Experienced Points

Experienced Points
It's the End of the War as We Know It

Shamus Young | 13 Nov 2009 21:00
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5. Games Will Be Smaller

The typical residential connection just doesn't have the upstream bandwidth to support large player counts. Infinity Ward is saying that the largest possible game will be eighteen players total, which is significantly lower than what dedicated server games can offer. And even that figure is probably an overly optimistic best-case number. I'm guessing the average PC setup isn't going to be able to gracefully handle games that large.

Some people have said they prefer smaller player counts, which is beside the point. No dedicated servers means an end to the huge player counts of the past. (Which are 24 players on the low end, and go as high as 50-ish.) There has always been the option of a smaller game, and some people do indeed choose a more intimate experience. But now the choice is being taken away and it's small games for everyone, willing or no.

6. Unfair Advantage

Since one player will also be the host, this means one player will be much, much better off than everyone else. One person will have a zero-ping experience, and everyone else will have a high-ping experience. This leads to a strange perversion: As host, the worse your connection is, the better your experience will be. The more lag in your line, the more everyone else in the game will lag. You will always retain the advantage of the seamless, zero-ping experience, while everyone else stutters around viewing the world as it was a half-second ago.

This actually creates an incentive for people to be bad hosts. And linking back to the problem with cheaters: It's easy to spoof your system stats to try and convince the matchmaking service that your machine is the "best" host.

7. No More Mods

Did you know that the first game of deathmatch Capture the Flag was a Quake mod? Team Fortress began as a mod, and is now a hit game in and of itself. Same goes for Counter-Strike. Mods have been enriching games for years by giving all of us access to free content cooked up by enthusiasts all over the world. Mods have added to the longevity of games and let people adjust the game to suit individual tastes. They also act as a fertile ground for cultivating new talent. (A lot of the mod developers have been scooped up by the industry over the years; young high school and college kids launched their careers on the strength of their work and passion for the hobby.) All of this was possible because users could alter the behavior of the server.

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A lot of gamers have given the faith-based response: "I'm sure they'll work out these technical details." It's true, there is a solution to all of these problems. It's called a "dedicated server." If these companies are unwilling to give us the standard, tried-and-true technology which is readily available, how much less are they going to waste time inventing completely new solutions to these old problems? They're doing this to save money, remember?

I'm in agreement with the sentiment John Funk expressed earlier this week: I don't begrudge publishers and developers for trying to make money. If the PC platform is too small to be worth the time it takes to give them dedicated servers, then so be it. (And I doubt dedicated servers will vanish forever. We'll just have less games that support them.) John Funk encouraged PC gamers to get over their sense of entitlement. I'm encouraging everyone else to stop acting like this is no big deal.

It's an unmistakably bitter loss for us PC gamers to miss out on multiplayer in big-name titles like Rage and Modern Warfare 2, as well as whatever other games haven't broken the news to us yet. But the market is a cruel mistress and there's nothing to be done about it. The massive layoffs at EA this week showed us the painful price to be paid when companies or divisions can't turn a profit.

What we don't know is how bad the new system will be in practice. It might just be annoying and feature-poor. Or it might be so overcome with lag, cheaters, and usability issues that the entire online experience will be worthless. The only thing we can do is wait and see.

Shamus Young is the guy behind this website, these three webcomics, and this program. He secretly suspects they're dropping dedicated server support for reasons other than the ones that have been offered.

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