you help teammates out. When 3 of us are escorting a downed drone to its upload point, I shake my head at the Krogan running around shooting everything dozens of yards away: doesn’t that player realize if we fail at this, the match is over?

    Those moments seem rare (I’m typically a Bronze or Silver PuG match player). And I don’t think PvP games are a bad form of gaming: but game structures play a huge role in shaping the experience

  10. I totally agree with this (It almost felt like reading my own mind). It’s true, I’ve been a fan of halo since 2002, and I couldn’t help but feeling bothered when I started to realize that, despite it’s many “Improvements” in all aspects of the game, Halo (And CoD as well, I won’t deny it that I have played and enjoyed the series) have been trying to appeal to a high amount of players. Something that really saddened me was the mentality of younger players (As a student, I can totally confirm this:); When I asked them why didn’t they like Halo, was because “It’s just aliens and stuff”. And even worse; “It’s annoying, you have to shoot players and YOU NEED TO TAKE DOWN THEIR “SHIELDS”, IT’S RETARDED”. And I could almost feel Vi telling me “Just punch his face already”. The thing is; many players these days only focus on the Multiplayer, rather than the actual game, and these “Multiplayer-Only” players are the ones who just want things simple and easy. Therefore, it could be say that they’re “Forcing” or at least “Leaning” the Developers into creating an easier, player-friendly environment, rather than a challenging one. On the other hand, we must understand that developers need to sell games in order to sustain themselves, the company, and the franchise. But it’s a matter of finding that “Balance”, to call it that.

    I Love Halo. It’s been with me as a child and I’ve been there to see it grow, almost like a little brother. And I do have my hopes in 343i, and that’s something that only they can change. But I won’t deny that I’m a little worried about it’s future, and the future of other video-game franchises as well. There are many games (Like Marathon) who are real pieces of art, but sadly they’re not as revered as they should. Whether it is due to lack of publicity or something else, some people just tend to lean towards the easiest game, rather than the better one, in terms of actual videogame planning. And with that, a short note about “videogame planning” (I totally made this by myself 4 seconds ago anyways)

    “When first developed, videogames were meant to distract and offer enjoyment to the user. As technology advanced and improvements were made, another “Stage” was achieved. Videogames passed from being an object of simple leisure, to becoming a way to tell a story, to inmerse the user into a different universe. It passed from being a “Board Game” to a “Novel”. It gave the oportunity to live a tale, beyond simple written words, and eventually, given the proper circumstances, It could turn into something better. That is, if they don’t use Shakespeare’s works to make origami figures to entertain the children until they rip them to pieces, naturally.”

    • The Wach says:

      Nice article and I completely agree.

      However, why don’t we all stop complaining and just add each other’s gamertags so we can all play Halo together? That would solve the problem right there.

      Cheers,

      The Wach

      • Owen Spence says:

        I agree. Shoot me up on Xbox anytime at The ODST Ro0kie, and let’s kick some ass on the Halo servers. Maybe play some Halo 3. Try to repopulate it. It’s just it makes me sad. How, it used to be such a great game, and it still is, but, to paraphrase The Librarian, Halo 3′s time has passed. It’s so sad. Now, all these new people have come, who think that Reach is the only good Halo game. But, in reality, is SUCKS! JUST FREAKIN SUCKS! It was so much of a disgrace compared to Halo 3. And Halo 4 has some problems too. Especially the campaign. My best friend, c1284halofan, had a great idea for Halo 4. He said, “What if Master Chief got captured, and then the Arbiter saved him.” He had an ENTIRE plot and everything. And that was just the basics. Also, the Campaign of Halo 4 has NO replay value, with Halo 3, it’s like, “Hell yeah, let’s play the campaign on legendary.” But in Halo 4, it’s like, “HELL NO, I don’t ever want to play the campaign on FRICKEN LEGENDARY.” Also. In Halo 3, every kill felt like a huge achievement.. But, in Halo 4, it feels like, “oh, look, I got a kill.” Also, Master Chief just doesn’t feel like the badass he used to be. Like, remember that moment in Halo 2, when Master Chief jumped out of the ship, and blew up the cruiser? That was BADASS! Now, the most awesome thing Master Chief does is just sit there, and sleep in a Cyrotube. I mean, I could just ramble ON AND ON, about what a FREAKING amazing game Halo 3 was, and how much the new Halo, with all the noobs, sucks. So anyways, hit me up at The ODST Ro0kie. Wake me, when you need me.
        -The ODST Ro0kie

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