The Online Shooter Learning Curve Debate: How Late is Too Late?

The Online Shooter Learning Curve Debate: How Late is Too Late?

Whether you’re a casual or a core gamer, at one point or another, we’ve all fallen victim to a good old-fashioned online ass kicking. And sometimes, it’s not because you’re unfamiliar with the genre, or unfamiliar with the control scheme. Sometimes, it just happens because you waited too long to buy it and/or play it. It’s the online shooter learning curve, and it’s a casual’s worst nightmare. However, even core online gamers fall victim to it.

Warhawk anyone? The 2007 online shooter was arguably the worst game that you could “jump into” anytime after its launch. Within a week of release, it was already too late (if you wanted to actually enjoy it that is). The game, which still has a rabid following to this day, expected players to pick up and master three very different modes of play (Air, Ground, and Vehicular Ground). Once you finally got your bearing with the ground combat, it was time to take to the skies and learn a completely different control scheme. The problem with that was as soon as you even learned how to take off, other players were already locking on your position and shooting you down. Anytime I even looked at a plane I would have flashbacks to Top Gun and in my mind all I would hear was Berlin’s 80’s ballad “Take My Breath Away,” and thought about Maverick and Goose chasing me all around the game’s god forsaken maps.

The Online Shooter Learning Curve Debate: How Late is Too Late?If you need to think of an online shooter in more recent times, you don’t need to look further than Modern Warfare 2. The game, which seemed to have inherited all the MLG “try-hards” from the Halo series, has one of the biggest learning curves to get used to. While I think that there’s nothing wrong with being competitive and even talking a little smack, when you see all of the self proclaimed “pros” running around while making the game un-enjoyable, it’s enough to keep players away.

Even the most seasoned FPS veterans have trouble adjusting to the game’s speed, lack of recoil, and lack of reality, ZING! That’s why they turn to tactics like using the grenade launcher attachment. And you know what? I don’t blame them; how else are they supposed to survive online?

So, while pros moan and grown in the game’s lobby, calling the weapon a “noob tube,” instead it should be referred to as the “pro pipe” as it’s really an amateur players only line of defense.

I have this one buddy who plays nothing but sports titles and Uncharted 2 online (which is also a shooter). When he tried to make the jump over to Modern Warfare 2 he described it as “being too frantic and all the other players being too demanding.” For him, it was constant yelling and screaming at him for not knowing what was going on.

Throughout the process, he brought up a great argument. He said “what’s the point of having these ranks and leveling up if I’m a level 8 and yet the game has me facing off with 70’s right from the start?” What kind of retarded game is this?” And you know what, he’s absolutely right.

The Online Shooter Learning Curve Debate: How Late is Too Late?

It’s because of these broken ranked matchmaking systems that make these online shooters have too big of a learning curve. It’s because of these learning curves that certain players and (listen up developers) potential buyers stay clear from these titles. A month is an eternity in gamer years, and once you missed the boat you feel like you have to wait for the next one. I can easily think of about 5 high profile shooters that I never had the chance of enjoying because I didn’t want to jump in to late and get curb stomped all night. How many have you missed out on? Let’s hear it in the comments section!

Join the Discussion

  • The matchmaking lobbys suck. They are nonexistent. Having a server set aside for people who are of lower skilled to higher skilled players would be ideal!

  • Chris

    Dude, good article.

    I got into MW2 probably about 4 months after its release. Spent countless nights of getting owned and ending up with awful K/D ratios. But i had a yearning to be that top killer in a match, and I’ll tell you what, I felt pretty freaking sweet once i did so.

    I’d imagine that’s what keeps most people playin, being the top gun.

    • I agree with you, Chris. I think that is the same thing that drives a lot of people when they are playing FPS games. They want to be that top-dog gun man who has the killer KDR and are up there on the leaderboards. I always tend to treat every match like I’m really there on the battlefield. May sound weird. But, it works.

      I also just want to add… what is up with all of these people online playing FPS games that either 1) don’t use their mic and 2) don’t work as a team

      I hate playing MW2 and watching as my teammate is hauling balls to the wall with a flag in hand, and there are no other team mates making sure that the flag carrier stays alive and the points are scored. Makes me mad that there is no real team games going on…

      Okay, I’ve stepped off of my soapbox…

  • This is a very common problem and can also mean the difference between people trying out new games and just hating it the first time they pick it up and not giving it a chance. Games like Warhawk suffer from this immensely. Many people would like to buy these games but already know from trying them out that they have “missed the boat” and it’s a shame. In the rare case that they do buy a game very late they wonder why they even bothered and fail to master the title. Many attempted solutions to these problems such as minimum and maximum rank limited servers and existing ranking systems do not work as Joel has pointed out here and really it all boils down to game design lacking in compassion for the beginner or novice of said franchise in place of a focus on the needs of those who will master it during the launch window.

  • this is a really good topic, ive thought about this one. its even worrysome when you first start a game, like BFBC2, and you see all the players running around doing things and you arent sure what the objective is. i think the problem is that the devs see the saturation of the shooter genre and figure that after all these halos and call of dutys that everyone should know how to play a shooter by now. they do little to cater to the newer, or casual crowds.

  • That is one of the big reasons why I don’t pick up some of the older titles. I think it’s too late for me to pick up Bad Company 2 already.

    • Bob

      Yeah, I played BC2 at a friends house recently and as soon as I spawn, I get killed. I was going to buy it, but not anymore.

    • BeaArthur

      Bad Company 2 doesn’t have a super fast pace so you should be fine there. Once you realize how to effectively use each class and which ones suit you you’ll be fine.

    • Chris

      Francois, I just picked up BC2 a couple of weeks when it was on sale at Best Buy – It’s fine to jump in late. If you have any history with FPS’s you’ll be okay. The good thing about BC2 is that there are so many other things you can do to help your team other than have a good KDR – The leaderboards don’t even track it. You’ll be the only one who sees it regularly. It’s a lot more forgiving than a CoD title for the new player.

    • Yeah, it’s completely fine to jump in late. I actually just started playing BFBC2 just about two weeks ago. Fun game. Worth playing.

  • BeaArthur

    Great article with a valid point. I have seen multiple situations (Uncharted 2 specifically) where I was on a team against some level 5 players and I would absolutely destroy them. I can’t imagine that is any fun at all. Getting dropped every time you start to move will ruin the experience for anyone.

  • Mike

    I couldn’t agree more with the author – I’ve been the victim of coming too late to the online scene in multiple games, and trying to work my way to a respectable amount of skill can be really troublesome. I couldn’t agree more that most shooters utilizing a rank based leveling system should really reserve matchmaking to three groups: beginners, experienced, masters.

    Another problem I have with level based rank systems is the fact that it rewards players for putting in time and energy, the former of which I typically dont have a enough of (married, working full-time). It results in players having access to skills and/or weapons that can give them a slight upper hand since I don’t have access to the same items. I would like an option to play some shooters straight up without any perks, weapon upgrades, etc. (remember the good old days when you had to find your weapons and power-ups on the map itself without earning it beforehand!).

    Then there is the Modern Warfare approach of “lets give players killstreaks so they can get more kills when they are already killing a lot.” Ya its gratifying when you dish it out, but otherwise it results in a lack of balance. Its reasons like these that I dismiss most competitive online games unless I have the time to level up, and when more and more I am turning to co-op experiences and survival modes for my multiplayer fix.

  • Red

    This article makes good points, but I think that most console gamers have no idea that there was a time where the learning curve was far more steep than it is today.

    The learning curves today have so much more to do with the nuances of the games, considering 95% of today’s shooters are designed to be pick-up-and-play. Games like Halo and Call of Duty are designed in such a way as to minimize the prominence of aiming and moving ability as a skill, and maximize the ability of shooter noobs to hop in and play. Halo moves at such a snails pace that no skilled player could possibly miss, and CoD only takes a few bullets anywhere to drop someone, making headshots only necessary in a small amount of situations. It is the game’s nuances that are left to make a good player among the best, and the only way to do this is to play the game a ton and learn the ropes.

    It was not all that long ago, back when shooters were based almost entirely on your ability to aim and move (back when shooters were fast), that a single elite player could hop into a room of 11 noobs and go 60-0 without any real issue. It had nothing to do with the game’s nuances, and everything to do with the fact that the games were simply harder to be good at from a skill standpoint. Fatal1ty said it best when he said that back in the day, there were a small handful of players that were in a league of their own, and everyone else got their asses whooped. Games are not set up for that these days because you have to appeal to the mainstream shooter player. And lets face it, today’s mainstream shooter player would get torn apart in a game like Quake on his first day, and never play the game online again.

    Having Halo as a major league gaming game is like having major league tee ball. But hey, thats how it goes. Go mainstream and make it more accessible. The people who consider themselves hardcore shooter players because they play CoD all day would get torn in games that were played when all shooter games were hardcore.

  • I’m not an online gamer (aside from MMOs) and I’m even less an FPS gamer and, to be honest, this might be a big part of the problem right here.

    Sure, I’ve tried them out – I’ve tried tons of games out, from Halo to Call of Duty. Online play is just horrible for new players or casual players. It just sucks. And that ultimately turns people off from the whole experience, because god knows the single-player campaign in most of these games isn’t anything to write home about. The whole point of buying them is for the online multiplayer.

    I’ll stick to my single-player RPGs, thankyouverymuch. 😉

  • sulphury


  • Mikaeru

    I linked to this on the APB forums.

    I quoted the last part. I thought it was very pertinent. I gave you all credits of course.

    Interesting read, what rally WAS the point of the matchmaking systems if it was match making obviously uneven teams. In any game. Why not just let it be run by who’s in queue and let them go at it.

  • sulphury


    • I can feel the love. Gives me a warm, cuddly feeling inside.

    • Calling someone a noob because they prefer to not play FPS games… come on, now. The man obviously has a preference that he enjoys playing, just as you or I or anyone else who comes to the site does.

  • squiggy

    You raise an interesting point, but what if after 2 months 95% of people are level 70? You spend 2 hours waiting for enough noobs to log in and play a game? THAT is just as offputting as being stomped. You need a better counter point/suggestion, imo.

    But things like this are why I love Jaffe’s Twisted Metal comments about the investment of time to get a good weapon can ruin the game. You should have all the things that effect strategy right away. Lazy game designers think making us crawl through a ladder/maze to get good weapons will blind us the the fact that a game’s multiplayer experience is weak and shallow.

    “They won’t get board of using all the guns after 2 weeks if it takes them 2 months to get the weapons first!!! We’re so smart!”

    Gamers think that they have more skills because they invested time to get a gun, but it’s the new gun that makes them win battles, not skill.

  • You should try not to let one bad experience get in the way of your enjoyment of a game. Easier said then done in a game like Warhawk though where people tend to stick to the planes after they are very good at it and simply destroy everyone and everything.

  • RandomPersonWhoJustWantsToComment

    MW2 was my first shooter (other then the some CoD ps2 titles who are at the moment collecting dust), i got it in April and despite the fact that everyone was telling me that there was a huge learning curve and im getting in way to late, what did i do? I played the first campaign level learned the controls and went online, my first game? Let me check here *goes on twitter to check on kills and deaths of my first match* 17K 11D, not bad for a newbie (pay attention noob-callers “newbie” there is a difference). I think it goes between person to person. I just got Transformers War for Cybertron three days ago, its said it also has a learning curve and people not used to third person may have problem, nah i average about 13-15 kills a game (thats a lot considering how damn hard it is to kill in the game and that the goal in TDM is 40), basically learn the controls practice for a while and take it slow, the game aint going anywhere and lets say Black Ops isnt coming for another 4 months, so CoD players veterans or not can play this game at any time and that also counts for all games…except for fucking Warhawk, buy those kind of games the first week or buy it later and prepare to practice offline for a week before playing online. Another thing, dont rush into online too fast. Made that mistake with SSFIV, a series i had never played (was a toddler during SFII’s glory days so dont try to rip on me) and got my ass literally kicked many times…along with a few burns from the ever so many Hadoukens and Shoaryuken.

    • I generally run through the single-player campaign first before I even tackle multiplayer… it just makes sense.

      • Not me, I find myself buying games purely for the multi-player and then checking out if the Single Player is any good later. I can’t say I recommend this if you have the patience then check out Single Player first but I get anxious to see the online action.

        Many times I end up buying a game for the online and then the story mode is better than it.

  • masterlinkace

    well, if call of duty games are anything to go by (and they are generally renound for being the most difficult games to jump in to late) i would say that getting a game too late is just a crap gamers excuse. i got call of duty 4, almost a year after it’s release, for about the first 10 games of playing it, i found it like absolute hell, i had 3 kills in the first 10 games, i mean c’mon that’s enough to send any man off the game. however i soldiered on, got better at the game by playing the campain, and then went back online, and now, even though i am only on my first prestige, i still win almost all of my games, and normally by quite a bit, i mean, obviously i have my bad days, but generally now i beat people who are hundreds of ranks above me. so i think people who use the term “i bought the game too late” should just shut the hell up, get better at the game, or stop playing it. we’re gamers, we play games, and if your not good enough, and get wound up by people killing you, then your not a true gamer.

  • Simon

    Honestly, dying is frustrating. i know that. but if you want to be better, you have to fight against people who are stronger than you . rather than see them as challenges, see them as opportunities. learn from them. but also, a lv 8 against a lv 70 is just dumb .

  • Jakohb Murray

    I think it is a good article, but I disagree with you about MW 2. I recently played at a friends house for the first time. Each match I was consistently the top killer (or at least in the top 3). I am not sure if it is because I play the original Call of Duty and Insurgency a lot.

  • john b

    Remember when call of duty was fun and took skill? cod 1 2 3 possibly 4. People think the military is a good idea because of cod. hahaha nope sorry you cannot have duel shot guns and shoot a m16 as if it had no recoil. Play bad company 2 thats alot more realistic hell even killzone 2 handles more realistic then cod!

  • theDM

    I used to think that the online matchmaking in mw2 was stupid too, but I just kept playing and now i can hold my own online. Although I’ve done (and still do) my fair share of raging out, it really is just a test of patience.

  • Tiber Clybouw

    My personal leanring time lays around a day. Sorry for some but i addapt quit quick. You c
    I always get the game as close as possible too its release, unforntunally, USA gets it over a month sooner.
    so if we want this problem solved, we will need world wide releases.

  • Tiber Clybouw

    My personal leanring time lays around a day. Sorry for some but i addapt quit quick. You can ask John Ireson.

    Warhawk has a big learning curve yes, but that never stopped me to return months later and still battering those pros in the ground.

    I can see people will wish that they split up groups by rank, so the new play against the new and the pros play the pros. Downside, lets assume u originally bought the game get to top rank, quit and then returned, then u end up with the hardcore because u were already hardcore when u quit. So now u returned you will be stuck in hell.
    Sorry but splitting up would be a waist, whats the fun in a game if there is not that much competition.

    1 Thing needs changing, no more killstreak based rewards, this just leads to making the pros stronger and the normals weaker.

    I always get the game as close as possible too its release, unforntunally, USA gets it over a month sooner.
    so if we want this problem solved, we will need world wide releases.

    as last: i would advice people to talk and play with friends and let them teach you tips and tricks. I been helping out who ever wishes since i first started online gaming. The friend eases the pain and the tricks u can learn can help you a lot. When i first started Socom on ps3, the game was brutally competitive. No game i ever played is harder to get used too, but i met a bunch of Americans who reached me some tricks and trust me it helped a ton.