Guest post by Hydrostatic Shock
Matchmaking services have been replacing server browsers in multiplayer games on PC in recent years. The trend started in 2009 with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, developed by Infinity Ward. This caused a great deal of controversy in the PC gaming community, which led to a boycott of Modern Warfare 2 over the lack of dedicated servers and a server browser, which had been included in the previous title, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The boycott did not result in any changes, and matchmaking services have continued to replace server browsers in PC games.
While matchmaking has some advantages over server browsers, such as skill- and ping-optimized matching and superior accessibility, it also has some disadvantages. One of the largest disadvantages is the problem of community fragmentation. Community fragmentation results from the playerbase becoming divided and sub-divided by region, content access, and game mode to the point that the playerbase of each fragment becomes too low for matchmaking to provide a satisfactory experience to the players. Map packs and other DLC contribute to the problem by dividing players by their level of content access. This can lead to players quitting the game altogether, which exacerbates the problem.
Let’s look at a recently released game, Titanfall, as an example. Developed by Respawn Entertainment, which is comprised of many senior members of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is a first-person shooter on the PC and Xbox One. Titfanfall has the problem of some players experiencing excessive wait times, or even not finding a match at all in certain fragments of the playerbase. A player who is looking to play Capture the Flag (One of five game mode playlists) on U.S. North Central (One of four U.S. Regional Datacenters) without any DLC during off-peak hours may find that it takes an unacceptable amount of time to find a match, and even if a match is found, it could be very unbalanced skill-wise and not fun to play.
Respawn recently released the Expedition DLC pack for Titanfall, which adds three new maps, and two more playlist choices, containing the new maps exclusively, which has not helped this problem. Releasing even more map packs exponentially increases the combinations of access levels, and may lead to further fragmentation as players become stratified by the amount of DLC that they own.
Respawn is aware of this problem, and has attempted to alleviate it by removing two under-played game modes. This sparked community outrage, and Respawn eventually reinstated one of the two modes, and gave an overview of the problem from their perspective in a blog post. They have also recently announced that they will have a ‘Featured Game Mode’ which will rotate regularly, and may help or hinder fragmentation depending on its popularity.
So what could be done to reduce the community fragmentation in PC first-person shooters like Titanfall? One option could be to revamp the game-mode selection system from a group of mutually exclusive playlists, and instead move to system that allows players to choose any combination of game modes to play by a filter system. The goal here is to maximize the potential players for each game mode.
The system would work like this: Player A chooses to play both Attrition (extended deathmatch gamemode in Titanfall) and Capture the Flag. Player B chooses to only play Capture the Flag. With the new system, these new players would be able to play together in a CTF match. Ideally, the system would try to match players with those who have similar or identical game mode combinations. The result would likely be that many players will primarily continue to queue for and play only one mode, but there would now be a large pool of flexible players who queue for more than one game mode, and serve to fill in wherever the system needs extra players, ultimately reducing fragmentation.
This system has its disadvantages, however. It would be more difficult to keep players together over a series of matches, and Player A may get fed up with only playing CTF for three matches in a row when they also wanted to play Attrition matches. It would also probably be technically challenging to implement on the backend.
Another solution could be to change the distribution of map packs. One possible solution is to make map-pack maps free in matchmaking for all players, but require them to be purchased if players wish to use the maps in private matches. Alternatively, map packs as DLC could be abandoned as a whole, and Respawn could pursue other DLC models which do not cause community fragmentation, such as cosmetic skins for titans, or alternate announcer voices. Each of these could reduce community fragmentation and increase the success of matchmaking systems in games like Titanfall.
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