Here's What I Think (Online Play)
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A lot of people think online gaming is fantastic. Here's what I think: THEY'RE WRONG. Before you get all fired up and send me emails like "U R a st00pid n00b and u r gAy" let me explain myself. I think the concept behind online gaming is great. When you get older you typically find yourself with fewer and fewer people to play games with. Some people decide they'd rather have "jobs" and "wives" rather than sitting around playing Halo 2 after they get off from their jobs at 7-11, leaving you with two options if you want to play a competitive game: play against the computer, or start playing online games. Since 95% of the time playing against the computer sucks because of rubber band AI, you putting it on easy because you don't want a challenge, or the game deciding there's no way in hell you're winning that particular game or race, getting online is really the only option for real competition - in theory.
In theory you can get online and quickly find someone of your skill level that wants to play the same mode, levels, and rules as you. In the entire history of online gaming this has never happened. Here's what usually occurs:
- You can't log on because you forgot your password; something that's extremely likely with Sony's ridiculous system where everyone makes you have your own username and password.
- You want to play but you don't want to pay and you don't want to give up your email to get spammed.
- You don't have any friends online to play with. Your buddies can't leave the house because they're married, and now they can't even get online to play games? Inconceivable!
- You try to find a match but all the rooms are full.
- You try to find a match but all the rooms are empty.
- You find a match but morons keep entering and exiting the room like it's on fire, and you never get enough people.
- You find a match but you get kicked out of the lobby because you're not cool enough.
- You find a match but the host just sits around and never starts it.
- You start a match but nobody wants to play your reindeer games and you just sit there alone and bored, wondering why you never finished college and how you're going to pay next month's rent.
- You can't talk to anyone because the game doesn't support a microphone or keyboard and you'd sooner rip your finger nails off than you would type messages with a controller.
- You can't talk to anyone because you are the only one with a headset, or the headset doesn't work (I'm looking at you SOCOM).
If by chance you are able to get a game started, the pain is just beginning. Here's why:
- Lag: You can't shoot anyone, you can't hit the ball, you can't avoid driving into walls...it's a killer.
- Kids: No pubes = No online play. If you're under the age of 14 you shouldn't be allowed to play online. There are no exceptions. If you're over the age of 14 and there's a chance I might hear your mom yell at you for not cutting the grass, cleaning your room, or doing your homework, you shouldn't be online either.
- Cheaters: Nothing says I am better than you than "I'm better than you when I use cheat codes, exploits, and hacked games." One moron can ruin the experience for a dozen and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot you or anyone else can do about it.
- Morons: Racists, bigots, wannabe rappers, mouth breathers, singers, screamers, people that think you want to hear their music in the background...
- Team killers: You can't kill anyone on the other team so you're going to kill your teammates? Thanks. Die.
- Snipers: Wow, you can sit still and shoot people in the head. Before I forget, let me thank you for helping defend the base, planting that bomb, and capturing that flag. What's that? You sat in the corner and shot at people that had just spawned? Thanks for nothing.
- Quitters: Losing a race, game, match, or round? Quit, it's that easy! On the rare occasion you're actually winning a game, you'd better be prepared to not beat the other person too badly, or else they'll quit. Apparently there is no honor in losing gracefully online. For some reason, companies don't punish quitters harshly so there's little incentive for people to sit around and finish a game that they have no chance of winning.
- Best. Gamer. EVAR. Until I started playing online I had no idea how bad I sucked at games. When playing online I lose pretty much all the time; even on the first day a game is out I'll lose handily. Even if there are a couple people of similar skill to me in a race, we're inevitably matched up against someone that has logged 85 hours in the game and he wipes the floor with us.
- Everyone must win: Since it's so hard to win, everybody has to be the best available character, team, car, or whatever. If you've ever played a baseball game against someone other than the Yankees or Red Sox, consider yourself blessed.
- Cheese: Moving players around to exploit glitches, throwing deep all the time, going for it on 4th down on your own half of the field, using Tim Wakefield with the "guess pitch" option turned off, using all your starting pitchers in one game, and in general playing in an unrealistic fashion.
The good news is online gaming can get better. Really, it can't get any worse, so it can only get better. Here's what needs to be done to make it happen:
- Better matchmaking: If you've won 200 times and I'm playing for the first time, I shouldn't be playing against you. Like I said earlier - they did this with Halo 2, so we all know it can be done. Get off your butts and do it.
- Ban the idiots: You don't have to ban every person that ever annoyed anyone online, there wouldn't be anyone left to play. That said, if someone is reported more than a few times for violating rules or for failing to abide by the rules of common decency, the need to have their account deactivated, or in the case of Xbox Live, they shouldn't be able to go online and play that particular game anymore.
- Even the playing field: Make it easier to set rules that encourage people to choose different teams or cars. Many games allow you to do this, but it's usually a convoluted process and of course, since people want any edge they can get they don't like playing games with these rules.
- Play test your games: I'm not your beta tester, I paid money for the game I'm playing and it should work. I don't want you to find out that you can sit on the starting line the whole race and win because someone did it against me. You shouldn't learn that people can hide in walls because I got shot by someone hiding in a wall. Fix your bugs before the game ships or don't include online play at all.
- It's called a "patch" and it fixes your mistakes: If you do ship a game and find out that it has bugs, get off your butts and get moving on a patch. If you can't patch all of the issues at once, a patch here and there will do. Seriously, I don't mind having to spend two minutes installing a patch if it will make my online experience even slightly more enjoyable.
- Better Communication: Microsoft pretty much has this down, but Sony has yet to learn. A keyboard or microphone should be supported if your game is online. If you don't agree, feel free to grab a controller and use your Sega Dreamcast browser to send me an email.
- Smoother experience: It sucks waiting for games to start. It sucks looking for games. It sucks getting online with the PS2. It sucks navigating most of the online menus and lobbies. These are simple things to fix. There are a few games that do these things well and everyone else should just copy them.
I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but I do think I've got most of them. Online play is still in its infancy but developers and magazines (Electronic Gaming Monthly in particular) have been promising this magical world where we can play against people from around the world and have wonderful, competitive games. It hasn't happened yet, but it can. Just follow my ideas.
4/11/2006 Aaron Thomas