For Arena Shooters, is Population King?

Dec 9, 2019
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I was chatting with my Quake Live friends this morning a bit, and we were talking about Quake 4 vs. Quake Champions vs. everything else, which prompted a somewhat sad conclusion - I don't care about the quality of the game, as long as somebody is playing it.

There are a million arena shooters out there but for me, all that really matters anymore is where the players are. If Quake Live has the population, that is where I want to be, even if I really liked the classes in Quake Champions or the movement in Quake 4, etc.

What about you? Do you play your favorite shooter, even if you have to hunt down people to play with on Discord, or do you follow the crowd for the sake of easy matchmaking and full servers?
 
Dec 9, 2019
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It's rare that I get into multiplayer games to begin with, so I was really sad that both LawBreakers and Space Junkies pretty much died without the urge to move on to populated competitors.
 

PCG Phil

UK Editor In Chief
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Dec 10, 2019
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It's the case for multiplayer shooters generally, I think. Bad Company 2 is still my favourite Battlefield for multiplayer. But I'm gonna load up BFV regardless because I know it has enough players (of a wide-enough skill range) that I can both easily find a game and feel competitive.
 
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Dec 9, 2019
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It's the case for multiplayer shooters generally, I think. Bad Company 2 is still my favourite Battlefield for multiplayer. But I'm gonna load up BFV regardless because I know it has enough players (of a wide-enough skill range) that I can both easily find a game and feel competitive.
I tried really hard to like any Battlefield online as much as I did Bad Company 2.
 

sward

Supergirl
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Nov 25, 2019
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Having worked on an arena shooter which failed due to install base, I'd say there is some technical truth to this. If your game is designed for teams of 10 per side for example, and your user base drops, it messes with matchmaking, which then means higher level players either end up pugstomping or playing alone / unable to matchmake. I also think there's a kind of new mentality with shooters much akin to how MMORPG users were in the 2004-9 era where there was a large number who just jumped from game to game to find the "new wow".

Now we also can't discount the fact that developers also pay influencers a lot of money to promote new games etc, so "tastemaker loyalty" can now be bought. What used to be a 'word-of-mouth grassroots ecosystem' for the game jump has now become something you can buy, e.g if you want hundreds to move from their old game to yours, pay a hardcore influencer to play it for a day, run tons of ads on twitch and buy the biggest booth at gamescom and you're already more of word of mouth machine then anything we've ever seen before.

There's also something to be said for why this is even more true for modern online shooters then say an MMO. Essentially if you're looking for a 15 minute long match in an online arena shooter, you're more inclined to jump from brand to brand to find the level of excitement/ exact gameplay / comeradary that you want as opposed to most OG MMO's which reward the "long game" and lone wolf users due to strategy, depth of knowledge/levelling and crafting over twitch skills and the ability to work as a team. (I'm aware shooters require both). :)
 
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MorganPark

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Dec 9, 2019
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Having worked on an arena shooter which failed due to install base, I'd say there is some technical truth to this. If your game is designed for teams of 10 per side for example, and your user base drops, it messes with matchmaking, which then means higher level players either end up pugstomping or playing alone / unable to matchmake. I also think there's a kind of new mentality with shooters much akin to how MMORPG users were in the 2004-9 era where there was a large number who just jumped from game to game to find the "new wow".

Now we also can't discount the fact that developers also pay influencers a lot of money to promote new games etc, so "tastemaker loyalty" can now be bought. What used to be a 'word-of-mouth grassroots ecosystem' for the game jump has now become something you can buy, e.g if you want hundreds to move from their old game to yours, pay a hardcore influencer to play it for a day, run tons of ads on twitch and buy the biggest booth at gamescom and you're already more of word of mouth machine then anything we've ever seen before.

There's also something to be said for why this is even more true for modern online shooters then say an MMO. Essentially if you're looking for a 15 minute long match in an online arena shooter, you're more inclined to jump from brand to brand to find the level of excitement/ exact gameplay / comeradary that you want as opposed to most OG MMO's which reward the "long game" and lone wolf users due to strategy, depth of knowledge/levelling and crafting over twitch skills and the ability to work as a team. (I'm aware shooters require both). :)
Lots of interesting insight here! I've been lucky to mostly stick to shooters that succeed, but it was hard watching Lawbreakers die so soon. Its gunplay and abilities were legitimately great. A year of quality-of-life updates could've brought it up to snuff, but its publisher pulled the plugged instead.
 

sward

Supergirl
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Nov 25, 2019
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Yeah I mean, you can even see the reasoning for that. They'd need to weigh up studio, hosting and development resources for a year vs the amount of money they were making from their hardcore playerbase. A lot of the time that amount simply makes no sense for studio stakeholders and investors.

Hardcore players of live games (and there have been studies on this) also tend to be a bit short sighted when it comes to understanding implementing updates just to keep the top 1% happy (which they want) vs an update which could bring in new players, extend gameplay or fix the NPE (New Player Experience) funnel which actually help with population fixes vs extending the endgame for your top percentile (whose money you already have, which isn't growing due to IB), especially if the game is free to play - if you don't get new users onto the DLC, you never see profit.

Essentially you get to a point where you either need to change up the gameplay, do a solid new marketing push or decide if you can keep your studio running just to maintain and retain what you currently have. The normal choice for many studios is to sunset the game, keep as many developers as possible on research/next projects and work towards something that will bring in enough revenue - this normally results in redundancy.

This is why multiplayer (and especially multiplayer on new technology like VR, or platform exclusives) is so risky for a studio. Everyone wants to do it, and everyone has an idea for an area shooter, but if you don't have solid research as to who your competitors are and solid budget for marketing, you have to be prepared for early and late cycle matchmaking and population issues. :)
 
Jan 14, 2020
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I was chatting with my Quake Live friends this morning a bit, and we were talking about Quake 4 vs. Quake Champions vs. everything else, which prompted a somewhat sad conclusion - I don't care about the quality of the game, as long as somebody is playing it.

There are a million arena shooters out there but for me, all that really matters anymore is where the players are. If Quake Live has the population, that is where I want to be, even if I really liked the classes in Quake Champions or the movement in Quake 4, etc.

What about you? Do you play your favorite shooter, even if you have to hunt down people to play with on Discord, or do you follow the crowd for the sake of easy matchmaking and full servers?
I agree with you. Gaming today is great but, its very rare for a new arena shooter to hold a population for a long time. I would love it if there was a proper Quake style game with a big population that I can get good at and play for a long time. I feel like I have missed the boat on the old stuff.
 

SHaines

Community Manager
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Nov 25, 2019
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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was definitely my favorite shooter ever as well. It's really a shame they don't make games quite like that anymore.

Arena shooters will likely always have an audience, but gaming has moved in a very different direction from the time where Doom and Quake were the standard bearer for the industry. Not sure we'll ever see it come back into popularity like it did in those early days.
 
Jan 14, 2020
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I can see parallels with the competitive COD style shooter I played recently Battalion 1944. This game had great and simple core mechanics, and good map design with a lot of room for strategy in the main SND game mode (Demolition). The problem though, is that with such a small player base especially in Australia, the game became overly competitive with only a very hard core sweat band player base. You would constantly be playing teams of seasoned players, and new players would feel intimidated. Because the player base was low as far as I know, they couldn't introduce a casual playlist for the mode which was adequately populated, because the ship had already sailed on the game.
 
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I think it also plays in the hand how arena shooters work. In Shooters like Quake or UT, you have a very heavy emphasis on map knowledge and spot domination. I was playing Quake Live for a bit and I would loose a lot of fights against single players, simply because they had more armor/health as I did. I saw them first, I hit them first and I kept hitting, but I simply lacked the health boni from armor etc. Its very important in these games to know where certain pickups are and how you dominate the area around them.

I used to play Titanfall 2 a lot, but that game also declined a lot from the start (thanks EA). If a match is 10-15 Minutes, I will not spend +5 Minutes for the matchmaker to pick something. Especially when due to the low population, it will not find good matches. Like putting myself (EU) together with people from way different Regions (US, RUS) with the result of people lagging around.

I think that one large problem here is also the emphasis on Matchmaking. Even with a low population, it was much easier if you had a classic server browser and access to hosted servers. Much easier to find like-minded people and actually being able to finding them again.
 
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sward

Supergirl
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All good thoughts, and here's why sever browsing doesn't happen like that with modern FPS:

Population: The issue with classic/hosted servers is they can die very quickly and don't account for single player skill level gains etc. people don't want to get raided, so then they need password protection, which means you can only have so many people on, so you may be waiting even longer, thats also a whole lot of extra work in the backend to develop and maintain, vs a menu feature that keeps people playing.

ELO/STMAU: Normally on the backend there are a ton of different algorithms that determine how an FPS player is matchmade. This can be anything from development of skills, number of hits, or if its a group game, some variation on ELO:

According to this algorithm (there are others based on half matches and shots) performance rating for an event is calculated in the following way:
  1. For each win, add your opponent's rating plus 400,
  2. For each loss, add your opponent's rating minus 400,
  3. And divide this sum by the number of played games.
Example: 2 Wins, 2 Losses

This can be expressed by the following formula:

\textstyle {\text{Performance rating}}={\frac {{\text{Total of opponents' ratings }}+400\times ({\text{Wins}}-{\text{Losses}})}{\text{Games}}}


Essentially, if you don't apply ELO or something like that (especially in something like League where they want to get you into ranked ASAP), the low level players/teams have a bad time and continue to loose, and the high level players have a bad time because there is no challenge, and they don't develop their skills and grow.

Skill: It's been proven (deep breath) that a lot of gamers think they are more skilled then they are... (don't hate me, sorry ) so for your new player, you end up with an unpleasant jarring user journey when you choose a high skill level server and need to move down after getting pugstomped. The matchmaking system is also part of your NPE, which for difficult games you need.

Single player: A lot of Developers want this to be more seamless for the single player (single players still do account for most of the population due to casual length of games)and many get intimidated by having to choose servers, find friends, change and adapt etc. Instead of an MMORPG where you have users who have been playing for decades, raiding with the same 20 friends who have developed their own needs and wants from a map, server or fight style. You want this process to be as easy as possible. Download game, load game, wait in line, GAME. The allure of a shooter is very different to the allure of an MMORPG.

Hi I'm Stevie from marketing: They also don't want you spending time between matches on choosing matches, servers or looking for people. They want you looking at cosmetics, customising your character, chatting with online people, flossing, talking to your viewers and grabbing that quick drink. Mainly they want you looking at the loading screen so you can see what you can buy, or what event you can take part in, or what DLC is coming next. They have limited time to convert you to the paywall, so that's where they do it.

Lazy and they know it: What makes netflix more appealing then other services? It auto loads the next episode for you. In essence consumers of entertainment are lazy and we want it spoon fed. I just want my next match, to play it and to come out the other side. I don't want to build the same friendship circle I have in WoW. I want to play a quick good game, get my dopamine and if it wasn't a good game, play the next one as fast as possible. If I'm playing games, I'm making the studio money.

I want friends: I definitely don't think you are alone in wanting to develop buddies for playing FPS games with, and it's really difficult to have meaningful conversations due to how fast the games load. (Unlike me in EVE Online that sits spinning my ship talking to my friends on teamspeak). For a lot of new games, the ability to moderate chat, duty of care for that chat and hold responsibility for what happens on team speak can be a lot to handle for a dev team. Voice and chat servers are expensive, rarely cross platform and when you're dealing with a quick 15 minute shooter, those connections are harder to make.

Like and Subscribe: To that end, I think modern shooter communities have really utilised the streaming and youtuber communities. You can't make friends during a match, but you can watch a streamer play the game you like, talk to them in twitch chat, add them to your discord, make friends with their viewers and play with the people you want to play with. In essence we do a lot more of our socialising and relationship building outside of the games then we did back in '07. Then if I want to play with those people, we squad up and sit back and relax and let the game do the hard work for us.

Hope this makes sense, some of it is a generalisation, but its the reasoning behind why what you pitched doesn't tend to happen. :)

Stevie
 
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Jan 14, 2020
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What about you? Do you play your favorite shooter, even if you have to hunt down people to play with on Discord, or do you follow the crowd for the sake of easy matchmaking and full servers?
The only online shooter I currently play is Quake Champions. Not many people playing it these days, but it's still not a problem to find a game especially at evenings. I never really considered to play an online game only because it's popular. I try to stick to the one that's my favorite. However if the population of QC will still fall down, Bethesda will probably consider shutting down its servers. In this case I'll have to switch to some other game unfortunately.
 
Jan 14, 2020
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I know "why" we often don't get classic servers anymore. That does not mean I agree with it. ;-)

I don't think I have ever really seen ELO work properly in a multiplayer fps at all. In some games (like the current COD) it is in my opinion broken and it can actively hinder players getting better. At the moment in kind of works like this in CoD:

Every 5 games or so, the game is evaluating your performance, depending on it, it will give you easier or harder matches. One problem is that it seems to produce very harsh swings and you can actively abuse this to get into easy games. But if you play relatively well, you will be facing players that are much better and will simply stomp you into the ground (the current meta of the games does not help here). Then you will drop down and get some easy matches. This might make feel you good (unless you can see behind the blinds already), but you will hardly get better in the game at all.

In game like Overwatch, you also face some different issues. The game also is using players to balance out teams if the population is not high enough. Meaning you can end up not just being used to fill in a 4vs5 but also in regard to what the game thinks your skill is.

Lets say each player is rated from 1-6 with 6 being the best.

Team A
Player 1 - 4
Player 2 - 5
Player 3 - 3
Player 4 - 2
Team Skill = 14

Team B
Player 1 - 6
Player 2 - 2
Player 3 - 2
Player 4 - 4
Team Skill = 14

You might end up in a team that is basically worse and since it is a team game, your own impact might not be as important as in other games, since you are always also depending on the performance of your teammates.


I also think that matchmaking is also a issue when it comes to how people behave in the game. I think that a lot of toxicity comes from that fact that when you hit that button to start matchmaking, that you are under the impression that you will play with/against strangers you will most likely never encounter again. Unless the game has a low population this is also mostly true. So people feel they can get away with shitty behavior (and they mostly can). This is much different on classic servers. It is likely you encounter regulars on the servers frequently and at least good servers also have active moderation. Even if a player might not agree with certain server rules, he will probably try not to break the server rules, because he does not want loose access to the server and the people that play on them.

Not to say that servers don't have their own problems, because moderation power can easily be abused and the social dynamics might also lead to players that are not moderators, but are somewhat privileged because they are regulars and friends with server owners.

I also think that it is more likely that a high skill players on these servers, are also more likely to engage with lower skilled players and help them improve. At least if they are smart, since you basically always want new players on your server, in order to even normal player retention.


I think just seeing the same player names does help a lot. When Titanfall 2 was on a low, and you did not leave matchmaking after a round, you would often see some familiar faces. While I never developed a "gaming friendship" with players there, I think it improved the overall quality of the matches. After 2-3 matches, there was way less of a try-hard and sweat-mode going on. People would pick off-meta equipment and goofed around a bit. Plus you got friendly comments in the chat and people actually congratulating each other, if they pulled something nice off. Try that in a game of Overwatch or Six Siege. ;-)

That said, I pretty much focus my "multiplayer fps time" on a game called Squad, which is per Definition a pretty social game and only features classic servers. Before that, I played +5K hours of ArmA 3 in two communities and that was also what I would basically call a social group shooter.
 

sward

Supergirl
Staff member
Nov 25, 2019
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Same people can also mean the same bad people though....
;)

Pretty much all matchmaking systems can be abused in some way, most companies make their own versions/algorithms because in order to use ELO you have to pay for it still, I think. You also don't want to have to rely on nice better skilled players to help new players, because its not scaleable without some incentive (not everyone is as nice as you).

There's also the issue of wanting to increase the population of your game by making it cross-platform, and with that comes new perceptions of game services being slow, different bottlenecks for data on console games vs PC, where hits are stored and on what systems, where information is exchanged etc. On a game I worked on in the past, the PS4 crowd was convinced the PC users were at an advantage - and for stuff like hit points etc, it means a lot to people.

What it does do, however is open the chances for more IRL friends to play together on different platforms, which also helps with the relationship building. This stuff though, is mainly an afterthought, as of course the main reason to go cross platform is, you guess it, profit. :)
 
Jan 13, 2020
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This thread makes me wonder if there are many cases of competitive multiplayer FPS games by indie developers taking off? I can think of a few successful indie multiplayer survival FPS games, but it seems to me that if you want to make arena (or team based) competitive FPS you need to be a big studio with an already established fanbase.

I may be forgetting something.
 
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I think that there is currently no real market for classic "Arena Shooters". At least not in the sense of games like Quake, Unreal Tournament etc. Take Lawbreakers for example. It was certainly not a "great" game in my opinion, but I think that it was decent enough and apart from some early technical issues, the game probably failed because it came out at the wrong time against Competition like Overwatch and the entire Battle Royale Genre.

I would argue that Squad which is a indie game has been pretty successful, it also has a competitive scene, but no "ranked game mode". Same for shooters fro Tripwire Interactive, they have also been relatively successful with their Red Orchestra and Rising Storm series.

That said, none of these games have the budget or the player numbers of huge franchises like Battlefield or Call Of Duty, but they are nonetheless successful. Those are games where the average player numbers are somewhere between 2.000-5.000 players but those numbers are very stable and you never really run into the issue of not finding a server.
 
Jan 13, 2020
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Population matters to me, i used to play Quake Champions quite alot but as the player base dwindled and Queue times increased it didnt matter how much fun i was having in the actual game itself if i had to wait 10-30 mins just for a darn 1v1 at my rank and then because the population was so low i'd get matched with the next Rapha alike and just get my arse handed too me putting me off the game even more. so yeah the bigger the population the better for me in terms of arena shooter's thats what made Nexuis so fun back in the day was the fact that it was free and there were alot of people meaning getting into matches was nice and easy and really thats all that matters to me if an arena shooter is good (which since most follow the same template they usuallly are) it just comes down to player numbers
 
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