1. Assume the worst about your player base. Anyone who has played online games of any form know that the majority of the people you play with are idiots. Not only are they idiots, but they will do anything and everything to cheat, glitch or otherwise mess with scoring system or ranking system of any given game. You need to proof your game from these idiots long before the game ever releases. You need to think up every possible scenario these guys will be looking for to cheat. Take Battlefield: Bad Company, for example. In that game you get points for fixing vehicles you blew up yourself. So guess what happens….? Most matches have a handful of asshats running around blowing up their own vehicles and fixing them just to get points to move up the leaderboards (and level their characters). How does a design flaw like this make it out the door?
Other than cheap points like I mentioned up above, these glitchers will also look for soft spots in the map where they can become invulnerable (like in Socom when guys would get outside of the map and be able to shoot up through the ground). Developers, YOU NEED to assume that people will be doing this stuff and you need to make sure it isn’t possible when the game ships.
2. Online Achievements / Trophies that aren’t win based are a BAD, BAD, BAD idea. I can understand how a developer can think that other types of online achievements are a good idea, but when that thought process happens they forget the first commandment. All of your players are cheating idiots! If you put an achievement in to get “20 melee kills” you will find matches with idiots running around just trying to knife everyone and not doing a damn thing to help the team. These are always a bad idea. Always! If you must have online achievements you must make them based on how you want the game played. Simple stuff like “Win 20 matches” will mean that achievement whores will *gasp* try to win the match.
Team Fortress 2 is suffering from this badly right now. Each time they update a class they add these insane achievements that are about impossible to pull off if you are playing the game correctly, so all it does it make people play the game in the most wrong way possible to get them done. I really respect Valve as a developer, but how can they see what is happening on TF2 servers across the globe and be happy with how people are playing their game?
Online achievements should only be based on how you want the game to be played. I know already said that, but it is worth repeating. If you, as a developer, want 20 guys running around with knives trying to stab each other and blowing up 1000 crates just to get some worthless achievements… then, well, you have succeeded. If you want people to play the game correctly don’t put that crap in the game.
3. Just because Halo 2/3 and CoD4 are popular and use a party based matchmaking system doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. I am not against party based matchmaking in general. I think it is a pretty good system that in theory puts together two equal teams to play each other. The problem with it is that it takes all of control out of our hands. In Call of Duty 4 if you are in the mood to play Search and Destroy on the Chinatown map you are just shit out of luck. You need to keep joining and leaving games the auto-party making system throws you into until you get to that map.
One thing that party based matchmaking does do is eliminate stuff like “rank up rooms,” which is a positive, but it’s the wrong way to do it. What gamers want is options. The perfect shooter, to me, would have matchmaking games, a server list where you can search games that you want and the ability to create ranked games with settings that are reasonable with the creator being able to chose the map selection. I know you love all your maps, but we don’t. We have favorites and we want to play them more often.
The answer to “rank up rooms” is to make it so winning a legit game is the fastest and best way to advance up the ranks in your game. This takes much more complicated design, I understand this, but no one ever said making the perfect online shooter would be easy.
4. The community is the number two reason people will keep coming back to your game. Support them. Create a website where users can track their stats. Create forums where gamers can talk to each other about strategy and clans can setup matches against one another. Be active in these forums, talk to your customers, see what they like and don’t like. Now, I still stand by the everyone is an idiot rule, so most of the stuff they suggest to you will probably be gamebreaking… but there is still stuff to learn. And, in general, gamers feel more attachment to a game where:
A. They feel like they are part of a community, they see the same guys over and over (another thing random party matchmaking KILLS), they know who the top clans are, they have some interaction with the developers and can see when things (like glitches, new maps, etc) are going to be addressed.
B. They feel like they are respected. Even if the majority of gamers opinions on things don’t make any sense, they still bought your game and they deserve to feel like you are doing things to make them happy. If you ship a game and then basically close down shop they will stop caring just like you did.
5. Gameplay is the number one reason someone will stick with your game. I know this goes without saying, but you need to hammer out all the kinks before your game ships. If this means pushing it back a few months than so be it. Yeah, I know that’s easy for me to say, I’m not the one dealing with publishers who force dates on you. But at the end of the day if your game is good people will play it and they will have their friends play it.
When shooters come out with glitches, weapon imbalances, laggy servers, etc, etc, etc… you are going to get an initial group of buyers who will play it, hate it, bitch about it in every forum across the internet and your game will die an early death, even if you patch it down the line.
6. Beta tests are your friend and you should listen to the people playing them. In the controlled environment of your development house your game may be playing fine only for you to come to find out that in a live environment it’s a complete mess. Players aren’t playing it like you envisioned, the servers can’t handle the load trying to sync people from 1000s of miles away, etc. Get a build up of your game on XBL or the PSN and let actual gamers put it through the paces.
Even with beta tests you may find that gamers just refuse to play the game how you designed it, if this is the case you either need to adapt the design to them or rework what you have done so far. Beta tests are for more than just testing your servers out. It gives you a peek into how the game is actually played, how things are balanced and will also flush out some of the easier to find glitches. Use them! In fact, you can probably charge a small fee to play the beta if you wanted. I know if the Socom beta came out tomorrow and cost $5 to play I’d plunk it down in a heartbeat, and I would be all over their forums with what I am seeing.
7. The rich shouldn’t always get richer. Most games are designed to reward the best players and while it may be impossible to argue against this, I’m gonna give it a shot.
Lets take Call of Duty 4 for example… in COD4 when you get 3 kills in a row you get a radar that will show where your enemies are on the map, giving you a huge tactical advantage. Once you get to five kills you can call in an air strike on whatever part of the map you would like. Once you get to seven kills you can call in a chopper that is basically just a kill bot that will fly around and take out anyone standing out in the open.
Now, all of these moves have a counter, which is good, but it is still just making the better player more powerful. So if I am a crappy player the match will start and I will get killed because the guy shooting at me is better than me. That’s fine and dandy. But then he will get the radar and know where I while I am clueless to where he is. I mean he already killed me without it, why does he need that? And then he gets more kills and starts dropping bombs on my head. And then he sends up a chopper that takes zero skill on his part for him to kill me even more. All of these things are only punishing bad players and giving extra power to players who don’t need the advantage, they are already better players.
I don’t mind games having a learning curve, I fully expect in any game that I play that there will be better players than me, and worse players than me, and if I keep playing I will get better and better. And like I said before, all of those advantages in COD4 have counters, or at least ways of avoiding them, but that design is just piling on frustration for newer or less skilled players. The same thing can be said for games that open up more powerful guns as you progress your character. This is a good idea on paper, but when Joe Newbie comes into a game not only does he not know the maps, or how to play, he also has a weaker gun. I am a firm believer in fair play and the movement in shooters to reward players like this is very disheartening.
Don’t get me wrong, I love throwing a chopper up in COD4 and getting a huge killing streak going, it makes it really fun for me… but as for the balance of the game, I think it gets skewed.
8. Auto-aim is bad. Bad, bad, bad. I am a PC gamer at heart, I always have been, and I understand that getting precise controls with a controller is much harder than with a keyboard and mouse, but auto-aim is just lame. I don’t know how else to say it… it is just a weak way of making up for your sloppy controls.
Even with the reality that it is harder to aim with a controller, the fact of the matter is that everyone playing your game will be using the same controller (or a reasonable facsimile of it), so you don’t need to assist them. If was controller vs kb/m I could see attempting to level the playing field a bit, but not controller vs controller. The fun in killing someone in an online shooter is knowing you got him, not that the computer helped you do it. I know I was just bitching up above about having fairer games for newer or less skilled players, but auto-aim is the wrong way to do it. It stops being a game at that point.
9. Stats are fun. The more the merrier when it comes to stat tracking. I know I can sit there for absurdly large chunks of time just going over my stats, trying to assess from them what my strengths and weaknesses are and then hopping back into the game with a slightly modified strategy. This seems to be becoming the norm more and more, which I welcome wholeheartedly. The stat tracking on the BFBC website, for instance, is very well done. It adds a whole layer of fun to the game when I’m not even playing the game. How cool is that?
Also, and this is a biggie, if your game has multiple modes track the stats just within that mode, don’t give an overall leaderboard. The problem is that if one mode will get you up the leaderboard quicker the leaderboard jockeys will play that mode exclusively which is to the detriment of your game as a whole. Also, it gives people something easier to focus on. Like, say, I really like your capture the flag mode it will motivate me to keep playing as I see myself move up that specific leaderboard.
10. Ease of use. This is a pretty broad topic which ranges from everything to menus to how the game actually plays. The simpler it is to perform something, the better. One thing that is an absolute must these days on Xbox Live is being able to mute people with the quickness. There are so many idiots on there that will start screaming, rapping, yelling at their moms, talking on the phone with the mic open, etc etc etc… you need to allow players to squelch that crap immediately. If I have to go through 4 menus and probably get killed while I am doing it, I am going to be pissed.
Also, things like weapon swapping and context sensitive buttons are a must (like to arm a bomb or something like that… flash that crap on my screen so I know what to hit!). Also, allow the user to *FULLY* customize the controls to how they want. I hate having to learn a completely new control scheme with each new shooter I play because they refuse to give me the option to change it. If I want the Select button to fire my freaking gun… let me! Why games rarely let users do this is completely beyond me. I want the throw grenade button to be the same in CoD4 as it is in Halo 3 as it is in Socom. I don’t want to be fumbling with my controller because you think throwing a grenade should be the Y button when I think it should be the left bumper. That’s just lazy design.
So, there you have it straight from a gamer with no development experience. I understand that games are on deadlines and things get cut and things get rushed and no matter how much you test new glitches are sure to be found after release (and when they do, for the love of god… PATCH!). I understand all of that, but these are the things that drive me crazy as a gamer, and these are 10 fairly easy steps to creating a game that would be the total package.
I mean, just imagine a game with achievements based solely on winning, where the playing field is evenly balanced, the glitches minimized, all of the stats tracked, a huge community that interacts with each other and the developers on their website and the ability to configure the games how you want and to squelch out the little kids that haven’t learned how to swear properly yet. Man, that would such an awesome game.
If you agree and would like to help get the word out there… DIGG IT!