Matchmaking and Why It's Broken This Generation

By Joel Taveras

August 18, 2009

For many gamers, the online multiplayer component is (unfortunately) routinely the only mode they play. I must admit on my own account, that I myself did not complete the Call of Duty 4 single player campaign until the game had already been out for almost a whole year. The only reason I even beat the game was because I signed in one night to find that no one from my online wrecking crew was logged in, and I was in no mood to go on and make new friends. That led me to take on the whole campaign in just one night. With so much attention focusing on the inclusion of an online multiplayer component in the current console generation, one would assume that the developers of these games would go the extra mile of having it function the right way. It would just be good for business, because if they do a good enough job, they can release some wallet draining DLC to go with it. Yet game after game these days seem to follow the same dead end road of using both dated lobby and (pointless) ranking systems. Whether it’s SOCOM: Confrontation, Rainbow Six Vegas 2, or the more recent Killzone 2, it seems that developers just don’t take the time to do what one developer has been doing right for the past 5 years.

One of the finest multiplayer systems isn’t from this generation of consoles at all; it comes from the last one. In 2004, the team at Bungie blessed us all with Halo 2, and in the process introduced us to Microsoft’s TrueSkill ranking system, built right into their AAA multiplayer matchmaking. What was great about it was how simple it worked: sign on, party up with friends, kick ass and take names, talk shit, then move on to the next set of victims, all the while going from match to match with all of your buds. With random game types thrown in (a la ‘Team Skirmish’), it was always fresh with never-ending fun (until the standby cheaters of course)

Games these days such as the COD series, Resistance 2 and Killzone 2 respectively, have incorporated their own XP leveling up ranking systems. They allow you to level up so you can unlock more weapons and perks (COD), or armor and abilities (Killzone 2). The problem is that it’s all the XP is good for. For whatever reason, these games don’t let player who plays more casually or just aren’t as good level down. Not only does it make the learning curve frustrating for people who are just jumping in for the first time, it makes it boring for those looking for a challenge. As funny as it is, winning every round 750-150 get’s pretty old. It has lead to my friends and I going pistols only and no scope sniping while playing “Team Deathmatch” just for a challenge.  It’s unfortunate that the XP levels are not an accurate depiction of ranking or ability. It only shows that the player has played long enough to unlock those extras; not that they were necessarily earned.

For example, in COD4, you can get 1 kill per round and play for 5 hours straight, and you’ll probably be around a level 30 or so. Try the same in Halo 3, and let’s see if you can get passed level 3. This is what takes the cool idea of “Prestige Mode” (maxing out then starting over) from COD4, and negates it as a complete waste of time. Personally I think it’s funny that I can go into a game of COD4 as a level 1, 1st Prestige, and make a level 55 gold cross 10th Prestige hate his life and question himself as a gamer. Yet, in Halo, if I’m ranked low, (we’ll say 25 for argument’s sake) and I’m thrown into a match with a bunch of level 40’s, by the end of the match I’ll be in a cold shower, curled up in the corner and trembling while rocking back and forth wondering what just happened to me. This is why those clever guys at Microsoft had good reason to name the ranking system TrueSkill. It’s because it truly does display a player’s (all together now guys) True Skill.

For what it’s worth, Infinity Ward did copy Bungie’s matchmaking system for the most part, and (with all their underlying network infrastructure issues aside, and there are a lot of them) I love them for that. The one main complaint that can be made about COD’s matchmaking (besides the bogus ranking system) is that instead of staying in one room and basically pummeling opponents into submission until they leave, you should be able to jump from one matchmaking lobby to another after every match; they would make an already addictive game impossible to put down. I hope all developers jump on the bandwagon, as the Bungie multiplayer model should be the standard format for ranked multiplayer matches in all games, across all platforms. Oh man, I really hope someone at Infinity Ward reads this before November!

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Joel Taveras

Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.

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