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Sep 10

The Multiplayer Tail

There is no doubt that developers of MP games have stepped up the features regarding social connections: friends lists, clans, 3 screen experience, invites, and so on. However, with some MP games having an intentionally lengthy tail – that is, how long it’s still played after release – I find it strange that with all the DLC packs there is rarely an update to how the player interfaces with the game to get to their gameplay.

 

It’s been said many times, but it’s worth stating again that simplicity in design works best. Boiling down functionality to the apex of necessity and applying form to shape it’s consumption. So with multiplayer games, where a player is going to see the same menu screens, click the same options, read the same text HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of times it is critical that the experience is as smooth and painless and entertaining for the player as possible.

 

Quick tip: listen to QA/anyone when they are testing, the small gripes like ‘I wish the OK button was taller’ seem trivial, probably won’t even make it into a bug report – but those are the snags that will also infuriate every long term player.

 

I’ll cite Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as it’s a title I occasionally go back and Team Deathmatch an hour away here or there and thus it’s easy to spot the ruffles in the fabric of interaction.

Controversially for the PC market they went with P2P matchmaking but missed out on the 3 following things that could have eased the pain – and in typical fashion I’ll explain why.

 

Auto-choice frustration

Problem

Players quit maps and lobby’s. I do it, here’s a few legit reasons why:

  • There are maps I don’t like to play.
  • There are players that are cheating in the map (see below).
  • My ping sucks.
  • The players are racist, sexist, homophobic, immature, all 4 combined or otherwise offensive.
  • There are a large group of players from the same clan (ghosting possibility)
  • There are several exceedingly good players and I just want a quick blast and not a complete slaughter-fest.
  • Etc.

Problem is the game auto-selects what it thinks is the best lobby/map for you. Which is a frustration because often you quit the map (see above) and then the auto-choice puts you right back in. And don’t forget that it also reloads the map (several long, wasted moments) and then penalizes your overall ranking because you quit a game in progress. Ouch.

 

Solution

Fairly simple: Remember which map the player just quit from and a)pick a different one to go into or if not available b)a dialogue box offering you chance to not join, with a 5 second timeout.

 

Player voting

Problem

A Player is suspected of cheating by multiple players on the opposing team. Worse still, they tell you they are. You get to watch the kill cam of your death, so sometimes it’s r e a l l y obvious. Or perhaps there is a general consensus that the jerk on the mic should grow-up-or-get-out.

 

Solution

Allow players to press tab and vote a player to be kicked from the game. Quorum vote takes it. Problem solved. Currently the means of combating cheaters is workaround via 3rd party software and Steam reporting doesn’t seem to do squat, it certainly isn’t a deterrent. Community based reporting could also then lead to some additional penalization to the cheater if they are continuously getting kicked by empowering the auto-choice system to pick higher pings.

 

Minimal downtime

Problem

Players have to perform menu interactions in different ways. E.g. a prompt box requires user to say Yes or No but they have to click a choice rather than tap Y or N. Or positions to click to navigate the screen are in non-ergonomic locations.

 

Solution

As with each of these issues, none are going to cause a table-flip ragequit, but each in their own way is like sand in your underpants; Annoying, worse overtime and yet fixable. In this case I suspect it’s just a hangover from porting the console menu system in and given the many, many screens this title has it’s not surprising there isn’t a separate PC specific version. Yet hot-keys are something PC gamers are very familiar with and take a short amount of time to implement and would alleviate some suffering.

 

Conclusion

This post isn’t here to knock MW3 specifically, it’s just to illustrate a fundamental design issue: When you want retain gamers for as long as possible, remove as many irritations as possible and ensure minimal flow and user agency from the outset. [For this reason alone a good Quality Assurance employee is worth their weight in gold]. Then if possible update when previously unseen irritations become apparent.

 

With DLC, season passes, free to play and sequels there are more and more reasons to strengthen the multiplayer tail than ever.

 

Lego hardsuit image by Pascal