Experienced Points: The Isolation of Random Matchmaking

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 19, 2010

Filed under: Column 69 comments

In this one I talk about the automated matchmaking in the upcoming Starcraft 2. Well, actually, I’m using SC2 as a launching point for talking about this trend of automated matchmaking in general that has been pervasive on consoles and is becoming increasingly common on the PC. I don’t know if it will make any sense at all to people who haven’t played games like Team Fortress 2 where community Balkanization is an emergent feature.

And I expect the thread for this one will be a little rough, because for a certain segment of the fanbase, You Are Not Allowed to imply that SC2 will not be perfection. This is odd, because nobody seems to care if you denigrate the original. It’s usually the other way around: The original is sacred, and the sequels are fair targets.


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69 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Isolation of Random Matchmaking

  1. Dodds says:

    For some reason, the link you’ve got to the article isn’t showing up when I’m on your main page, but when I come onto THIS page, it shows. Huh.

    Anyway, on to Reading.

    1. Dodds says:

      And Fixed.

      But yeah, it took till your article for me to realise that most of the friends on my Steam account are players from TF2/other game servers, whilst everyone on my Xbox Friends list are people I know in real life.

      Really does say something for how close-knit servers are, whilst how completely impersonal random matchmaking is…

  2. rayen015 says:

    this sequel is sacred because SC players have been left in the cold by blizzard for some time(no pun intended) in favor of serving it’s Warcraft fanbase of what 3 million now? plus there was the whole starcraft ghost debacle…

    1. Drue says:

      er, World of Warcraft has been hovering around 11 million for a while now so yeah.

  3. Irridium says:

    What I don’t understand is why Blizzard doesn’t just do both. I know this would require a lot of time and money, but those are things Blizzard has.

    “You Are Not Allowed to imply that SC2 will not be perfection. This is odd, because nobody seems to care if you denigrate the original. It's usually the other way around: The original is sacred, and the sequels are fair targets.”

    I’m guessing this is because since all the Blizzard fans have waited so long, they don’t want anyone to rain on their parade making it seem like the wait won’t be worth it.

    Just a theory though.

    1. Vegedus says:

      Yeah, same. I don’t see how matchmaking and server-oriented is opposed in any real way.

  4. Stern says:

    You know, my siblings and I aren’t competitive but like RTS games now and then. Most of our LAN games revolve around building our bases and if we feel like it, we might even attack each other. This matchmaking system doesn’t seem like it will fit our gameplay style. It rather makes me sad to know a game has sandbox potential but the only way to play it online to ignore the sandbox style.

    Ah well, maybe solo mode will be good enough.

    1. Someone says:

      I know what youre talking about. You should play TBS games like Civilization or Management games like Majesty.

  5. Ludo says:

    At the risk of endangering your modesty, I think you could try to envision a future as a not-stupid consultant (as in… sir, you know your customers would like your company not to take them for JUST cash cows ?).

    I know, for reading your recent posts, that you are quite tasked to capacity, but come on… could’nt you try to do the (gamers) community a favour and try to educate all those accountants who manage the gaming corporations that some (if not the majority) of us don’t think that being tossed in the hand of the Great Randomness is the utmost of fun ?

    I’m proud to say that I buy everything Bioware. And that’s only because I know I’ll find some consideration (story-wise) for the dreamer/story nerd that I am.

    Go Bioware ! Go storytellers !

    (Oh, and I kown I’m not really fair with you, and that you try your utmost. Your sacrifice is appreciated, Sir. I’ll make sure that’s inscirbed on your tombstone when you die of exhaustion… eventually ^^)

    (nota : I know I could phrase this a little better, but I hope you can cut the non-english native some slack for trying to communicate in a still quite foreign language)

  6. Nick Bell says:

    Even with servers, there is an inherent risk of total assholes (search: “penny arcade anonymity” for a visual lesson). But random matchmaking makes this worse. There is no way to avoid the jerks. You can not build your own “safe zone” amongst the chaos. Every single match includes a chance of some jerkwad ruining the experience. And the jerks have no need to change, because it is unlikely they will encounter the same person twice.

    This then spoils an entire community. From Halo to Grand Theft Auto, my online experiences with random people are at best tolerable. Some games have been downright unbearable.

    This has had the effect that I only play with people I know, almost exclusively co-operative experiences. Competitive multiplayer components of games might as well not be there. Any time a developer talks about multiplayer being the “focus” (aka Call of Duty or Battlefield), I instantly put that game in my “do not buy” list. And in this multiplayer dominated world, that means a lot fewer games for me.

    1. Felblood says:

      My brothers love to play that way, but being a highly competitive person, I have difficulty meshing with that style. Even in games where you can win through cooperation, like Majesty and 4X games, I tend to crush people whenever they show weakness. It’s an instinct that I love indulging, and it proves very hard to repress. It doesn’t help that I’m a much better tactician than most of these people, and often find myself longing for a greater challenge.

      I still don’t play games with random people from the internet. I’ve rarely been matched up with a group of people that didn’t include at least one person I wouldn’t tolerate at my tabletop game, and I’ve put up with quite a lot there. Team Fortress was pretty much ruined for me by my inability to put up with other human beings.

      If I have to choose between playing in a way that makes me uncomfortable with people whose company I enjoy, or playing with people that make me uncomfortable, in the style that feels natural, I’ll take the good people.

      Besides, there are a number of really cool Warcraft 3 maps that allow us to blend our styles of play into something good, so that’s what we run in our LAN games. SWAT: Aftermath is cooperative, but tactically intense and brutally challenging (I get to use my tactical skills to help the entire group, making people resent me less,too). Metastasis and the Parasite series mix cooperation with a sort of directed ganking system, for everyone’s light-hearted enjoyment(I love being the alien, pretending to be one of the humans, but secretly working to destroy them from within). Cruiser Command pits two teams against each other in a competition to see who can cooperate better.

      It’s not a perfect solution, but we could never find something that suits our personal needs like this in a random or even semi-random environment. People are too diverse to make that work.

  7. neothoron says:

    /* SC2 (future) fan incoming */

    It seems that Blizzard wants to make Battle.net 2.0 somewhat similar to Twitter or Facebook (source) in its implementation of community features. I guess that it means that there will be features like groups, friends, inviting a friend to join a game, broadcasting a message to the world/the group/a friend, etc.

    In short, it is my understanding that random matchmaking only applies to matches that “count for the ladder”. Otherwise, I expect it will be quite easy to get a game going with friends, or with other people that you know/were recommended by you, one way or another.

    Doesn’t make any of Shamus’ points less valid – just that we’ll have to wait to see how much of that applies to Starcraft 2.

    PS: And about people’s reaction for SC2 compared to the original – I’d go into more detail by saying that now, even fans will admit that SC is technologically outdated. For that reason, SC2 is regarded as the second coming – the only seeds of doubt allowed are the ones that stem from SC2’s deviations from the original.

    1. Turfster says:

      “I guess that it means that there will be features like groups, friends, inviting a friend to join a game, broadcasting a message to the world/the group/a friend, etc.”
      Unless of course, you’re one of those people that has *gasp* friends all over the world!
      Got into the beta thanks to a friend sending me his key, but I can’t actually play with him since he’s on the other side of the world and my SC2 can’t “see” him.
      Thanks, Blizzard!

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “This is odd, because nobody seems to care if you denigrate the original.”

    You mean you said Starcraft isnt perfection at some point in the past?*cocks shotgun*

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Why did you just thrown out a perfectly good shell?

      1. ehlijen says:

        There wasn’t one in the chamber till now. Never put one in there until you know you’ll need to shoot.

        Edit: I really wish I had a less mean looking picture for this comment :(

  9. Scott M says:

    It’s tough to do anything but random matchmaking if you want a serious ladder, because if there is any way to influence who your opponents are then someone is going to find a way to game the system.

    That being said, I bet most players don’t really care so much about a worldwide ranking as they do about being able to find fun opponents to play. At least, that was always true for me with the original Starcraft. (Where “fun opponent” meant anyone who was willing to play on a standard, non-Big Game Hunters map.)

    But your point on community is well taken, and I do think people like to get the visible evidence of accomplishment that comes with increasing their skill. I’d love to see something like private leagues on Battle.net: invitation only groups, like clans, where you CAN choose your opponents from within the league. You’d get the sense of accomplishment by boosting your standing within the league, but there’d be little incentive to abuse it because you’d only be doing it at the expense of your own community. (And if they didn’t like it, they could kick you out.)

  10. Jabor says:

    The number of people in the Escapist thread saying that everyone playing starcraft should do so competitively or GTFO is kind of depressing.

  11. RudeMorgue says:

    Starcraft bored me. My interest in SC2 is minimal. I sort of like the limited universe they’ve built, but Warcraft’s is much more interesting and richer.

  12. Scott says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I remember playing CS just to hang out and talk to cool people on my favorite servers.

  13. Rhykker says:

    Hm I was under the impression that match-making was an option–that you didn’t *have* to use it.

    Ladder matches -> Random matchmaking
    Non-ladder -> Traditional Battle.net style

    If you have no choice, and it’s all matchmaking, then yeah that’s bollocks.


    1. I’m in the beta and I can verify that this is basically correct. You can still make friends and play “custom games” with them. They don’t count for the ladder, but you get to choose who you play with. That’s where you go if you want a community experience. Hopefully the release version will have more features to help support this.

      If you want to play competitively, you have to play random ladder games. From my experience with the beta so far, the random ladder matches are pretty good. I usually get a reasonable challenge, which is good, because I was never much good at competitive starcraft. So it’s not just pros on the ladder.

      1. ehlijen says:

        So to put it bluntly, deal with the jerk risk or we won’t count you as a serious player?

        Probably true too, as those people wouldn’t strive for that oxymoron anyway.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        Somehow the TF approach looks better to me. You get to pick your opponents, but if they’re too weak you don’t gain much. You get to have a nemesis, someone you’ve never beat but eventually make it … I think you can feel your progress (or lack thereof) much better if you don’t have a different opponent each time you’re in a ladder game.
        I think in the form of an “I feel lucky” option, matchmaking could be nice, but if you can’t get a score without using it … well, I won’t get a score then, I guess.

  14. Meredith says:

    I’ve never played StarCraft (I’m rubbish at RTS games), but some of your points strike me as very sensible. Especially the stuff in the opening paragraph about newbies getting wiped out by expert players. I’ve never actually played any online multiplayer games because I’m afraid of the idiots I might find. However, I would love try TF2 or something, but I’m so new to the whole thing I figure I’d just die in three seconds and be a major drag to my team. If I knew I could get matched with other n00bs, I might give it a go.

    The community building stuff you touched on seems like the most important to me. Everything is more fun when played with either a known friend or someone of like tastes; it just makes sense.

  15. Shamus: I’ll volunteer to play a couple of matches against you. And I can almost guarantee you’ll win every single one.

  16. Zeta Kai says:

    Shamus, I find it interesting that you slogged through a brutal climb to the top of your UT community, facing defeat after punishing defeat while making slow, painful progress. You’ve been a vocal opponent of DIAS gameplay, as seen in many missions in the GTA series, for example. You’ve been very critical (& not without reason) of frustrating, demanding games in which the punishment for the slightest deviation from a perfect mission performance is repeating the entire mission over again.

    However, you seem to have enjoyed the experience of playing UT with advanced players, who would serve you your polygonal gibs for the slightest misstep. I would think that the two experiences would be too similar to find the former enjoyable while having no patience for the latter. After all, what’s the substantive difference between doing a mission over because you crashed your bike & doing a “mission” over because some other player gave you a face full of rocket?

    1. Shamus says:

      The UT one was optional, and I could choose to take the easier, gentler path whenever I wanted.

      Also, I was doing it for its own sake. The winning or losing was an end in itself. It’s not like being defeated was preventing me from getting to see how a story turned out.

      So, I guess it’s a matter of motivation, and choice.

      1. Scott says:

        Playing agaist humans is different. The situation is never the same and you can learn from their playstyle and improve on tactics and concepts for every game of that genre. For single player DIAS games, you are only learning a specific timing or set of steps for a single obstacle.

    2. Rhykker says:

      Another difference… and perhaps this is skewed by my view of certain types of games…

      UT is a competitive multiplayer game. Devoting time into improving oneself is equivalent to training for a sport: the end game is to be able to perform better against opponents. Self-improvement is measurable and rewarding.

      DIAS gameplay tends to apply to singleplayer experiences. And from my experience, beating one DIAS mission doesn’t really improve one’s ability to beat another DIAS mission. So despite all that time spent DIAS’ing, the only thing to take home is the ability to say that you beat the given level/game.

      So to sum up my view of the difference in a completely unbiased and professional manner:

      Getting raped by tougher opponents in UT: time invested.
      DIAS’ing: time wasted.

      (Dodges rocks)


  17. James Pope says:

    Even STO allows you to turn off random grouping.

  18. silver Harloe says:

    IMHO, you need to play against a wide variety different people or you run the risk of reinforcing bad strategies that happen to do well against your particular opponents. I want to draw some analogy to Chess and experiencing a variety of openings, but it’s too easy to say, “well, not if your opponents switch it up!” But switching it up isn’t always a great way to learn Chess – Bobby Fischer once suggested that he couldn’t even begin to teach someone the fundamentals of Chess until they had played every opening in (some book of openings), 500 times each. It takes a lot of experience with one opening to know which parts of it lead to fail and which parts of it are good.

    Of course, in an RTS you can usually overcome some amount of strategy problems with tactical skill and reflexes, and every game practices those. So maybe it’s a bad analogy.

    1. Caffiene says:

      “IMHO, you need to play against a wide variety different people or you run the risk of reinforcing bad strategies that happen to do well against your particular opponents.”

      Unless, of course, you dont have an interest in playing well against people outside that particular group of opponents. For example, if you only bought the game because you want to play with friends…

      In which case you have absolutely zero need to play against a wide variety of different people.

    2. swimon says:

      But then what is the point of being good? Sure if you play with randoms you might get better at the game but you probably won’t have as much fun as if you were playing with some friends, and in the end isn’t fun really all that matters?

      Oh well, TBH I don’t really care about SC 2. I usually don’t like multiplayer games and I don’t really like RTS games either so I probably won’t get SC 2 anyway.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        Fair enough to both responses – but I’d probably say that “the point of getting better is that you can come back to your group of friends and teach them new tricks” ;)

        But, yes, it all depends on your goals. Just as a Chess player may well be satisfied to play only people in the local Chess club and be happy with that, so an RTS player may feel satisfied to play only some friends.

        The reason I brought up the whole “getting better” thing was in direct response to Shamus’ story about getting onto a server full of experts in order to improve – he obviously had a goal of general improvement. I was suggesting, obliquely, that a small group of RTS players might not serve his goal as well as a small group of FPS players did for him in the past, because there are more strategies (FPS is more tactical. which is not to say “no strategy,” I’m just comparing).

        1. krellen says:

          It’s all moot anyway. Without LAN support, the “playing with your friends” aspect is all but impossible.

          1. neothoron says:

            Why would you need LAN support to “play with your friends”?

            1. ehlijen says:

              Why would you require an internet connection to connect computers that are within physical touching distance?

              LAN parties are a great, fun thing that SC2 players will be hardpressed to relive. Being able to speak in person, brag in person or throw chips in person is what makes these things fun for some people. Requiring everyone present to go online through the same connection (most houses have one and those require a LAN to connect more than one computer to begin with) is not a good idea. It might work, but it’s unneccessary.

              Plus there’s the whole thing about not everyone having a connection (or not having a good enough one for that).

              Leaving out LAN support was mean, greedy or dumb; pick one or more.

              1. Blackbird71 says:

                I’ll echo that sentiment a hundredfold.

  19. Spectralist says:

    From the article:
    “The other thing that gets lost in the random matchmaking games is the sense of community. If you play with the same group on a regular basis, you get to know other players.”

    They actually place you in a division of 100 players within your league(skill level) and place you against the other players in your division whenever possible so that you will see the same group of players fairly often. Although with only 100 players in a division the chance that one will be looking for a match at the exact same time as you is pretty slim. So the matchmaking system then looks outside your division.

    And, of course, you can play against whoever you want if you don’t want a ladder ranked game. And in the ladder 2v2(and presumably 3v3 & 4v4 though they haven’t implemented those yet) you can choose your partner if you want. Or you can play with a random partner.

  20. AnZsDad says:

    Wait. You could beat chimpanzees at RTS games? You’re such a showoff. :-)

  21. Ace Calhoon says:

    I don’t think it’s really fair to hold up random match making as bad, and servers as good. Yes, relying exclusively on the random match making is bad, for all the reasons you’ve outlined above.

    But to be honest, I don’t know that I would play a competitive multi-player game without a solid random match maker. My greatest complaint about Modern Warfare 2 is that the match making system is terrible at finding appropriate matches, even after playing for some time (and yes, this is a bigger problem to me than the lack of dedicated servers).

    Having a good server to play on is awesome, but finding one is a royal pain. The only way to find out if a server is good for you is to play on it and see how well you do. If you’re new to the game, or new to the genre, then MOST servers will be way above your head. Which means you’ll lose. Repeatedly. Soul crushingly. For a very long time. And if you ever DO find a good server, there’s always the possibility that the population shifts and takes it out of your skill range.

    It’s like the worst MMO grind ever, only instead of being created by some misguided game designer it’s governed by pure random chance.

    GOOD matchmaking mitigates these problems. You sign in, you start playing, and within a few games you’re paired up with people who won’t completely smoke you as soon as you spawn. It provides the learning opportunity and the hook to get people to WANT to find a community to pit themselves against.

    Of course, BAD matchmaking has all of the same problems that servers do, and a few more of their own.

  22. Emm Enn Eff says:

    I’m currently in the beta, and two comments to your article

    1. One of the things Blizzard is trying with SC2 is to divide players on the random ladder into divisions. You’ll end up playing with the same group of people. How many people will be in a group? Can’t tell yet.

    2. The social network is key… And is currently quite inadequate – all you have is a friends list, and no chat channels. It feels… Very clinical. Controlled. Keeping you separated from other people. Unless I’m messaging someone, all I’m interacting with is the game interface.

    Very anti-social, come to think of it.

    As for “Hard match vs Easy match”, and not being able to tell when the random match-making tries to give you a 50-50 win/loss ratio…

    I only got to level… 30? In Warcraft 3, but I could definitely tell the difference between a hard opponent, and an ‘easy’ one – even if they were of a similar level. Some games, I had to play my best to win. With others, I could slack a bit.

    PS. Yes, the game has non-random, unrated “Custom Game” matches.

    1. Kand says:

      Divisions should be max 100 players strong and the Social tab is still not implemented. It’s in the UI but greyed out.

  23. I must admit, Warcraft’s story always engaged me more than Starcraft’s, but then I’m must more of a fantasy fan than a sci-fi fan. I’m looking forward to SC2, but I’m not expecting to play it multiplayer except perhaps with just my brothers. That’s just something that holds no interest for me – I’m in it for the story

    1. krellen says:

      Warcraft had a better story until they completely rewrote most of the backstory to meet their “Rule of Cool” needs for WoW.

      1. acronix says:

        I´d say it had a better one before they copy-pasted Starcraft´s one into Warcraft 3.

  24. Jeysie says:

    Your talk of skill matching is exactly why I never play multiplayer computer games, no matter the matchmaking method. Even in my circle of friends it’s impossible to find people that are right in the sweet skill spot compared to me. 90% of the time I’m the scrub always getting their butt handed to them (in well-known games), and 10% of the time I’m the only one who knows how to really play (in not-well-known games).

    1. Garden Ninja says:

      I’m in the same boat, but it had less to with popularity of the game. Back in high school, my group of friends played shooters and some fighters. I was always (and continue to be) bad at shooters against real people. However, we also played a bunch Mortal Kombat. There were usually 5 or 6 of us, and only two could play at any given time, so I read the guide when it wasn’t my turn, memorizing moves. Eventually, my friends told me I wasn’t allowed to see the guide anymore, because I kept stomping them, and pulling of fatalities after every match. When we switched to Smash Bros, I went back to getting my butt kicked most of the time.

      I’ve never enjoyed playing against random people, so these days, if a game doesn’t have a decent single player, co-op, or multiplayer with several of my friends playing, I usually skip. I stink at twitch aiming, so even playing against friends, I’m usually at the bottom. That’s part of why I liked TF2 so much before I stopped playing that: I could play a medic or engineer and still be useful.

  25. Mephane says:

    It isn’t fun to lose all the time. But the same goes for winning.

    This is a bit more complicated in an multiplayer (PvP) environment. Most people don’t actually mind losing as long as they have a good time and a fair fight. What is absolutely frustrating, however, is being massacred over and over. If you know for sure that you have no chance of winning after few minutes into the game, the entire match is effectively a massive waste of your time. The same applies the other way round, yes, but not to such a large extent, as there are way more people who mind being cannon fodder all the time than there are people who mind obliterating cannon fodder all the time.

    However, a really, really, REALLY good game allows you to still have fun by your own terms even if you know you have no chance. Like in the board game “risk”, where you can put up barricades in Australia and give the other people a hard time getting in there (especially when it is someones task to conquer it), allows for a pretty fun game even if you know that you cannot win.

    But generally, video games tend to not allow similar situations. More often than not, if the enemies skill (or in a team vs team setup, coordination) level is too far above yours, you will not simply lose by default. You will be destroyed, massacred, and might end the game without scoring at least a couple of kills/points/whatever.

    My suggestion for the SC2 matchmaking system would be, have the option to use it, or to manually choose your opponents and places to hang out. If they have a ladder than the one from Unreal Tournament you mentioned, that should be a very good solution to effectively have the best of both worlds to choose from.

  26. Gandaug says:

    This match system is similar to the one used in Dawn of War 2. You have a Trueskill rating that rises or falls based on your success and level of opponent. It also has a chance of giving you an opponent well above or below your skill level. While the system works it does have the two flaws you point out in your article, Shamus.

    The only real chance of community is to find a fan forum and then plan unranked matches. Hardly a substitute for real in-game community tools.

    While reading your article I thought the perhaps a chance to see the opponent you were matched with before the match would help. You could see their skill ranking and accept or decline the match. Three declines would remove your ability to decline again until you played two matches. After each decline you could telling the system that you wanted a harder or easier match. This way you could clime the ranks quicker facing higher ranked players or get some practice in with new strats or race against lower ranked players with the risk of losing and dropping in rank yourself. Not perfect at first glance I know but I think it could be hammered out into a workable shape.

    Another nice feature would be a record of matches players left early and the average time into the match that they left. I find very few things more irritating than rage-quitters. If people end with a bad enough quit record people will stop playing with them.

    I would call myself better than average but not expert at RTS games. Getting better is difficult though when I’m matched up against people of my own skill rank constantly and I never get to the see the more advanced strats that are used to defeat me.

    I could talk for hours on this. As I type multiple subjects branching from your main subject, Shamus, are coming to mind. I’ll stop here.

    1. Krakow Sam says:

      All my experiences with the DoW2 matchmaking system have been awful. I sincerely hope for the sake of millions of Starcraft fans that the SC2 matchmaker is nothing like the one in Dawn of War 2.
      The system works in theory, but in practice I was constantly getting matched against opponents who were many levels above me (Both their ‘Trueskill’ and their linear level with that particular faction) which inevitably led to a spanking so severe I didn’t even feel like I learned anything valuable about how to play from it.
      So I guess my point is that first off a matchmaking system actually has to work properly before people can even think about tweaking it to vary the challenge from time to time.

      1. Gandaug says:

        If you ever do play again one thing I found to work is to count to thirty then cancel and restart the search. What happens is the longer the search takes to find somebody for you to face the wider the allowance of difference in Trueskill becomes. If you are of a low level then obviously you are going to face somebody well above your level. You just reset the search and you have a better chance of getting a better match.

        Still broken I know but it is something.

        Also I’ve noticed that it seems to be working better these days. I didn’t play for months then started playing again right before Chaos Rising released and it seems a bit better.

  27. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I am unto you, Shamus. You wrote that whole article just to plug the word “Balkanisation” in your blog for the first time.

    In don’t know why you needed it so, but your nefarious agenda will be stopped!!!

    1. Blackbird71 says:

      He must be sending coded messages to KAOS!

      Sorry, I just finished watching all 5 seasons of the original “Get Smart.” For anyone to young to know, secret mesaes were often hidden in the most ridiculous of places – from song lyrics and radio play dialogues to baby buggies and baked goods. Once even in the notes played by a mariachi band!

  28. Melf_Himself says:

    My thoughts:

    1) RTS games are much less fun to get whooped by than FPS games. An FPS whooping between friends can be comical; an RTS whooping much less so (reason? Not sure – perhaps the implied intellectual superiority, or just that the fun is less “slapstick” so can’t be laughed off as easily).

    2) TF2 in particular has a large number of players per server. The skill levels rarely matter because there will be good and bad players on both sides. Not true with SC2 and the like.

    3) If we were, on the other hand, comparing two FPS games, the “anyone can join” matchmaking is much more fun…. if the players are just looking to play casually. This is the majority of players.

    However some players will wish to play “league” / be ranked in some way, in which case games should definitely be matched based on skill levels.

    In summary:
    Any RTS + skill-based matchmaking = yes
    Competitive league FPS + skill-based matchmaking = yes
    Casual FPS + skill-based matchmaking = no

    1. Emm Enn Eff says:

      > 1) RTS games are much less fun to get whooped by than FPS games.

      Very, very true.

      Not to mention that in a most FPS games, even a substantially weaker player can score a lucky kill against someone a ‘tier’ or two better then them. Doing so is also quite memorable. That’s because there are a lot of factors outside of the better player’s control – other people in the game, what’s happening in parts of the map he’s not in, hiding spots… It’s also possible for the weaker player to get lucky with good aim.

      In an RTS, the better player will control the match, start to end. It is extremely unlikely that he will be caught off-guard, and even if he will, the match won’t be decided by one ‘lucky’ shot.

      Also, a single “Match” in an FPS is one engagement, or maybe a player’s lifespan. It’s rarely more then a minute. The equivalent in an RTS is a good 10-30 minutes match. It’s one thing to lose 90% of your ‘matches’ when they last 30 seconds – the gratification of winning against the odds is frequent. Losing 90% of your matches when each lasts… 15 minutes… Not so much.

  29. John Lopez says:

    I find it amusing that everyone can see the problem inherent in Chat Roulette without even needing to visit it, yet game companies think Game Roulette makes total sense.

    1. Shamus says:

      I wish I’d said that.

  30. Zed says:

    I’ve only played one other game that enforces random matchmaking: Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

    That’s right. Starcraft 2 is cribbing their multiplayer setup from the Wii. Is there a worse idea? I mean, I love my Wii to death, but online multiplayer is just not its bag, baby.

    1. Emm Enn Eff says:

      Actually, you could say they are cribbing it from WC3. Which was a pretty good AMM. Except for smurfing.

      There is very little difference between SC2 and WC3 AMM – the biggest difference is the addition of leagues and divisions. Which has little to do with AMM.

  31. Jarenth says:

    Shamus, regarding your ‘no sense of improvement’ comments, I have similar experiences playing Company of Heroes. I’ve played random ranked games with a couple of friends for a few months now, and… well, there’s just no sense of improvement for me. We just use the same strategies every time; sometimes we steamroll over any and all opposition, sometimes it’s a decent challenge, sometimes we’re slaughtered mercilessly. We have no idea if what we’re doing wórks because we have no idea of the skill of our enemies. Their abitrary ‘level’ is just a function of time invested, and there’s plenty of people who create new accounts (and reset their skill levels) for whatever reason.

    We’re not learning and improving. We’re just playing against an endless cavalcade of silly names, an eternal succession of random strategies against random people with random effects.

    So yeah. Random auto-matching, woo.

    1. Emm Enn Eff says:

      I don’t know what system COH uses, but in ELO AMMs, getting a high level is not a question of grind – if you’re winning only 50% of your games against same-match-making rating people, you should hit a plateau, and then not be able to increase your rating.

      That’s one of a lot of common misconceptions about ELO…

      1. Jarenth says:

        I don’t know how the match-making in COH works either. All I know is that the numbers next to players’ names are completely unrelated to their actual skill levels.

  32. acabaca says:

    “But the real beauty of the system was that you had control over where you played and who your opponents were. I found a server with some very highly ranked players on it, and made that place my home. It was brutal at first, with me sometimes scoring in the single digits while the top players would be in the triple digits. But I stuck with it, and after a couple of weeks I could see my scores and my ranking slowly improve. I was becoming a better player by pitting myself against far superior enemies. …”

    I find this interesting, since it’s the opposite of your usual attitude towards challenge. You have probably dozens of complaints on this site about single player games being too difficult.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      He dislikes false difficulty. You know, arbitrary elements that makes the game both harder and genuinely less plesant to play. Especially if these are arbitrarily slapped unto a player.

  33. Zak McKracken says:

    Well, I guess I’m no real SC fan then.
    I loved everything about SC2 until the announcement of forced online playing.
    Now this.
    My hope is that automated matchmaking remains an optional feature and I can still play against either friends or “whoever is on that server”.
    I’m completely with Shamus in thinking that adding more randomness to matchmaking is completely useless because playing skills cannot be measured precisely to start with. So even with a narrow scope of “who is on your skill level” you will sometimes face people you just can’t beat and others who are no match, even without any more randomizing, just because your playing style fits (or doesn’t fit) that of your opponent.
    I think I’d hardly ever like to use that kind of feature, though. I’d much rather play 3 vs 3 or something, with people I know (at least on my own team). Im probably too much a coward to battle it out 1 on 1.

    Also, I stopped liking Blizzard when they started selling an expensive game and then charging people a monthly fee to allow them to play it, too. And 11 million people falling for it … And now they think they need to pull that off with every game they make.

    If I meet with my family for a LAN party, it’s mostly good old Starcraft 1 even today. That’s gonna be hard to keep up with, especially if there’s no LAN mode …

    1. Blackbird71 says:

      If I meet with my family for a LAN party, it's mostly good old Starcraft 1 even today. That's gonna be hard to keep up with, especially if there's no LAN mode …

      This. I’ve already got the best matchmaking system ever – it’s called a “telephone.” When I want to play multiplayer StarCraft, I call up a few friends and set up a LAN party. I play with people I know, and we have a great time doing it. Without basic LAN functionality, SC2 may as well never be released as far as I’m concern; I’ll never have a reason to play it.

  34. seodoth says:

    You gain a sort of community of people you know once you get in the specific leagues: copper, bronze, silver, gold, etc. They could make a “after-game” lobby where you can chat with your oppononent after you played against him. You can always add to your friend list and (i dont know for certain) they are going to include clans/guilds.
    In a league you will have people that are better then you too, and if you want to play people that are much better, you can always make a custom game.

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