Where Is Online Matchmaking Headed?

Finding a suitable, relatively lag-free, balanced multiplayer lobby is a task that millions of us gamers worldwide will spend a surprising amount of time facing. It’s one of the key navigational tools in the online universe and it is also one we almost take for granted now. Considering how far online gaming has come since the last generation of consoles, it’s incredibly interesting to see how joining a game-lobby has evolved, and how the standard and expectation has risen dramatically.

Most multiplayer games now will offer a small range of matchmaking types aside from the actual game mode you wish to play. These normally consist of ‘quick match’, ‘find match, ‘clan match’, and ‘private match’; very few titles actually allowing you to create and host an entirely new lobby. The old mentality of carefully tweaking your search filters then scrolling through a 3 page list of in-progress-games for ten minutes or so has been abandoned completely.

Instead matchmaking is largely done completely for us now, and with this sudden loss of choice we were introduced to the veto system: enabling us to vote for maps we enjoy and regain that oddly important sense of control. The down side to this is that you won’t necessarily get exactly the room you were hoping for and it requires a little bit of ‘fishing’ before you can settle in to a lobby, but this is still easier and quicker than times of old.

With emerging issues like connection clashes and game bugs, some titles really struggle to keep a party of friends together through the matchmaking scramble – a couple of your game buddies may end up playing a completely different map to you and not realize what has happened until the match is almost over. It’s one of those problems that developers need to look at carefully – more often than not it is the subtle things that create that sense of quality and polish, and if there is a ‘party up/invite friend’ option then it should work.

Online gaming has burst into existence in all its liveliness over the past few years, and with all these tens of thousands of people populating servers, the multiplayer platform is becoming a genre in its own right; and this evolution carries certain levels of expectation with it. As more and more titles are (currently at least) moving towards multiplayer-centred experiences, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for gamers to expect more than your premium-plastic-box-ready-made-muddle of ‘capture the flag, domination, free-for-all, and team deathmatch’.  After all, didn’t the developers think their fundamental vision for the game was original enough to warrant putting the time into creating it? So surely they would understand that any additional content (like multiplayer) should boast that same flare of originality?

I suspect that features like playback-theatres modes, and online clans will soon spiral into the standardised blueprint for online multiplayer. Look at how many videos there are on YouTube of recorded game sessions, and then look at how popular they are. Consider the interesting discovery of just how many people love co-op/ team based scenarios and experiences.

I think that the online genre is currently experimenting with what does and doesn’t seem to work, and where players want developers to take this organic and sleepless platform. Where do you think we will end up next, and what is most important to you about the whole thing? For many it’s the sense of being part of something big, and the equivalent half-illusion of in game stardom.

Too many non-gamers scoff at those who indulge in the multiplayer genre, without really understanding the complexities, rewards, sophistication, and scope of what it actually is and what it represents.