As most of you know, the genre of competitive multiplayer has been rapidly expanding into a bustling virtual metropolis of killstreaks and XP on the current generation of gaming platforms, and despite the huge amounts of online based gameplay we as gamers indulge in, our multiplayer marathons are plagued by a very generic collection of problems.
For those who don’t particularly care for online play, the following list will make very little sense, but those who do like to dive into the world of brutal, competitive multiplayer, maybe some of these will ring a bell or two.
Quite possibly the most frustrating and widespread problem in all of online multiplayer, and things are only made worse when you realize how it is totally out of your control. You all know the symptoms; teleporting, jumpy animations, jerky and sporadic movements, delayed reactions, uneven odds etc.
It all adds up to make lag the utter bane of online gaming. For some titles, you can almost ignore it because you sort of expect it. But when the larger games suffer from the same buggy matchmaking lobbies as lower end games do, it quickly becomes a constant irritation. Fair competition goes out the window as players have to learn to navigate the game whilst accommodating for poor connections.
2) Lack Of Players
One of the key components of online multiplayer is…umm…people. The game has to boast a healthy population of players in order for it to be functional, that’s the bottom line regardless of how fancy the menus are or how balanced the gameplay is. The slightly ironic truth of the matter is that because there are so many games that house multiplayer capabilities, gamers are fragmented across hundreds of titles, all waiting for their lobbies to fill up.
Aside from spamming the market with clunky, poorly designed online play, developers forget that multiplayer is fundamentally differentiated from you regular offline single player experience, in that most gamers will find one or two titles to their liking and stick with them for their ‘online fix’. I still find it infinitely frustrating at how long some gamers take to find other players. But maybe other *cough* games have conditioned us to expect too much *cough*.
3) Non-Functioning Party Systems
That infuriating moment when you’ve finally managed to get your mates to come online and jam with you, and you land in a lobby only to discover not one of your buddies made it in. It’s more annoying than when you fail to connect by yourself because with a party you have to re-invite everyone with each unsuccessful game. Not to mention the completely ridiculous scenarios where each of your friends end up in a totally different lobby, not realizing they are alone. I’m not going to pretend to understand the technicalities of the ‘party’ function, but for me if there is one there, it should work.
4) Unimaginative Maps And Modes
When you consider how the single player half of the game strived to be as unique and inventive as it could, it’s laughable at how bland and predictable the online stuff often turns out to be. Obviously we still have a decent range of online experiences available overall, but a lot of the time, developers will slap on a poorly thought out deathmatch/domination/CTF/survival ready-made-happy-meal of patronizing trash. Just how many ruined cities do we have to run about in exactly? What’s with all the bloody flags? And why are so many developers just playing catch up with each other rather than fuelling creative and enticing gameplay? Sometimes it can feel like you are playing a range of mods on the ‘multiplayer online’ IP, rather than entirely different games.
5) Investment And Satisfaction
Just to touch on the subject briefly; the online genre itself demands a huge amount of time before one can truly start comfortably enjoying it regularly. This is simply because there is always someone who can invest more time into a game than you can, and as a consequence there will always be someone who can completely annihilate you. It’s a kind of gamers gamble, because if you can hack the competition quickly and hold your own online, you’ll open up a world of the most satisfying kind of gameplay. Whereas on the flip side, if you aren’t so hot, you’ll be spending a depressing amount of time down ‘respawn alley’ and feel like you’ve actually paid to be humiliated by some screaming kid.
I should mention that online play is still hella worth your time, and that any multiplayer virgins shouldn’t be put off by this. It’s more about highlighting problems so people don’t just put up with them, and perhaps eventually some of the issues will be fixed, because ultimately they stain games that would be fantastic otherwise. Don’t you think?
If you liked this, you might be interested in a related discussion on online gaming.