Why I like playing with myself
Who doesn't like playing with themselves?
I guess it all depends on what you're hoping to get out of said playing. Oh, and by the way, I'm talking about video games.
Some people love online multiplayer games - and that's awesome. I'm just not one of them. And some game developers feel the need to bring single player game players to the online arena to earn trophies. Yeah, I'm a trophy guy too.
For single player game developers, they tend to approach online multiplayer components in a few ways:
as a solid part of the game
as an optional co-op experience
as a rushed add-on
And they expect you to participate in varying degrees to earn said trophies, including:
trying out the online multiplayer component for a match or two (sure, I can do that),
having a few co-op trophies to encourage giving it a try (yep, I can do that too), or
requiring you to complete 2 x 12 week journeys (that's two sets of 84 matches)
Yes, I'm looking at you Naughty Dog.
If you're not aware, The Last of Us: Remastered includes an online multiplayer mode called "Factions". You pick a Faction - either Hunter or Firefly - and play a 12 week period, that's 84 matches, in one of three game types. There's then a game-within-the-game where you have the concept of a clan, and you need to keep them alive. You do this by taking down the opposing team members, assisting your own team members, or sometimes just opening up loot boxes. Along the way, you also get some missions that can grow your clan, shrink your clan, or sometimes risk totally losing every clan member. And if you fail there, you start your 12 week game again.
I've earnt both 12 week journey chapters for The Last of Us: Remastered, and while I like playing with myself generally, I must admit that I was surprised by the amount of fun I did have. Sometimes.
Some matches were good fun - others not so much. I wasn't really phased whether my team won or lost - it had no real outcome on the game-within-the-game clan situation, but the issue was about match making.
When matched with similarly-levelled players (aka beginners) it was a lot of fun. They took me out, I took them out, it was an even playing field for us all to learn, improve skill and build up some techniques.
But there were also some times where I was matched with level 999 players. And multiple 999 players. All on the other team. And on my team, players in the single digits. How the heck is this fair match making?
The "pro" players were just so fast - there were times I felt like they moved faster and dodged what should have been direct hits, and they had such strong weapons from the get-go. It is hard to learn, practice and improve when playing in matches like this when spawn after spawn you're instantly taken out by someone lightning fast and brutally effective (and lurking right by your spawn location too). There's absolutely no fun in that - you're given no opportunity to even try.
But the real issue I have with online communities is the ego, attitute and culture that can exist within them. It's that "git gud" type comment. And that is complete BS. I'm trying to get better, but how can I when these 999 players stalk you at the spawn location? Online communities should be supportive of each other - especially newcomers. You want me to play with others? Then making a community that supports newcomers (and encourages them to stay) is a must.
I understand that matches, for The Last of Us: Remastered (among others) need 8 players - 4 on each team. But surely match making code that finds 4 x low level players and 4 x high level players can either split the low and high in to separate and more even teams, or even not match them at all and let the low levels play with the low levels, and the high levels with the high.
To get through my journeys, I found myself being best in a support role - crafting items for my team mates, or healing/reviving them as needed. This earned me ample parts, and made me feel valued in the team. Even if I wasn't lightning fast like those 999 players.
When match making was good, I actually had a lot of fun, and really enjoyed the online component. But then get let down with the next match's unfair match making and suddenly it's respawn city. And that's not fun.
I had achieved my first 12 week journey solo: playing matches, winning some, loosing some, but still grinding my way through it. And then found PSN Profiles a boosting group that was made up of players from Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia. Over 4 or so days (thankfully a long weekend here), we jumped online together (conveniently 1pm here in Australia) and played our way through the multiplayer modes, with different players popping various trophies along the way, including finishing journeys. With a mic, it was actually a lot of fun - we all were beginner players (i.e. not level 999) so had strengths and weaknesses, and respected each other as players, but had a joke along the way with the odd nail bomb or in-game mission.
This was actually quite enjoyable - and a great group of guys to go through the process with - a bit of humour and general chat along the way.
But I know that's not necessarily the way multiplayer components are designed to be played - but it is what made it enjoyable for me.
I'd suggest to game developers that if you have multiplayer or co-op components to games, I'm all for giving trophies for giving it a go - but make the requirements basic. Maybe a few matches (like Uncharted 4) or a few specific goals (like Far Cry: New Dawn) to give players the chance to try it out - but also not demand such a huge time commitment. If they enjoy it, they can play for fun. But if not, they at least tried. And fix up that damn match making to make it a more level playing field for newcomers to actually try to figure it all out, and grow as a player.
After all, you never know whether you like broccoli or not unless you give it a try first. While broccoli isn't everyone's cup of tea, at least trying a bit is good for you.