I should preface this with the reminder that, although I’m a gamer, I’m not a gamer gamer. Games are a hobby to me, not a lifestyle, and even given that fact I spread my attention among numerous varieties of games: board, card, role-playing, war, video, computer, etc. I certainly have my favorites and plenty of experience, but I’m not a professional tournament player and I’m only recently learning of the history and politics of each genre.
That being said, I’d like to use my own years of observations to discuss a problem generally specific to team player-versus-player video/computer games. Most of my experience with PvP originated with MMO PvP and (later) MOBAs. FPS games were always a bane to me and, while I didn’t suck per se, I definitely struggled with the first-person view and reacting to my environment. Even then, the problems I faced appear common to all styles and based on a singular type: team versus team PvP.
What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a great disparity in matches that can make PvP really frustrating (and generally off-putting). You queue up or login, get placed with a random group, and end up facing a team that doesn’t just defeat you… they destroy your team. We’re talking to the point you can’t even attempt anything without being sniped, ambushed, ganged up on, etc.; sometimes you can’t even respawn, as the other team pushes you back to your home base.
Now, I’m not saying that the occasional occurrence of above is unfair. Supposedly the random mechanics mean you’ll face superior opponents as often as you face equal or inferior ones. The problem is, those random mechanics don’t seem to work and you often find yourself facing utter obliteration game after game after game. After a while, you wonder why you’re even trying this when you don’t even get to play, instead spending more time waiting on respawn than actually in the game.
Of course, there’s always people who’ll fall back on the old ad hominem: “l2p noob!”. That fallacious remark holds no water because A) it presumes that you don’t know how to play and B) it presumes that winning was solely contingent on you. Given that when I join pre-made groups of friends I often do much better (or even carry entire matches), I find no validity to that attack on my skill. Instead, I believe the fault is the matchmaking mechanics of the games themselves.
The problem arises with pairing a person with low-skilled teammates and/or forcing them to face high-skilled opponents. Worse is when it’s a pick-up group of random players versus a pre-made team that is likely using practiced tactics. Although many games proclaim to prevent these sorts of match-ups, I see it in everything I’ve played. It might be a fault in the program’s determination of skill, a purposeful invasion of a skilled player or group into “noob territory”, etc… but the problem remains.
My best analogy is comparing this to playing street ball at the local basketball court. You may not be a great (or even good) player, but you can hold your own. You might play with friends or maybe have some friendly matches against others within the community. Your win-loss rate is probably average, with good games and bad games, but in the end it’s all about playing and having fun.
Then you try to go down to the local court only to find another group there. They’re younger, more athletic than you, but they challenge you to a “friendly” game. That’s when you find out you’re no longer playing locals, but in a competition with an NCAA or even NBA team. Why they’re there, on your local court, you don’t know, but it’s the only game you’re getting. So you play and you get your butt royally whupped, which is all in good fun. Except, every time you go down you find that it’s the same team (or maybe different teams) always there, dominating the court.
To make matters worse, you don’t even get to team up with your friends anymore. Maybe your schedules don’t match or they stop playing because they’re sick of being destroyed. The only people you can team with are random people you’ve never played with or simply are too new to the game to know better. You can’t find an actual “friendly” game, as you’re saddled with unskilled strangers and/or always face professional players. Suddenly your past-time isn’t fun anymore, and you either give it up or suffer every time you try.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying professional play is the problem. These games are often based on those players and an “average” player like me isn’t as important. What I’m saying is, I shouldn’t be forced to play against highly-skilled players or teams just to enjoy a game. There should be an option for me to adjust my matchmaking so that I (or my team) only face those we want to play. I shouldn’t go down to my neighborhood court and find I’m stuck playing against the Miami Heat every single time.
My recommendation for these games is to refine the matchmaking and/or give more control over to the player. Make sure people are ranked by a variety of factors, like time played, win/loss ratios, experience/stats (if used), etc. Let players choose whether they’ll face pre-mades (or even how many people pre-teamed they’ll accept in the opposition) and the maximum (or minimum) ranking of teammates and opponents. Create modes that are only for new or intermediate players, so they know they can log in and not be destroyed. In other words, let the neighborhood kids play on the community court and the NBA teams play on the professional court. If someone wants to agree to a mismatched match-up, it’s up to them… not some poorly designed random matchmaking.
If you do this, you won’t find as many frustrated players who just give up on these games. They want to play too (which means more money for the game companies) and they shouldn’t be put off because they have no chance at a fair match. Everyone wins when there’s more players, and those that want to “graduate” to a harder level should have that freedom… just as those who don’t should be allowed to stay at the lower experiences.