Response to David Jaffe's Twitter Question

Yesterday on twitter @davidscottjaffe wrote:

 What elements do you feel add to a prolonged online life of a console game? Hearing Split/Second community is already dying. Reasons?    

 
I'm fairly opinionated on the matter so I ended up writing for 3 hours and posted it in the topic that was made on the subject on the Eat Sleep Play forum. I figured I'd post it here too.  Why not head over there and let David know how you want the multiplayer in his next game to work.
 

 Perks and Upgrades

I'm against perk systems because it is incredibly easy to break the game and that can kill the community prematurely. It tips the balance in favour of players with free time rather than players that are skilled.  

Perk and upgrade systems cater to players that are selfish. They aren't in it for the team, they're in it for the upgrades. They won't go for the objective if it won't help them get their upgrades. Having a bunch of players that leave you out to dry can cause players to lose interest. This is why standard team death match is more popular in games with perks than in games without them. Once someone has gotten all the perks they'll probably lose interest because they have nothing to work for anymore. Selfish players are also more likely to run their mouth on the mic. 

Upgrades do not have to break the balance. Uncharted 2's seemed very balanced. Most of their abilities were hardly noticeable. The only one that people hated was the ability to see names through walls. The higher level players didn't even use perks that helped them. They used perks that are disabilities. The reason they did that was because they still had levels to gain and the money required to do it was massive compared to the lower levels. The disabilities paid out 4 or 5 times more than playing without them. 

I've played about 800 hours of warhawk. I'm pretty skilled, but I have zero advantage over a new player other than my knowledge of the games nuances. I'm better than some players with 1500 hours and there are players with 200 hours better than me. The only difference between us is how we use the resources and how well we handle the terrain. We all have the same resources. It's just a battle of wits and skill. Which leads to the next section. 

Balance and Competition

What makes me keep playing a game is a very competitive environment. The competition needs to be close. I don't think matchmaking is the solution to this, but rather the design is. I've played tonnes of Uncharted 2, Killzone Liberation, Warhawk, Motorstorm Pacific Rift and Unreal Tournament 1999. UT99 and U2 are 5v5 while KZ:L is 4v4. Warhawk is 32 players, but the maps have 7 or 8 bases to capture plus the air and areas in between, so most of the time there are 2 to 5 people there when you encounter combat. In Motorstorm you are going to end up in a pack of 2 or 3 and either push forward to the next group or fall back to another group. These all have something in common; small battles. You can quickly move on to the next small battle. The fighting genre does this as well. Counterstrike does it. Starcraft is a 1v1 game mostly. The battles are larger and not as quick, but it's still not a complex battle with many parties involved. 

The opposite of this is crowded battles. I hated Killzone 2's multiplayer and eventually stopped for many reasons. One of the reasons I stopped was because both teams would drop their spawn grenades in the same room as the objective and 32 players would spawn into a room the size of an elevator, trow a grenade, fire their shotgun, then get killed by 1 of the 8 turrets shooting into the crowd. The players could not easily influence the outcome of the battle because there was just too many parties involved in the battle. Most of the map had no activity because everyone was in 1 group. 

Battles don't have to be crowded to be unfun. Look at GTAIV. That game is not competitive at all. That mainly has to do with auto aim and constantly being on the radar. Another contributing factor is that you can set the map to be a small area, but you can leave the battle area and explore the entire city. Most of the time you have to search for a fight and run for way to long to get there. GTAIV also isn't a good online game because of the lack of communication. Players without mics can't hear players that have mics. 
  

Support

Updates are good, but they can fracture the community. You can prevent this by waiting a few months before the first DLC. The dedicated players are still playing and will all buy it, while all the casuals have stopped playing by then. As new people join the community they realize that everyone has the DLC and also buy it.  

The updates need to be good. Killzone 2 had 3 DLC packs out very quickly and they were just a couple of maps. People bought them but only played them for a few days. They had easy trophies and not everyone thought 2 maps was worth the price. Guerilla Games had plenty of patches and they listened to the players. Unfortunately players are not designers who think about balance or streamlined gameplay. Listening to players can break the game. It is good to listen to the players, but the designers need to evaluate the benefits versus the negatives before doing what the players suggest. I'm not sure GG thought before they removed spawn protection. 

Burnout Paradise, WoW, Warhawk and many others have spiked their active players by putting out free updates. They also have premium support, but the free stuff came out first. That good will keeps people around longer than a paid update. They are also more likely to buy future updates.

General Design Decisions

The reason I've played a lot of Warhawk is because of the long rank up process and medals. The only rewards for ranking up are outfits and paint jobs for the planes. I believe Halo Reach is also just having outfit unlocks. After my 600 hours of ranked Warhawk I'm still not the highest rank. I'll probably go back and play some more when my PS3 gets fixed. I mainly played for the badges and medals. Those were just goals to strive for that were a real challenge. They required a cumulative stat and an in 1 round stat to be achieved and many of them are required to rank up. 

The rank up process needs to be drawn out. In Killzone 2 I reached the highest rank in 12 hours. I'm still not done with Warhawk or Killzone Liberation.  

I'm a big fan of server browsers. I like knowing how many players are in a room before I join it. I like knowing the ping. I like being able to pick out which rooms to avoid just by looking at a few things like the name, map and game type. I hate matchmaking because it generally looks for ping and because of my location in eastern Canada I often end up with European players that speak French or Spanish because my ping is better to Europe than it is to the continental USA. I don't mind playing with people I can't understand if the ping is good, but I'm never going to get paired with someone that I might become friends with. It also takes a while for matchmaking to find a room for people not in heavily populated areas. I can more quickly find a game with a server browser than with matchmaking. Matchmaking can pair players based on skill. Uncharted 2 does this somewhat. I think rank restricted servers are good ways to get players of similar skill together as long as the ranking system is skill based and not time based.    
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