Online gaming is more or less the future – that really depends on who you ask. It’s not like single-player games are any less successful (just ask Bethesda Softworks or Bioware) but multiplayer definitely represents a very large part of the gaming industry’s revenue. Hence the higher number of multiplayer/online-focused titles that have emerged in the past few years. However, even as the gameplay and graphics seemingly get better, there are still some long-standing issues that continue to drag down online gaming.
We take a look at the ten reasons why online gaming will continue to suck and while there will be improvement down the line, it would be a miracle if any company could avoid any of these problems from day one of launch.
P2P vs. Dedicated Servers
If you’ve played any Call of Duty or Battlefield game till date, you’ve no doubt heard of peer to peer and dedicated servers. What makes them so different? Simply put, P2P means that players will be connecting to a single host.
This often leads to the host having certain advantages since the quality of connections for various other players will determine how well they do while the host avoids this issue. Dedicated servers are often a solution since they represent a single data centre which players connect to and play from. This means everyone has the same connection quality, depending on their relative distance from the data centre of course.
Of course, dedicated servers are expensive and it’s especially frustrating when companies try to cut costs by opting for P2P multiplayer instead. This leads to issues and frustrations with regards to players skipping around, shots not registering; hit markers for one hit kill sniper rifles and much more.
It should be noted that dedicated servers aren’t always the right solution. As stated above, some players around the world have a better chance of connecting to players close by than to a dedicated server in their region, leading to better ping. That’s at least the idea when dedicated servers aren’t possible. Regardless of which system is used, it’s very easy to ruin either experience with skill-based matchmaking.
Skill Based Matchmaking
Matchmaking always attempts to match players with each other based on their skill, ranking, connection quality and more, thus ensuring the best experience all around. It’s a rather hard system to perfect – often times, matchmaking is responsible for throwing players into losing matches, games that are close to ending, lopsided matches, and so on. To say that a multiplayer game’s matchmaking must be constantly refined is an understatement.
However, skill based matchmaking is a little bit different. It attempts to match players based on their skill level alone, with factors like connection quality and location taken as secondary. It’s not a bad idea in practice but often leads to situations like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer.
At launch, many reported being thrown into games with players from across the globe, leading to shoddy connection quality and laggy matches overall. Though the situation has improved, many players still report issues. This is despite the game running on dedicated servers (or not – this has never really been outright confirmed by Activision or Sledgehammer Games. Various YouTubers have confirmed as much however).
Though it has many definitions, lag or latency refers to a time delay (taken in milliseconds) between one’s input and a discernible result for the same.
To simplify it further, it’s the time delay from when you pull the trigger in an FPS to the bullet traveling across your screen and killing your target. The higher the time delay, the more severe the latency or lag. This is what often leads to split second situations where two players fire at each and the one with the lower ping (which refers to the latency in milliseconds) often wins.
If you’ve played a match in Destiny’s Crucible mode, you’ll often find players with red bars next to their name, which indicates connection quality. There will often be situations where it’s difficult to kill these players even after multiple melee hits and bullets. The worst of this can be observed in Iron Banner, the monthly PvP event where players seemingly teleport across the screen.
Lag can depend on a number of factors but dedicated servers have been known to (mostly) fix the issue.
Micro-transactions and DLC
There have been numerous complaints about micro-transactions and DLC in the past with Turtle Rock Studios’ Evolve being a more recent culprit. Evolve launched with a number of special editions and packs but also offered various character skins, monster skins and much more available as additional purchases.
That’s not counting the additional monsters and characters that had to be purchased. While many could argue that players can simply ignore these additional skins and such, does something so inconsequential really not need to be included in the game? This is different from Dota 2, which also has character skins and heroes but is entirely free to play. Ditto for Path of Exile which lets you purchase several different flasks and equipment with real money but still provides an entire game with its own awesome loot and items for free (the real commitment is time).
Another example is Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s Advanced Supply Drops. These are loot drops that you can purchase separately using real money. The downside? Like normal supply drops, you can’t control what you get so it’s possible that one receives the same loot they already own. While the risks of an Advanced Supply Drop are well detailed prior to purchasing, why did Sledgehammer Games choose to add this particular feature to the multiplayer when numerous other glitches exist? Speaking of which…
Glitches, Hacks and Exploits
Glitches are the bane of every multiplayer developer’s existence because you simply can’t account for the numerous issues arising from real world play. This is one reason developers hold alphas and betas for their multiplayer components but some like to simply bypass the trend.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is probably the biggest culprit, featuring tons of game breaking glitches and matchmaking issues that rendered nearly unplayable even months after launch. From team killers to long matchmaking times to parties being split up, Halo MCC served to damage the franchise significantly upon its release (though recent patches have improved things considerably).
It’s the hacks and exploits which truly propel a game’s glitches from annoying to controller-smashingly infuriating. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s infamous Horizon glitch saw players huddle into one corner of the map and slaughter their enemies from inside the safe confines of a room. Enemy players couldn’t fire into the room but those in the room could fire out. And don’t get us started on the Goliath glitch which has been patched on Xbox One, PC and PS4 but still remains a problem on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Our point is that glitches, hacks and exploits can never be avoided and nowadays, the response time in patching them can seemingly never be fast enough.
I love Titanfall. Even with the initial matchmaking issues, the low active player count (though it’s not that much lower compared to titles like Advanced Warfare on PC) and limited multiplayer modes, I still have a blast every time I jump into Attrition.
However, even I can agree that releasing additional maps in separate packs was somewhat of a mistake by Respawn. If you didn’t have the map pack in question, you were booted out of a lobby for the same. The community was fractured into those who possessed the packs and those who didn’t, leading to a lower player count all around.
Said map packs are now free for all and while it’s understandable that Respawn wanted to net some additional revenue from the same, it’s not really the best idea for a new IP that’s just starting out and trying to build momentum. That’s why we don’t fault games like Call of Duty for their map packs, since the community is often large enough to find a game even if you don’t possess the pack in question. We’re still miffed that Zombies mode could only be purchased through DLC for Advanced Warfare though.
Day One Issues
No matter what the experience, be it Grand Theft Auto 5, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Battlefield: Hardline or even Diablo 3, there will always be issues at launch. The most typical problem comes from server loads. The number of players connecting to a server will always be the highest on launch day for any game which results in outages, slow performance and other connectivity issues.
Grand Theft Auto Online is infamous for being flat-out broken and unplayable at launch. Diablo 3 players had to go online to enjoy single-player, which simply wasn’t possible due to server loads. Destiny continues to have issues with its servers, tossing players back into orbit or the title screen with error codes though it’s much improved from the beginning.
Then you have games like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or Halo: The Master Chief Collection which are rife with issues right out of the gate, including the aforementioned matchmaking and server-based issues. And though public betas would help, they aren’t the be-all, end-all solution for such matters – Evolve had both an alpha and beta test but still faced matchmaking issues on launch day. It’s not simply restricted to big-name games. Ask anyone who played Path of Exile at launch whether the experience was flawless.
The moral of the lesson? No matter how prepared you may be you can’t escape issues on day one of your game’s launch. Hopefully, issues from the past big-name games will go a long way towards ensuring a smoother day one experience for everyone involved.
The spawns in any shooter are of utmost importance. In any game, be it Titanfall, Battlefield: Hardline or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, they will be the sole determining line between annoyance and controller smashing frustration.
Spawn logic dictates that you’re placed a ways from where you die and while some hardcore players memorize the spawn locations on a map, thus “trapping” enemy team members as they continue spawning there, you should still be provided a number of areas to respawn at.
Now picture a game where you spawn a mere five feet away from your enemy in a free for all deathmatch. That doesn’t sound like fun, does it, especially when you’re murdered instantly? Now think about a game where you’re killed and then immediately respawn in the area you died.
This is a problem in games like Hardpoint or Domination where you have to hold specific points to accrue points. When capturing two points, it’s easy to simply restrict the enemy team to the other point and continuously keep killing them.
Map design plays a role in spawn trapping as well – see “Blind Watch” in Destiny – but games like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare continue to have issues with players respawning right in front of their previous murderer and dying again.
Previous Gen Consoles
We hate to say it but previous gen consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 are starting to hold back the potential multiplayer that some games could deliver.
On the one hand, there are games like Titanfall or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare which have separate development teams behind them. In this way, the current gen developer isn’t bogged down by trying to cater to previous gen consumers. This worked fairly well for Titanfall, though Advanced Warfare players face numerous issues that take significantly longer to patch compared to their current counterparts.
However, at some point, multiplayer gaming will be restricted purely to current gen consoles simply because the PS3 and Xbox 360 can’t handle the newer games coming out. Some new graphical features added to Grand Theft Auto Online outright skipped the PS3 and Xbox 360 (not to mention first person mode only being available on the PS4 and Xbox One).
Bungie famously talked about how if not for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Destiny would have been a significantly larger game than it is now. In fact, Destiny on previous gen consoles isn’t even the most ideal experience just by judging the time with loading screens and changing equipment.
While both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have the largest audiences right now, developers will need to stop trying to cater all audiences at once, thus lowering the potential scale of a game, sooner or later.
Weapon, Character and Class Balance
No matter which multiplayer game you play, there will be criticisms of balance regarding some weapon or another. One could argue that in the case of a loot-based game like, say, Destiny, better guns help players in PvP. There is the issue of skill though – a good gun can only do so much if the wielder doesn’t know what he’s doing – but you’ll often see people complaining about the OPness of Thorn and The Last Word.
Then there are weapons like Titanfall’s Smart Pistol which has been routinely criticized for the lack of skill required to use it. The same point again comes up – it helps decent players get kills but can become a monstrous tool in the hands of great players.
However, most issues of balance are far more cut and dry. Evolve’s Wraith felt just plain broken, easily overwhelming Hunters in the beginning. Destiny’s auto rifles were thought to be receiving a slight debuff but were ultimately nerfed into oblivion. Don’t even get us started on the complaints surrounding weapon changes in Call of Duty or changes made to character classes in World of Warcraft.
As a player, it sucks to have to re-adjust your play style each time a new patch comes out. It’s also annoying when your overall skill is thought of lightly simply because of the weapon you’re using. At the end of the day, regardless of changes made, it will be impossible to keep everyone happy…and the lengths they go to express that happiness really do put a damper on multiplayer at times.