What SC2 Could Learn From Modern Games (Blog Post)

#1 Edited by ConfusedCrib (22 posts) -

Learning from the Best

As a writer for TeamLiquid and passionate Starcraft fan, I have a vested interest in the continued popularity of the best game in the world: Starcraft 2. Most of the video game world, however, thinks that another game is the best in the world: Call of Duty. It is the undisputable leader in terms of modern franchise sales, game time logged, and growth speed. Before the days of yearly releases and Activision becoming an example of an evil corporation, Modern Warfare was the hardcore gamer fix. From there it became the fix of the casual audience as well, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. A simple google search of “call of duty 4 sales” tells the story, watching as sales passed 7million, then 10, and settling on 13 million sales. Just a few years later, Black Ops would sell 1 billion dollars’ worth of software, “outpacing theatrical box office, book and video game sales records for five-day worldwide sales” (ibtimes). So, Call of Duty is a pretty big deal. Parents know about it, kids know about it, and everyone in between knows about it. Right now, we are blissfully ignoring this console behemoth; rather than trying to learn from it, we are content to keep things years in the past. The purpose of this article will be to point out the things that Starcraft could learn from Call of Duty to create a more sustainable and popular future. Things we could inherit from Call of Duty include, its ranking system, accessibility, its unlock system, and its brief campaign. Please keep in mind that the main reason most people dislike Call of Duty now is for its annual release schedule with little change from game to game; this does not contradict, however, the revolutionary things that this franchise did to take over Halo as the biggest household name in gaming.


The ranking system in Starcraft is outdated and poorly designed for growth in player numbers. Halo 3 was the last blockbuster game release to feature a ranking system based directly on player skill, and there’s a reason for that. When implementing a ranking system, you must ask yourself, what are we incentivizing? Call of Duty’s ranking system, and most games since its release, incentivize playtime over skill.

To take a brief example, I am a rank 52 on Battlefield 3 with a score/minute of 461 and 120 hours played. My friend Zach is a level 40 with a score/minute of 185 (276 less than mine) and 115 hours played. As you can see, skill plays a very small roll in ranking, as I’ve pulled ahead only about 12 levels. Despite not being very good at the game, Zach still feels incentivized to play, only trailing a few levels behind me. The game is not deranking him for bad matches where he doesn’t get any kills and it’s not punishing him for mediocre gameplay. For him, it's not a question of rank going down, he just has to play a little longer to make up for it.

Call of Duty (and most modern games) do this incentivizing of game time over player skill, and this is essential to allowing a community to grow around a game. Starcraft, due mostly to its unnatural control scheme, is already extremely intimidating to approach. When you are immediately placed into a league after your first 5 matches, and can even get demoted from there, that pressure is even further exfoliated. How do players respond to this added pressure? They just stop playing. The vast majority of users take little interest in jumping in feet first to a system where player skill is the main determinant of rank, it makes learning too hard and too full of pressure.

As another example, I was a level 46 on Halo 3’s game mode Lone Wolf. After a certain point, I just couldn’t play anymore. I had hit the level where if I didn’t spend a considerable amount of time and thought trying to improve, I would just continue deranking. So how did I respond? I stopped playing. Now that I’m in masters division, I play less Starcraft than I ever have. My friend recently got promoted from platinum to diamond, and also plays less than ever. Most people do not have the pro player drive to be the best, that's what make the pros the pros. A ranking system based more on time than skill means that you can hit a skill cap, and continue to be happy with your performance.

In the end, most people want playing a game to be a mix of fun with challenge, and rankings based on skill suck the fun out of it, turning the game into homework. When you rank up with time over skill, your rank can never go down, and means that everyone can improve at their own pace. I also want to add here for clarification that MMR would still be the determinant factor on matchmaking, that number (MMR) would just be hidden while a displayed number would be based more heavily on time played.

Rapid Unlocks

Call of Duty is so successful because it pairs its time related leveling system with rapid unlocks, so even the worst player feels as though they are working towards something. Starcraft currently has 5 "unlocks", silver, gold, platinum, diamond, and masters. Most players need to feel as though they are unlocking cool things in order to keep playing. Some practical ideas for Starcraft unlocks off the top of my head are maps, custom game types, and unit/weapon skins. Unlocks for everything from killing a certain number of terran units to defending a certain number of cloak banshee rushes should be awarded to give the player constant feedback. Imagine the feeling a new player gets when they unlock a new missle turret skin for shutting down their 10th cloak banshee rush.

Call of Duty was even brilliant in its execution of “prestiging.” When you prestige in Call of Duty, you get a new ranking symbol in exchange for starting over on your unlocks. The popularity of this system shows two things: first, people really care about their symbol, even if it’s not very meaningful, and second, it allows for an almost infinite number of unlocks, as the player is choosing to unlock everything all over again.

People care a lot about meaningless numbers tied to arbitrary unlocks, and that's not a bad thing. It's something that we need to exploit so that newer players can get into the game. Heck, a lot of people even pay actual money for things like costumes and weapon skins.

Robust Replay, Party, and Gametype Systems

Since the release of Call of Duty, we have had many revolutions in user accessibility, all of which Starcraft seems to have ignored. Replay saving and sharing is a standard, including editing clips and taking pictures from them. I can’t remember the last game that didn’t have a party system with party chat, match searching, lobby hopping, and auto searching into the next map. If games are released now with less than three or four different game types, they are brutally assaulted in reviews for not having more options.

First, a robust replay system is essential for incentivizing trying new things. The throwing knife on Call of Duty is in almost no way preferential to a grenade, and yet many players still use it. Why? It’s so that they can create a unique clip to share with their friends of “oh my god, guys we have to watch this after the match!” The equivalent here is something like planetary fortress rushing. Simply having a replay system in place that has easy to share clips incentivizes doing unique strategies. In Starcraft, the moment is even more exhilarating, as the person who is executing a planetary fortress rush serves as both easy wins and fun losses for their opponents. Everyone is happier with a better replay system of sharing, lobby viewing, and clip editing.

Second, Starcraft makes playing with friends a chore. Once you get everyone into a party you have to search a match only when everyone is completely ready, and then continue doing that over and over again just to play a few games. This system encourages only playing 3 or 4 games in a row before people decide they're too tired or want to play something else. I remember my days of playing Call of Duty late into the night because the next match or round starts automatically, not giving you time to even think about quitting. It doesn't ask you if you’re ready, it doesn’t kick you to an outside lobby after every game, the partys just roll over and the next game starts. Starcraft has a real opportunity to get a flow like this going, imagine you join a game set to a best of 13, mixed game modes, and just keep playing, I don't know if I'd ever get to bed on time again.

Finally, having only the options of 1v1, 2v2, etc., and FFA is almost inexcusable. While these modes bread a competitive multiplayer, they do not breed a fun multiplayer. Where are the fun and different game types? Right now, alternative game modes are completely reliant upon the fans to make. There should be matchmaking for Desert Strike, Monobattles, and Marine Arena, there should be game modes that include all of them, even a mode where you and a friend can play a mix of custom games and the standard game in a best of 9 against another team. Players need variety, and Blizzard has ignored everything but the most basic implementation of the standard game.

A Smaller Campaign

All of the things I discussed above require a large amount of work, and Blizzard is a company with limited resources. In my mind, the campaign goals set by Blizzard for Starcraft 2 have been far too lofty. IGN’s review sums up most reviewers opinion of Starcraft pretty well “It's not a step forward for the genre, exactly, but StarCraft II is still one of the most polished, finely crafted and well presented real-time strategy games available.” As much work as Blizzard puts into its campaign, it will never be what truly revolutionizes and makes Starcraft more popular than other games. People may come for the single player, but what keeps them around is the multiplayer. While most games have been trending towards a 6 hour campaign “sweet spot,” Starcraft 2 aimed for a 15-20 hour length. The problem is that now a days most people don’t want a game that long. Sure, I enjoy having a long campaign because I, like all of you, absolutely love Starcraft; but at the same time, I would never play a 20 hour campaign of Call of Duty, a game I at least moderately enjoy. I’m guessing that most people don’t finish the campaign, and multiplayer serves as a much better game extender.

The way you keep the campaign short and satisfying is simple, Wings of Liberty’s story, without a lot of the arbitrary side stuff (Tosh, saving the colony, etc.), could probably be told in about 6 hours. You’ll notice that the single player of WOL has many of the things that the multiplayer should have, a lobby hub area, upgradable buildings, and unique game modes. I can’t entirely blame Blizzard for a lack of multiplayer unlocks because so much effort went into the single player; I do believe, however, that this is a misallocation of resources.

To Conclude

I know that the Starcraft series is the best series ever made, and I love it just as much as anyone else. The problem is that the game ignores many of the things that have made modern games more accessible and fun for everyone. I’m not saying that we need yearly releases or subscription services, I’m saying that we need to pay attention to a 5 year old game that revolutionized the video game industry. Our ranking system needs to change, we need unlocks, shorter campaigns, and a more accessible system. I want Starcraft to be the leader of E-sports, but it needs to be a popular game in order to that, and in this case, we have to learn from the best.

Some practical considerations:

1. In terms of ranking, of course you keep an MMR going in the background, the shown ranking just has very little correlation to it

2. The pro players should still be segmented and ranked in a special way, a special separate ladder once you hit a high enough MMR would be really cool, especially because it would be a surprise if you were good enough to unlock it

3. With a focus on time based rankings, you can still show a win/loss ratio and no one is ashamed, because the focus isn’t [i]only [/i]on skill

4. Obviously nothing gameplay altering can be unlocked, things like weapon/unit skins, decals, custom maps, and certain game modes seem to be the way to go

5. There would need to standards set for professional matches (perhaps unlocks could carry over B.net though, imagine Idra gets a special rage skin or something)

6. Unlocks probably can’t be as rapid as in other games.

7. Perhaps a better AI needs to be built in order to make a player leaving early okay

Thanks for reading! Here's the original post on TL:http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/viewblog.php?topic_id=328877

#2 Posted by jking47 (1266 posts) -

So this is a troll right? You put way too much work into it, not that funny.

#3 Posted by Kidavenger (3847 posts) -

I remember the good ol days of Starcraft 2, hopefully they will put it up on GOG so I can get it working on my new computer...

#4 Posted by Thule (721 posts) -

Bravo, I can respect the amount of work you put into your troll, unfortunately it's rather obvious.

Nice try though.

#5 Posted by StarvingGamer (8896 posts) -

Is this trolling, satire, or both? I can't tell.

#6 Posted by ajamafalous (12312 posts) -

You come on far too strong for this to actually work. For next time, work on your subtlety.

#7 Posted by ConfusedCrib (22 posts) -

This isn't a troll, it's just about how to make SC2 more accessible to more casual audiences to pull people in and get them to play longer. It's no secret that the popularity of Starcraft is limited, this is just about trying to expand it.

#8 Edited by Ben_H (3549 posts) -

Apparently no one other than me recognizes you and obviously nobody actually read the post.  I post and read on TL so your name obviously rings a bell. This is not obviously not a troll for anyone who reads TL because we talk about this all the time.
This is definitely all accurate. We need to keep people interested. As long as gameplay isn't affected, unlocks are just fine. The special edition thor already shows that this tech is already possible.
For GBers who don't know what ConfusedCrib is talking about, portions of this topic have been very popular topics to discuss on TL. 
http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=311533  (This is about how people are not playing ladder anymore because there is not really any incentive to other than play the game, no unlocks or anything, so people stop playing) 
http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=308482 (This is a discussion about the UI, how it doesn't really allow for a social experience, how chatrooms are awful, custom game matching is a complete mess) 
His discussion about matchmaking for custom games is completely accurate.  There are certain custom maps that are highly likely to be more popular than basic 2v2, such as Marine Arena and Nexus Wars, yet to set up games for those maps is a nightmare and takes a really long time. Likewise, chatting with friends is a pain as you can either do individual chat, which sucks for groups, party chat, which maxes out at 4 and thus is useless for teams or clans, or chat channels, which can be a pain to manage as anyone can join them which can cause issues. Even one of the head GSL people has stated that the game feels empty and that it is too difficult to interact with people.
For pro players, it definitely makes sense for them to get a more exclusive ladder, it's painful watching the top pros stream and get matches with vastly inferior players and crush them. It produces almost no good games and kind of forces pros away from ladder if they want to practice, which is definitely not what Blizzard wants. 
One thing I think should be implemented is the ability to leave a game within the first minute or so without fear of penalty. This would solve two problems, the first being that you can leave if can't play the game (something comes up etc.) and the second is that this would discourage portrait farmers as they can't just autoleave games to keep their MMR low. 
I still wish they would post MMR but that isn't likely to happen.

#9 Edited by Lysergica33 (571 posts) -

... Not every game needs to be a juggernaut on the scale of Call of Duty and to become as such Starcraft would inevitably have to dumb itself down even further. I'm a terrible, terrible Starcraft player (I quit playing MP, very, very quickly after feeling little incentive to continue playing, due to getting my ass handed to me, as your article states,) but it's plain enough that the wealth of tactical options far outstrips even the more complex Call of Duty gametypes.

To appeal to this larger audience, you would most likely have to lose a lot of that depth and in doing so Starcraft would lose what makes it special. Those who are good at Starcraft have very special minds that are capable of processing the information presented in a way that enables them to succeed at the game, and I have huge amounts of respect for competent Starcraft players, and while I'd like to be a good Starcraft player, I would never ask that it is dumbed down so that I may be able to compete. Instead, I move on to other games that my mind is better equipped to succeed in while maintaining my respect for Starcraft and those who have what it takes to be good Starcraft players.

While I agree in some respects about your differentiation between the different kinds of ranking systems and thew way in which they incentivise further play, it's silly to think that all games need to learn from the market leader just because it is the market leader. Call of Duty has its formula, that's all well and good, but that doesn't mean all games need to take on Call of Duty's mechanics and systems. Imagine if Dark Souls took on Call of Duty's ranking system to incentivise further play and to appeal to a wider audience. The very heart and soul of the game would dissapear and playing it would become an exercise in futility. It would be hollow, an empty shell. Its unique experience would no longer be a unique experience. The same goes for Starcraft, in my opinion. Starcraft is a HUGE game, played by many, many people. To become bigger for the sake of becoming bigger at the expense of its depth is the kind of shit people like Bobby Kotick think is a good idea, because it lines their pockets. Us gamers should be celebrating diversity and accepting certain games place as niche titles that are not meant for everyone while simultaneously respecting the finely tuned mechanics that enable titles like Call of Duty to become so massive.

Having said all that.... Kudos for the post. Very well written and put together, I just happen to disagree with the sentiment.

#10 Posted by haffy (681 posts) -

I really doubt he's a troll, the same thread by the writer Confusedcrib is on TeamLiquid. And his points do make sense, don't effect the reason the hardcore SC players tend to want and they just add extra stuff casual players may want. Saying that however, I'm not exactly fond of ideas, but the only idea I actually really dislike is the campaign length.

The ranking idea idea isn't exactly something I really agree with. I'm a pretty competitive person and the league system in SC in my opinion is far better than Halo, COD or BF. I hate the idea that rank is literally only tied to the amount of games played. I don't want to look at another persons rank and the only information being able to get out of it is how many games they've played. I want to know how good they are in comparison to me. Leagues do this exactly how I want. If I somehow I got to GM through a lot of skill and practice I want it to be shown and mean something because it's only the top 200 in each server able to actually gain this.

I can understand how this is a good idea and a lot of players would appreciate it. But why add it to something as competitive as ladder where, I would imagine a large amount of players are looking forward to that meaningful promotion. The amount of threads on the battle.net forums where people throw their leagues in other peoples faces, the "woo I finally made x league" is quite substantial in my experience compared to other games. I think a better fitting idea would be adding a COD style ranking system to custom games, where your custom game and ladder game MMR are separate. This way it would give options to players who don't like the competitive aspect a fun, relaxed and competitive place. But at the same time keeping the a ladder as a more competitive and serious place.

Rapid unlocks. Eh I don't really care about these. As long as the game play isn't effected by these and it's only cosmetic I don't really have an issue with them. It would make sense to add them because people like me won't care either way, and the people who want them get them.

Campaign length I completely disagree with. I hate the pacing of the COD campaign. There is barely a reason to play it again, except to beat it at higher difficulties. In SC it's starting to add some RPG elements which give you a reason to go back and different ways of going back and playing. I mean DA had nightmare solo runs etc, where players would make arbitrary rules and find ways of beating the game that way. The same is said for SC, whether it's speed running, only marines on brutal or just doing weird things you would never of thought. Like beating Maw of the Void by using the barracks call down upgrade and nuking the final objective. I think these actually add value to players just to read, watch and play again for. I could easily go back and play SC campaign and have fun trying different approaches. I really could not say the same for COD style campaigns. They're extremely linear forced paced action games. I don't think it fits with SC at all.

#11 Posted by Kidavenger (3847 posts) -

SC2 is a modern game, change the title of the thread if you want people to read the TLDR because that title starts this entire discussion off on the wrong foot.

#12 Edited by Socialone (207 posts) -

You'll have to excuse me for acting like a snobby hipster, but the first rule of gaming is : the wider the audience, the shittier the game. Hell, this is a good rule of thumb for consumerism in general. Look at the Elder Scrolls, Fable and Dragon Age, franchises who lost their soul trying to be more accessible to the casual CoD/Madden crowd.

I bought SCII, really enjoyed the campaign but quickly gave up on the multiplayer -- hard game, required too much time to properly enjoy it. I still have a ton of respect for that game though, and your ''measures'' would dissipate this respect. Props for the effort, your love for the game seems genuine, we just don't share the same vision for its future.

#13 Edited by Ben_H (3549 posts) -
@Lysergica33 said:

... Not every game needs to be a juggernaut on the scale of Call of Duty and to become as such Starcraft would inevitably have to dumb itself down even further. I'm a terrible, terrible Starcraft player (I quit playing MP, very, very quickly after feeling little incentive to continue playing, due to getting my ass handed to me, as your article states,) but it's plain enough that the wealth of tactical options far outstrips even the more complex Call of Duty gametypes.

To appeal to this larger audience, you would most likely have to lose a lot of that depth and in doing so Starcraft would lose what makes it special. Those who are good at Starcraft have very special minds that are capable of processing the information presented in a way that enables them to succeed at the game, and I have huge amounts of respect for competent Starcraft players, and while I'd like to be a good Starcraft player, I would never ask that it is dumbed down so that I may be able to compete. Instead, I move on to other games that my mind is better equipped to succeed in while maintaining my respect for Starcraft and those who have what it takes to be good Starcraft players.

But it won't lose depth because the gameplay will stay the same. He's not suggesting changes to gameplay, but to the menu system and reward system to make them help make the game appeal more to casuals.  All the unlocks only would change things cosmetically, not mechanically.  For the more "hardcore" audience, this stuff would be useless, but to people who need more motivation to stay with the game, unlockable skins would be an incentive to stay with the game longer (People already go nuts for portraits).  The game already has a large scale appeal from the gameplay (Team games are still huge), it's just that with the current way some aspects of the game are run, this appeal doesn't last nearly as long.  If they fixed some of these aspects, the game would be much larger than it currently is.
Otherwise, all he talks about is improving matchmaking and customs games, two things that desperately need redoing. Customs are completely broken right now and Blizzard has even acknowledged this.  If you aren't already a top custom map, then you will never be showcased or shown on the front page, which basically eliminates the purpose to making custom maps because they disappear into oblivion a day after they are made. 
Edit: I guess most of the people here aren't into the competitive aspects of the game, so they don't really get why we want the game huge. For us, it's all about getting the game bigger, not acting like a hipster and hoping it stays small.
#14 Posted by Slag (5376 posts) -


You have some interesting points although I don't agree with all of them

in terms of ranking, I think you only have considered half the equation. Yes time based rankings give you incentives to keep playing (which I agree is lacking) but they also are a huge disincentive to a person who is getting into the game late, or who has been away for a while. If I buy a game a year after launch and the people at the top have hundred of hours put in already, it would feel hopeless.

I think you can have the best of both worlds by having an all-time rank (more time based) and a season ranking (all skill).

I love the single player and it's why I got into RSs in the first place so I obviously completely disagree with you there.

I totally agree that matchmaking and finding friends in SCII is way harder more annoying than it should be. Although I don't want to play a game where it's near impossible to stop, I like that I can play 3-4 games of SCII and feel pretty satiated. Yeah It's fun to go on 10-2 hour mararthons, but in my experience it causes burnout earlier and ultimately makes people quit the game.

Sharing replays I haven't thought about, but what you suggest makes sense.

#15 Posted by StarvingGamer (8896 posts) -
@Ben_H I read it, but the whole "shorter campaign like Modern Warfare" argument just seemed too preposterous to be genuine. It colored my view of the remainder of the post.

Superfluous unlocks for multiplayer and better ranking are fine, but they don't drastically improve the multiplayer experience. Diverting resources and removing core content from the campaign in order to make people playing multiplayer feel a little bit better about themselves would be a huge "fuck you" to all the people that buy the game primarily for the single-player experience.
#16 Posted by csl316 (10386 posts) -

I believe SC 2's been just fine in terms of popularity. It became the highest selling PC game of 2010 in 24 hours. Damn good reviews and a good mix of single player and multiplayer content made it an easy sell to many people. That's why making the campaign smaller would be a mistake, in my opinion. Heart of the Swarm can get away with it because it's an expansion.

What's key is keeping people interested in the franchise, so hopefully HotS doesn't take another couple years to come out. If it does take 3 years between expansions, and who knows how long before a proper sequel, I honestly wouldn't mind some other Starcraft games to fill the gap. That's what made the end of Ghost such a bummer. As long as the quality is high and the genre makes sense, it'd be awesome.

It could use some tweaks in ranking, matchmaking, and pro ladders... but if you're expecting it to sell 10 million, keep in mind that it's not a console game and it's an RTS. RTS's have a far more limited following than an accessible FPS, so the fact that SC2 sold as much as it did on one platform is fucking impressive.

A game doesn't have to sell CoD numbers to be a huge success. That's an exception to the rule.

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