Why Can’t Developers Get Multi-player Gaming Right?

Why Can't Developers Get Multi-player Gaming Right?

Online multi-player gaming has, for me, completely eclipsed the single player experience so much so that it takes a rare gem such as God of War 3 to pull me away from my buddies on the virtual battlefield. That said, nearly every multi-player game I play has some kind of bizarre aspect built into it for no apparent reason other than to make it a pain in the ass to enjoy. Now I’m not talking about game-play mechanics here or unbalanced maps. I’m talking about design choices built into the multi-player setup – let’s look at some examples.

Why Can't Developers Get Multi-player Gaming Right?

Battlefield Bad Company 2:

When I first fired up the multiplayer on BFBC2 I was instantly reminded of Killzone 2 by the 4 man squad layout. This in itself is a bit of a chore as I would prefer to have the option to have all my online buddies in the same squad, but BFBC2 takes the limitation of the 4 man squad idea even further. Not only are you limited to a 4 man squad but you are also limited to a 4 man party. Furthermore you are not given the choice of which game you wish to join from a server list. This becomes a problem when you have 5 or more of your buddies online and you wish to play together – the first 4 party up and number 5 gets left on his own, the party of 4 get assigned to a game by matchmaking but that game dosn’t have any spare slots left for number 5, you leave that game to find another with a spare slot for player 5 but the matchmaking just assigns you to another game with only enough slots for your party. What on earth made the developers think that this was an ideal setup for multi-player? At least Killzone 2 had a server list so you could choose a game with a low player count and then let it fill up with your buddies.

MAG:Why Can't Developers Get Multi-player Gaming Right?

On paper MAG should have been a clan’s wet dream but in reality it fails to hit the multi-player sweetspot. MAG‘s entire selling point is its 256 player online games and before the game’s release the PS3 forums were on fire with talk of clans forming alliances or joining into “super-clans”. Upon release such talk was quickly squashed by the reveal of an 8 man party system with no option to link multiple parties into the same game. Once again the game relies entirely on a matchmaking system in order to put your party into a game so if you have a clan with 16 people in it then you have zero chance of ever being assigned into the same game, let alone into the same platoon. Once again the mind boggles at what must occur within a brainstorming session at Zipper – a 256 player game which is heavily reliant on teamwork that you can only play with 7 of your buddies at one time? That’s genius.

Why Can't Developers Get Multi-player Gaming Right?

Modern Warfare 2:

For me this game is an utter ‘turd’ but what really bugged me about it was the stupidity of its party system. Now this issue may or may not have been fixed now, I honestly couldn’t tell since I traded it in about 2 months after launch, but during the time that I owned the game the party system/matchmaking was one of the worst I have ever seen. Upon launch the party system didn’t work at all, then (after what was to become the first of a steady stream of patches) you would party up only for the game to split you up between opposing teams, finally after each game MW2 forced you to party up again. This was appalling, even more so when you take into account that the game was built from the pre-existing, fully functioning multi-player setup of COD4. Then there’s those times when you are sent into completely different matches by the matchmaking system, defeating the purpose of ever partying up.

So, In Closing:

What do I want from a multi-player game? I want a game with a fully functioning, glitch-free party system. If the game allows 24 players in total then I expect to be able to make a party of at least 12 with the option of making private games for the full 24. I want a server list where I can choose for myself where I want to play rather than being told where to go by some authoritarian matchmaking system. Finally, I want a decent clan system where people have to apply and be accepted rather than just having a 3-4 digit clan tag that anyone can change on the fly. We aren’t talking about some ridiculously hard to code features here, these are basic things that every game should have in order to make a for a smoother multiplayer experience – am I asking too much?

Join the Discussion

  • I’m gonna go ahead and say online gaming rules. Party systems have really been a serious let down for a long time now and these are some prime examples of game design gone horribly wrong in this particular feature set. Why would you ever create a game with so many players as 16, 32, or even 256 and then limit the parties to groups of 4, 8, etc?

    I am totally 100% with Rob on this one. It really is not rocket science to have bigger amounts of friends joining up together, it has been going on in the PC gaming world for longer than online gaming has existed in the console realm.

    Looks to me like maybe everyone is playing catch-up still to the old concepts…

    MAG was the worst offender. Talk about a let-down:


    • D.Vader

      If you guys want a PC Multi-player Experience, why do you own consoles?

      This is a serious question and I am not being a smart ass.

      • Rob

        How is what we are describing a PC experience ?

        Multiplayer gaming has functioned this way for over a decade including online games from the PS2 and the Dreamcast so this isnt some kind of PC exclusive feature we are asking for.

        All the PS3’s eclusive titles used the server method – Resistance, SOCOM, Metal Gear Online, Killzone 2….so you see its the party system that is the newcomer.

  • Kenneth

    I also agree. I think these developers take the game all the way to manufacturing before they realize that they’ve made some major omissions. But couldnt this all be remedied with some type of patch? so that that makes you feel as though they truly are oblivious to the wants of the fans

    • Or that they don’t want to give you anything actually of value in a patch. Just trash they can whip up in a short time of light work and things they should have already had fixed.

  • Greenpanther

    I have always thought the same: there is always one part of the party system that is messed up. I love BF:BC2 but the 4 person limit is a huge letdown.

  • joostin

    Although I loved MAG, I agree 100% on the sticking points. Server architecture should be examined next. BFBC2 < MW2 < MAG, but that is another day.

    I think the game that had one of the better systems was actually Warhawk. You could have huge clans, setup private, ranked, unranked servers…make it dedicated (no player just host) or non-dedicated…you could create a clan match server and challenge another clan, password protect it, etc.

    It was really great, if they added a bit more depth to the matchmaking they added in a later patch it would be perfect.

  • Mark

    Have you considered that they might have tested those things that you want and found them to not work efficiently and to fix them would create lobby wait times longer than you might be willing to wait for. Remember that the largest percentage of online gamers have not the patience to wait for anything let alone a friend to get into the lobby to play the game.

    You say it is really easy to code the fix so why don’t you do it and then send it to the developers to test and implement!

    I agree that getting friends into a squad is so frustrating, even trying to get into a game when you notice friends playing is hard. I believe that a server list would be a great idea but not sure if that has been found to work on consoles. I think that Warhawk and MotorStorm had that system and how it worked out.

    • Rob Bateman

      Mark, how on earth can a server list system not work efficiently?

      Pick a game that fits what you want to play – click join.

      No existing game that you want to play ? – click create

      Its flawless and simple.

      As for me programming a party system then dont assume that everyone you come across on the internet is some inept plebby kid with a big mouth. If Zipper would send me the source code for MAG then im pretty confident that between my programming knowledge and a couple of my mates who are in the industry we could put it together – but last time i checked Zipper stopped accepting code based submissions sent on a floppy disk in the mail.

      So i guess i’ll just have to stick with my hobby of criticising stupid design decisions rather than fixing somebody else mistakes for free.

  • Jim

    If all multiplayer games could be like how Socom 2 was. Probably one of the best multiplayer experiences ever because there were dedicated servers, friend lists and clan support where you had to be invited into the clan. Hopefully this continues into Socom 4.


    • Hey now, that is very insulting! I may be as dumb as a rock, but at least I have the heart of the cards!

      • Captain Spacker

        Silly Kratos, go back to tearing wings off of angels and let the grown ups talk.

  • I am both challenged and culled by your powerful command of the caps lock key. I don’t even know how i can stand in teh face of such a scathing comment.

    Still, i do like to be down with the kids so let me try…


    yup, i still got it.

  • D.Vader

    @Rob Bateman

    I am not confident your knowledge of College Level ANSI C would be enough to create the party systems you want in MAG. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Had you actually been keeping up with developments on these games you would know…

    Zipper did not elect to tie clan squads together because it would have been unbalanced. Making MAG that clan focused early on would be a death nail to noobs.

    How would you like it if your first game at MAG you were being OWNED by 2 Platoons all Miced up under the same clan tag. You likely wouldn’t stay in the game. People leaving games like that presents a huge issue to the game play.

    Furthermore, Zipper has gone on record saying there would be much more expanded clan support within MAG. If I remember correctly clan battles will be possible in the future.

    I suggest you do a little research next time into WHY these games made those design choices.

    You are suggesting the developers are just stupid or to lazy. Often the ideas players have are the same the devs have and when they implement them something breaks or there is an unbalance that needs to be addressed.

    So what is wrong with the server list / server create functions?

    1 – It takes people away from Mainstream game Queues.

    2 – It creates “back alley servers” that cater to particular clans or groups.

    3 – These servers often function as noob traps. Noobs log in to one of these Clan Servers, get owned, called bad things and creates a poor gameplay experience. Poor gameplay experience reflects on the title and the developer worse then a lack of features for people to take advantage of noobs. DICE, Zipper and IW did not spend millions of dollars to create bully servers.

    4 – People creating their own servers sets up an Ownership and Entitlement mentality. Shooters have enough problems with TKing, glitches, cheats, lag, plain ole assholes, etc. Do they really need a clan feeling entitled to do these things? Pop in Warhawk if you don’t know what I mean.

    5 – Allows hackers and glitchers to work and experiment unfettered. At least when you play on public servers there is the benefit of random people being there to witness what is going on and possibly report it to the developers.

    6 – New shooter players don’t understand a server list as easily as “join game”. Understand the shooter genre has been ridiculed for not being very open to noobs and in this day and age of a declining economy developers have it in their best interest for their game to be as open to any player as possible.

    So there are 6 reasons off the top of my head why this feature may be going the way of the do-do bird.

    • Regardless they still should have had separate servers for clans that wanted to do this. There were already people ready to do it and MAG has had a lot of people trade the game or just let it collect dust because of the inability for people like ME to bring my gigantic clan together. Looks like a big thanks for nothing is owed to Zipper for their protecting me from a feature that I wanted.

      • D.Vader

        @Jon Ireson

        Why don’t you re-read my comment, me-thinks you cherry picked your reading there. What you said was clearly addressed in my response…

        Item 1…
        “Zipper did not elect to tie clan squads together because it would have been unbalanced. Making MAG that clan focused early on would be a death nail to noobs.”

        Item 2…
        “Furthermore, Zipper has gone on record saying there would be much more expanded clan support within MAG. If I remember correctly clan battles will be possible in the future.”

        They didn’t want that functionality from day 1. They wanted the culture of the game to be a shared one and not a segmented one via clans but via PMCs. Also people who are not in clans stand to learn things from people who are.

        I have never really had a problem with making it happen with just a squad of 8 people in MAG. One squad makes a HUGE difference. My Squad has won the domination match. Basically getting through to our letters quickly and holding them down with only a little back up from the other squads.

      • D.Vader

        “There were already people ready to do it and MAG has had a lot of people trade the game or just let it collect dust because of the inability for people like ME to bring my gigantic clan together.”

        How many people do you know this pertains to? I mean I understand how you feel, but your experiences are anecdotal, and not representative of the average player.

        Honestly if you can’t pull things off with 8 players then I don’t think more players is your issue, you need better teamwork. I am not saying 8 players wins the game all the time, but often my team wins more often then we lose and my squad is usually in the MVP rankings at the end of the match. It’s because we use good teamwork. Communication is a much more powerful weapon then pure numbers in MAG. A squad of 8 can decimate a platoon if they work together properly.

        • Rob Bateman

          Dude, stop rambling on like you have some amazing insight into MAG and the design choices that went into making it. We all know how the game works and that a good 8 man squad can make a difference but that is not what this article is about.

          What if you have 9 friends online – how good of a team game is it then with one guy not just in another squad, but not even in the same game!

          So what if they made it that way on purpose for their own reason. In my reasoning its a stupid decision, hence the article, and a lot of people are agreeing with me which adds to my “anecdotal” evidence that the game has some design flaws. If you want to go and write an article about how this is the perfect 8 man squad game then go for it but this is about how its sucks that it LIMITS you to an 8 man squad.

          People are getting bored of what the game has to offer. I could use anecdotal evidence like “all my friends are bored of it so ner” or you can simply check out your local game store and see lots of second hand copies.

          Your list of 6 reasons not to use server lists is feeble – hackers ? back alley servers ??? what are you going on about ?

          Anyway we get it, you like MAG. It might surprise you to know that i like MAG too but not so much that i cant see its faults and think of ways to improve it.

          • D.Vader

            “Dude, stop rambling on like you have some amazing insight into MAG and the design choices that went into making it.”

            Well some of us kept up with the blogs, interviews and developer diaries. Some of us spoke to Zipper first hand at E3 2009 about the game. (Guess who did that)

            Take a moment to get your foot out of your mouth.

            You are not the only one that writes for a blog and has industry contacts. I don’t care to get into a pissing match over this, obviously you can’t handle a real difference of opinion and have to resort to telling me to “shut up” in your comments.

            If you can’t handle countering your opinions then maybe you shouldn’t publish them. The internet is not always the best echo chamber.

          • Rob

            Listen let me be clear – im not telling you to shut up because im in awe of you countering my opinions. Im telling you to stop prattling on about how great it is to have 8 man squads and how you always win at MAG because that had naff all to do with this article.

            Im also telling you that im not impressed by whatever knowledge you think you have that makes you think that a limit of 8 friends in a 256 player game is a great idea – i think its stupid and no amount of zipcasts or having a brief chinwag with zipper at E3 09 will change that.

            I couldnt care if the reason they did it was to free up CPU resources in order to help CERN calculate how the universe began or any other noble reason – the fact is for me and my friends list (which exceeds 8 people) it sucks.

            Now if you want to counter that argument then go ahead – intelligent debate is always welcome but rambling off topic bletherings about how super duper awesome MAG is and how you once made out with Zipper, have zero weight.

  • totao

    even though socom 2 didnt have a party system. the best multiplayer experience i ever had socom 2 provided it for me

  • Chess

    They have been getting it right imo. You’re just playing the wrong games. It’s all about Team Fortress and Left 4 Dead; i.e. games that encourage team work and have more depth to it than kill some dudes, capture a flag which we’ve been doing for way over a decade now.

    • D.Vader

      MAG requires the most teamwork out of any game I have played, with the only exception being PlanetSide for PC.

  • Mono

    I hate to be this guy, but given the games you mentioned you seem to be playing MP on the PS3. That is your first mistake. For BC2 we use the 360’s party system to effectively create a squad of 8. Problem solved. Your complaints about MW2 are on the money, that’s why 360 owners turn to Halo for a seamless matchmaking system. As for MAG…why would you ever think a MP shooter with 256 people would be fun?

    • Hey Mono,

      Dont turn this into some PS3 vs 360 fanboy debate because as you acknowledge this is something that affects both consoles.

      Sure the 360 has Halo which has really good matchmaking but the PS3 also has games with good multiplayer setup like SOCOM, Warhawk, Killzone 2, Resistance…we could both go on naming games on either system forever but thats not the point. What im talking about is the current trend for limited matchmaking/parties/squads in gaming.

      And as for MAG then it IS fun, in fact its a brilliant game and a big part of that is down to the massive player count. But again thats not what we are talking about so try and keep your comments on topic.

    • D.Vader

      Mono first off my choice of console is not up for debate, it’s my choice and I prefer to play on the best possible console. 🙂

      BF BC2 runs just fine on my PS3, thank you for your concern.

      MW2 is just as crappy on PS3, thank you for your concern.

      As for MAG it seems you are on who has never played it so you wouldn’t understand. MAG makes everything else seem like an arena match.

  • HeeroBlaze

    What do you mean you can only get 7 of your friends into a MAG game? My clan can get a whole platoon of guys into the same match without any difficulty. You just need to know how to do it ;-). Platoon vs. platoon clan battles aren’t uncommon.

    • Really? This sounds very fun. 🙂

      I am interested, please tell me more about this. Seriously though when the game first released so many people were playing and I tried to accomplish this and found it impossible at the time. Curious how this would work and if it is even worth the hassle…

    • Rob

      How do you do it then ?

    • D.Vader

      Basically have 7 people in your group and invite as many as you can and have them accept at the same time.

      Using the PS3 chatroom helps.

      • This sounds like not worth the hassle if it even works you would have to have skype for this to not be totally annoying.

      • Rob

        So you basically try and cheat your way around the party system and hope for the best that it works ? If thats the solution that people are actually using then it completly proves my point that the party system on MAG is a bad design.