Problem: When you split your available content in half, one half is going to be left behind.
When Left 4 Dead 2 was announced, a lot of gamers were upset that it was a standalone product, and not DLC for the first game. After getting some hands-on time with the game, I can safely say that Left 4 Dead 2 stands on its own. The feel of the game is different from its predecessor, and it evolves the Left 4 Dead formula without obsoleting the original game.
Therein lies the problem. Sometimes I feel like playing a campaign in the original game’s horror-movie style, and sometimes I want the faster action-movie feel of L4D2. The problem is that I need to make that decision from Steam’s game-launching window, rather than from the Left 4 Dead matchmaking window. When I click ‘Quick Match’ or ‘Find a Game’ from the Left 4 Dead 2 menu, I’m really only searching through half of the possible Left 4 Dead games out there.
Solution: Pop out matchmaking as a separate application.
A simple standalone matchmaking application would improve the value of the product for players who own both L4D and L4D2. Players could load this application, create lobbies, chat with each other, and select their campaign and game mode from all the options they own. Once they launch the game, the appropriate game engine would load automatically. It would increase the loading time, but it would ensure that Left 4 Dead fans are able to employ and enjoy all the content they’ve paid for.
Additionally, it increases the value and staying power of the Left 4 Dead campaigns and characters, by reducing the impression that this content is somehow old-fashioned or obsolete. I think this ties into an earlier post I made about Games as Platforms. I’m seeing Left 4 Dead as a platform, and I want to be able to just keep adding more and more content, campaigns, and characters into that platform.
We’re sure to see this problem again when Valve inevitably releases Left 4 Dead 3. Maybe they’ll implement a solution by then.
Problem: Non-host players have no control over multiplayer.
There’s something for everyone in Burnout Paradise! There’s online races, stunt runs, demolition derbies, and the team-based ‘Cops and Robbers’ multiplayer, as well as things to discover and challenges to complete based on the number of players in the game.
The problem is that only the host can determine which activities everyone will be playing. The other players have no power over the game – they can’t suggest activities, vote for what to do next, or veto the host’s choices. The best they can do is to call out their choices on voice chat, or spam the host with text messages.
This weakens the game’s multiplayer mode, because everybody wants to be the host in order to complete their list of multiplayer challenges. So instead of 10 awesome games filled with 8 players, you would be more likely to see 30 games with 2-3 players each. This makes the online play seem much more sparse than it actually is.
Nowadays, I have only a few challenges that I’m still trying to do. The only way to get anything done in Burnout is to start an online game, then go away and do something else for an hour or two. When I come back, if I’m lucky, there will be 4-5 players still in the game, and then I can start a challenge, and hope that everybody doesn’t immediately drop. Sound lame? It is.
Solution: Allow FPS-style nominations and voting.
Burnout Paradise just needs to implement systems that allow players to have a voice, similar to what you might see in a FPS. Between events, players can access the list of available activities and challenges, and suggest one to be the next event. The game takes all the suggestions, chooses one randomly, then puts it up to a vote. Players can use up and down on the D-Pad to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ If half the players vote ‘No,’ then the event is cancelled, and the next random suggestion is put to a vote. Otherwise it starts immediately, with the player who suggested it in control of the event setup. (In other words: if nobody votes, it’s assumed that the suggestion passes.)
In order to prevent griefing with this system, players can also nominate other players in order to kick them from the game. The same voting system applies, and if a majority votes ‘Yes,’ the player is kicked from the game and prevented from rejoining for a few minutes. (In other words: If nobody votes, it’s assumed that the kick attempt fails.)
The system isn’t perfect – a bloc of 3-4 players voting together can control the game – but it gives players a greater incentive to just choose ‘Easy Drive’ and join a random online game, knowing that they’ll be able to exert some control over the game events. A player can now expect to be able to make some progress on their list of challenges, or to be able to get into a good race, without needing to host the game themselves and just hope that enough players show up.