I've come up with a bit of a theory, and I'd love to hear all of your thoughts on this.
Does mass-popularity RUIN multiplayer games?
I've been a fan of multiplayer shooters for 15 years. From Unreal Tournament and Goldeneye to Halo and Bad Company, I love competitive FPS games. In recent years however, I've found myself increasingly frustrated as I play my favorite games.
Over the past couple months, I've hit a bit of a breaking point. Halo 4 multiplayer has become so constantly frustrating, that I flat out stopped playing the game for 2 months (which for me, being a HUGE Halo fan, is unheard of). I thought to myself "343 has ruined everything I love about Halo. This game just sucks".
This past week, 343 was kind enough to give me early access to their new map pack. So I jumped back online with some friends to try the new maps. For the very first time, I played Halo 4 OUTSIDE of public matchmaking. And I had a blast.
Everything about the game felt fun, exciting, balanced, and well designed. So this got me thinking: Why do I find the game so maddeningly frustrating when I go in solo through public matchmaking? And why do I NOT find some other games just as frustrating?
I realized that the answer to both of those questions is the same: It's because of the people I play with.
When I play Halo online, I am constantly angered by the people I play with. Every single match is filled with players who run around shooting their own teammates, ignore objectives, or are AFK half the time. The game barely functions because only half the players in a given match give a damn about what's going on.
It's not just an issue of skill level... it's an issue of seriously trying to play the game vs just goofing around.
When I play Mass Effect 3, Fall of Cybertron, or even Bad Company 2, this trend is rarely an issue.
It seems to me that those games, despite their popularity, are only enjoyed by a more devout fan base that plays because they are genuinely interested in playing, improving, and experiencing each match.
By comparison, games like Halo and COD have reached a level of mass-market saturation. They've become a sort of "After School" activity. Kids jump in and play NOT because they really want to, but because their friends are all "hanging out" online together and that's the only game they all have.
So when I go into matchmaking, only half the people I play with have any real interest in playing the game.
So the question is: does mass-market appeal actually HARM multiplayer shooters more than it helps them? Should developers stop trying so hard to make their game accessible to EVERYONE and therefore mastered by nobody?