I recently got into X-Box Live (XBL) multiplayer matches in Left 4 Dead and this weekend Call of Duty: World at War.* I’ve been so far having a good time, but there is something missing in XBL multiplayer that I loved in my previous years of PC gaming.
I used to play Quake 1, Unreal Tournament I, and even the first Call of Duty, all on the PC. When you played multiplayer on those games, you would somehow get a list of servers hosting games and choose one based on various criteria, most likely latency, game settings, player population, and even reputation of the server. When you found a game that played well and was fun, you usually wrote it down or saved it as a favorite. This resulted in a list of frequented servers you played on.
Over time, I became a regular on my preferred servers, and I got to see other regular who were around on that server too. In fact, eventually you get to chatting with them and form a sort of gaming friendship (or rivalry). This was excellent as you could play with and meet several other players over time. This occurred in all three of those games I played majorly, and always resulted in clan invites, friendships made, and carry-over into IRC, forums, and IM. Sometimes you could play weeks before finally actually talking with another regular and chatting it up, having fun, etc. Every now and then you would even learn of other servers your friends liked, and thus expand your exposure.
In XBA, you typically dive into the multiplayer games and get thrown into a random game with a slot open, which is likely just an ad-hoc host in a farm of host servers. There are no server names, no preferences, no continuity to the multiplayer gaming experience; no home “turf.” If you want to make friends, you have to do so in the small window of time that you’re both in that particular game instance. And even then, you may not be playing on the same team on the next 3 maps!
Last night in Call of Duty there were over 200,000 people playing, and maybe 35,000 in my game type (Team Deathmatch since I’m new). The chances of me seeing any repeat action from players I’d seen before are exceedingly slim. Even in Left 4 Dead, I’ve only had a repeat player once (notably we both remembered each other).
The way you play repeat games is to friend people you play with, immediately. This results in a watered-down friends list full of people you barely know, friending everyone you possibly could stand to play with again. And vice-versa (considering I still suck, I doubt this is a 2-way street yet!). Even then, you still usually have to join the games as an XBL party or risk playing against them or not at all because their game is full. This can make bad choices in friending people be awkward moments where you’d rather avoid them…
I wonder how clan matches work in this setting? Maybe I’m still missing things in my limited exposure…
Still, there is something to be said about the continuity of the gaming experience and community that forms from discrete servers. It would be nice if XBL had named servers, and if capacity was larger than the named ones, then maybe ad-hoc hosts can spring up for peak times to get all those people looking for a random game. Or just have such a huge pool of “server” names that they never run out.
“Aldaraan #10” is the place to be Friday nights!
* It is already annoying enough to hear 8 year old boys talking with impunity in game, let alone a game that now and then says, “Good fucking job, marines!” I find that many of my jokes and game jabber may not be suitable…