Killing Console Multiplayer?

HBO and the HBO forum have both provided links to an editorial by "William Usher" at Cinema Blend about how Halo is killing console gaming.

So now that this specious attempt to nab page hits has worked, there can be little further damage that I can do except to examine the author's premise and see if it holds any merit. For the most part, it doesn't.

When you have to start off your article by saying "this isn't Halo bashing" it's not a good sign. Not because Halo doesn't deserve thoughtful criticism. It does. It is not a perfect edifice placed on Earth by some deity for the entertainment of humanity.

Not Bashing Halo-- Really I'm Not

Rather than bashing Halo, the author states he wants to "look at how gamers have allowed it to control their online, console gaming experience." Nice that he includes the word "allowed" there, indicating that whatever popularity Halo has is given to it by fans and not taken by force. As the article proceeds your freewill slowly ebbs away.

He notes that Halo 2 dominated XBL until Gears of War was released, but that "[...] Gears didn't top the charts for too long, as Halo 3 came out and took dominance of the online competition ring."

I'm not sure whose fault that is supposed to be. Epic's for not making a game that became as popular as Halo 2? Or the fault of players, for ultimately preferring Halo 2 (or Halo 3) to Gears?

Now come the unfounded assumptions.

"But the problem is that - like most gamers in the gaming community - there's always a penchant for wanting to play other games online, which seem to receive little or no fanfare."

The author has now directly contradicted himself, and we haven't gotten out of the second paragraph yet. We have Gears coming out and briefly unseating the Halo franchise-- yet people always want to play other games, games that get no fanfare. Apparently the author believes that Halo players want to play something else, would prefer to play something else, but just don't know what it is. Nevermind that at least there's Gears. If the author wanted to make a point that XBL is dominated by shooters and that the shooters are dominated by the Halo franchise, then I'm right with him. He seems to be trying to say that people really would rather play something other than Halo, but they are being prevented by some mystical force. What could this be?

"Yes, Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War are also always on the list too, but you're never going to find an empty multiplayer channel of Halo."

COD4 has been on top of the 360 title list as often as not since its release, so dismissing it out of hand seems downright rude. The phrase "empty multiplayer channel" makes me wonder if the author even plays Halo online on a console. In fact that, and the many references elsewhere in the article, makes me think he's primarily a PC gamer that owns an Xbox and knows you can play Halo on it, but that's about it.

In fact, his use of the word channel, rather than the terms Bungie uses like hopper and playlist, tells me he's unfamiliar with all the effort Bungie has put into addressing exactly the problem he is citing, although on a different scale. More on that in a bit.

"Finding multiplayer competition for titles like Blacksite: Area 51, 007: From Russia With Love, The Outfit, or Fatal Inertia (just to name a few), is almost tougher to do than finding a Republican who doesn't support the NRA. However, there's never a shortage of players hounding Halo 2 and Halo 3, even if they aren't actually playing."

I'm sure the lack of players for those games is somehow related to Microsoft and its evil hype machine and has nothing whatsoever to do with those other games. After all, it must be so. People want to play other games! These games ARE other games! Something nefarious must be preventing people from playing these other games, and the most obvious target is the game they are playing. Even though the author asserts that they are playing even when they aren't playing. I have no idea what he means by that.

Making People Play Nice

The author goes on to assert that Halo 2 and Halo 3 dominates the tunneling services that cater to those who can't get XBL, don't want XBL, or have been kicked off XBL: Xlink Kai, XBConnect, and Leaf. I'm not even sure what influence Microsoft or Bungie are supposed to influence over these services that they can't control and that they would probably prefer didn't exist, as they take customers away from XBL.

"The problem isn’t that a lot of people are playing Halo 2 and Halo 3, the problem is that everyone who goes on any service that offers these games are playing them, and pretty much little of anything else. You can bet that nearly everything else that isn’t Halo 2, Halo 3, Call of Duty or Gears of War is going to see sparse activity, if none at all."

Here is the real problem, the one that (within the context of Halo, anyway) Bungie has labored endlessly to address, the one that is inherent to a game that is dependent on online multiplayer as opposed to one that is built primarily or solely on a solo experience. The problem is that the value of a multiplayer game increases in a nonlinear fashion with the number of players who play it. There is no utility in a multiplayer game you cannot play. Splitting Halo 3's playerbase equally amongst a dozen or so other deserving and fun multiplayer titles would greatly reduce the utility of the Halo title to its owners, as they would find the game that always had a player population now has a scarcity, and the population split amongst the other games would not give any of them a critical mass large enough to significantly improve their status.

People are only willing to pay a fee for a service like XBL when it enables what they want to do when they want to do it. When a block of time opens up in their busy lives for a chance to play a game, they want to sit down and play it, not wait for the system to find people to play with. The fewer people are interested in a particular game, the more time you need to wait. People play Halo because other people play Halo-- not because of hype and not because Bungie and MS are somehow ramming it down anyone's throats, and not because people aren't aware of the existence of other games.

What this comes down to is that some gamers, like the author, would like to play other games sometimes, but not enough people want to play those games when he wants to play them to make it convenient.

This is the problem that Bungie's playlist hoppers solve. By taking away from the player the complete freedom of choice in matchmaking to determine the map, the game type, and weapon spawns, Halo attempts to please the largest number of players for the largest amount of time while at the same time promoting variety.

"It sometimes makes you question what happened to everyone who bought other online-supported games from the retail shelves? I’m assuming these are the same people who keep their games in the original packaging, never to open or play them."

Here are a few items of note for the author: Most game players do not play online. Most. Until MS created the Silver accounts, there were more Xboxes not on Live than on Live. Even now MS does not release figures of how many Gold and Silver accounts they have, but even so, the number of 360s on Live is less than the number of consoles sold.

So not everybody who owns a console is online, and not every online console owner plays online. While the number of simultaneous players on Halo 3 is indeed staggering it is still relatively small compared to the actual number of copies of Halo sold and the entire Xbox 360 installed base. Those people aren't keeping their games in the original packaging. They are playing campaign, which is the real reason people buy games. Multiplayer is an extra. Multiplayer gets all the hype because the people who play online also write online and read online and the squeakiest wheels get all the grease.

However, let's not split hairs here. Bioshock was a pretty darn good game that had good sales and fantastic reviews, yet has no multiplayer features whatsoever. Shadowrun was a decent game with ho-hum reviews and so-so sales, and has multiplayer only, no campaign whatsoever. In other words, if you have multiplayer but nothing else, you're very likely to fail. However, if you do things well, you can completely ignore multiplayer and still succeed.

Mark that. Multiplayer is important. Multiplayer is a differentiator. Multiplayer is where the leading edge of console gaming is, and it is undeniably the future. It is, however, at this very moment, not the main attraction. Of the three current generation consoles the clear leader is the weakest in terms of online functionality.

"The media hype surrounding Halo keeps gamers playing Halo, but it doesn’t really help expand online console gaming beyond that. Server hosts should start changing things up a bit; offering more incentives to lesser known, or lesser played games."

This paragraph again makes me wonder if the author has any idea what Xbox Live is or how it works. Xbox Live has no server hosts. Microsoft administrates the backend that does authentication and billing and handles your Friends list so you can see what other people are playing. They have absolutely no control whatsoever on what people choose to play, beyond promoting games in Marketplace, which they do-- plenty of games that aren't Halo or Halo-related, including a bunch of downloadable Xbox Originals, Xbox Live Arcade games, and Xbox 360 game dmeos.

Who are these "server hosts" who are supposed to "change things up a bit" on Xbox Live?

That's right-- they are you and me, the ordinary guys who pay to use XBL and want to sit down and have fun when we have time to play.

In fact, Micrsoft does do a good job of trying to mix things up and spread the wealth, hosting weekly events that promote other games.

Here's a solution for you, and one that I am sure plenty of people will hate just as much as some people hate Bungie's hoppers for not allowing them to use the matchmaking engine to generate them an endless stream of their favorite gametype (team slayer) on their favorite map (High Ground or other). Let's apply Bungie's hopper system to the whole of XBL. Let's make the system so you can party up in the dashboard and then enter a playlist that chooses not from a selection of Halo maps and gametypes, but from the library of installed games available on all the consoles of the party members. That'd mix things up a bit.

Perhaps only a bit, though. Because I can guarantee you that they'd still be playing a lot of Halo, and that's nobody's fault. If you want to play something else, play something else. If you don't have others to play with, tell your friends to buy the games you want to play and then play them. If they won't, then build your friends list from people who want to play the game you want to play. Your XBL friends list does not have to be a list of all the guys from work or your buds at uni. It's supposed to be to help you find people to play games with. If you don't want to play Halo and your entire friends list does, then make room on your friends list, look at the Xbox.com forums, and try to find people who want to play those games, and put them on your friends list.

For developers: maybe more people would play your games if the online experience was as rich and smooth as Halo's. Don't give everyone total control. Don't slap a PC style server browser on your game and expect big numbers from XBL multiplayer (Gears, I'm looking at you).

Otherwise, the money publishers complain about losing when their title ends up in the used-game bargain-bin, is partially to blame on no one having a reason to play it anymore, especially if everyone is playing the latest Halo game.

There are no "server hosts" here to blame, as the author does. Server hosts are ordinary players like you and me. If the game ends up in the bargain bin and nobody plays it, it is the fault of the publisher and the developer and no one else.

Halo isn't killing console multiplayer. It is keeping it on life support. The sooner that developers and network operators look at its model and embrace it, the sooner multiplayer becomes the main event and not just a checklist item.

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Comments

The title sounded promising, a unique foray into the influence of online console multiplayer.

While I think the original article provides very little to substantiate its premise, it's a mass-media perspective of the Halo franchise in online gaming.

Your article, on the other hand, its a blindingly negative perspective to defend Halo....*exactly like HBO*...how are you people so blindingly fan-boyish towards these games? Are they the only games that exist? No.

Hoppers? The author does not need to delve into such depth. His claim (as I mentioned lacks much support) is a general statement, one that I agree with because Halo is such a large component of console gaming. He mentioned games like Dark Knight II and Forza, which could have been more forceful, to show "empty" channels. Did Halo kill these games? In a way, yes they did. Sure, the Halo franchise is a *decent* franchise (I would never go so far to say the greatest), but, as you fail to think rationally, people do enjoy playing a *Variety* of games, not *one.* Any game gets boring after a while. People that play 2000 games on Halo need to add some real life hobbies to their repertoire. And I don't care if they are 14. Play a sport, get some friends and go to the mall, work on some project that will develop other skills.

I play NHL 09 more than I play Halo. I played COD4 more than I played Halo. Does that make me a bad person? To you, I am.

Rampancy and HBO are blind. Wake up, already, and present some important news, such as how Halo can work with *other* games to increase gaming, rather than splitting your community with such negative rage. Thank you.

Sean Ross

[quote=daedalus311]

Your article, on the other hand, its a blindingly negative perspective to defend Halo....*exactly like HBO*...how are you people so blindingly fan-boyish towards these games? Are they the only games that exist? No.

...

Rampancy and HBO are blind. Wake up, already, and present some important news, such as how Halo can work with *other* games to increase gaming, rather than splitting your community with such negative rage. Thank you.

Sean Ross
[/quote]

Uh oh. The "fanboy" brush came out. Any other input? Perhaps a good well-poisoning? Kick the straw man in the junk?

Narc is about as un-fanboy as you can get. I'm not sure if we were reading the same article, but it's really irrationality in general that plants a bur in his blanket.

And though I agree with you quite strongly in the need to have balanced activities (a balance weighted towards the latter part of Electronic Gaming vs. "Life"), your appeal at the end for HBO/Rampancy to help "increase gaming" seems an odd conflation.

Hmmm. This could continue for quite awhile. Let's stop there.

Cheers,

Finn/dna

Sean, where in this article is the rage you allude to in your last sentence. I don't see any "fanboyisms" in his language or arguments. He looks purely at the structure of the multiplayer systems and creates an analysis based on that. He just happens to be of the belief that Halo does a really good job with its multiplayer elements and that is why people *choose* to play it.

I love playing other games as well, but I find the most satisfying experience comes with halo's multiplayer component. That is why I choose to play it and why I would suppose someone else would choose to play it.

Where in the article did Narcogen accuse you of being a bad person if you like another game? Go play the other games if they satisfy you. Thats great, just don't put words in other people's mouths to make you feel like your fighting some ignorant army. You're not. In fact, the only inflammatory language I see here is the stuff you spouted.

Forgive me if I don't take you seriously. Honest discussion does not need to devolve into ad hominen attacks.

When you put up a decent argument, perhaps people will respond with the type of discussion you alluded to in you article. Till then, have fun wallowing in your anti-halo hate.

-Joel

[quote=daedalus311]
I play NHL 09 more than I play Halo. I played COD4 more than I played Halo. Does that make me a bad person? To you, I am.

Rampancy and HBO are blind. Wake up, already, and present some important news, such as how Halo can work with *other* games to increase gaming, rather than splitting your community with such negative rage. Thank you.

Sean Ross
[/quote]

Mr Ross you are indeed right, Rampancy and HBO SHOULD get people to play other video games! They are completely doing a disservice to the gaming community by not promoting other video gaming activities to the fans of the Halo games.

you also mention you like NHL 09, right? That reminds me, while we're spreading the video game love around for all video games other than just Halo here at Rampancy and HBO, we should also get the NBA to establish a program for children to learn to play hockey! The NHL is one of the smallest professional sports leages, and the NBA has a duty to the public to teach kids how to play the great game of hockey! Sure, more people in the world may play basketball, and hockey IS a fun sport in its own right, but hockey should be advocated by basketball players around the world so that those who play hockey will have enough competitors to keep them happy.

We can't let someone's love of one sport, diminish another person's oppurtunity to play the sport they love, right?

- Brett (MacGyver10)

Rampancy and HBO are about Halo. They don't *have* to flaunt any other games. If they did, I'd likely stop visiting those sites. I happen to like Halo, very much so, and I go to those sites to feed my interests. There are other games out there...play them. Halo is popular because people like to play it...a lot. If other games were as good or as engaging, wouldn't they overtake Halo and leave Halo in their dust? Since for the most part they don't, I'll assume Halo has something going for it.

Now, I can't speak to some of the points here as I have never played a game on XBox Live before. Sure I'd like to, but I have to get my constant fill of Halo 1, 2, and 3 in. Still, of all the games I own, I CHOOSE to play Halo the most often by far...why? Because it's such a great game. It's not that I'm not aware that there are other games out there...I play some other games now and then, but I always come back to Halo by my own choice...no brainwashing involved.

I'm Canadian and among the other *preconceived notions* often attributed to Canadians is that we all like Hockey. Well, I don't. I don't like it at all. In fact, I've lived a happy life for 37 years disliking all sports. Why does one sport have to advertise another. Strange arrangement.

Gotta go play some more Halo. Bye.

[quote=daedalus311]
Rampancy and HBO are blind. Wake up, already, and present some important news, such as how Halo can work with *other* games to increase gaming, rather than splitting your community with such negative rage. Thank you.

Sean Ross
[/quote]

I play a video game to have fun, not to worry about how I should be 'working with other games' to get more gamers online. This isn't boardroom, it's an Xbox. I'll let the MS/Sony/Nintendo marketing people take care of recruiting more people.

I play Halo 3 more than other games because it's more enjoyable to me. I'm not going to buy another game and force myself to play it so more people get onto that game. That would be against the whole point of playing video games to begin with; to have fun, to unwind. Not create another job for myself, a job not only I wouldn't be paid for, but one I'd have to pay to do. How anyone could fail to understand this is completely beyond me.

- Jag

[quote=daedalus311]The title sounded promising, a unique foray into the influence of online console multiplayer.

While I think the original article provides very little to substantiate its premise, it's a mass-media perspective of the Halo franchise in online gaming. [/quote]

I agree partially. The article does little to substantiate its premise. The phrase "mass-media perspective" is pretty empty, though. What exactly is that supposed to mean?

[quote=daedalus311]
Your article, on the other hand, its a blindingly negative perspective to defend Halo....*exactly like HBO*...how are you people so blindingly fan-boyish towards these games? Are they the only games that exist? No. [/quote]

No. But neither is the relatively lesser popularity, on the XBL system as an example, the *fault* of Halo, nor is it a *problem* that needs to be addressed, which is what the article strongly suggests.

[quote=daedalus311]
Hoppers? The author does not need to delve into such depth. His claim (as I mentioned lacks much support) is a general statement, one that I agree with because Halo is such a large component of console gaming.[/quote]

You're right, he does not go into detail. If he wants to make any sort of statement, he needs to. The article's failure to substantiate its premise, and the fact that it seems to misapprehend critical details about how XBL works in general and how Halo multiplayer works in specific in my mind reduces his credibility for making an argument about how multiplayer systems should work.

[quote=daedalus311]

He mentioned games like Dark Knight II and Forza, which could have been more forceful, to show "empty" channels.[/quote]

I'm not really sure what you're saying here. What does it mean to say DKII and Forza could have been "more forceful"? More forceful at what? What is a "channel" in this respect?

[quote=daedalus311]

Did Halo kill these games? In a way, yes they did. Sure, the Halo franchise is a *decent* franchise (I would never go so far to say the greatest), but, as you fail to think rationally, people do enjoy playing a *Variety* of games, not *one.*[/quote]

You are making the exact same self-contradiction as the author. You blame Halo for "killing" other games, acknowledging that it enjoys popularity above the other games you cite (although it is worth noting that the most recent stats have COD4 on top again, despite the author's hand-waving dismissal of that title as irrelevant).

Simultaneously you say that "people enjoy playing a variety of games, not one".

Sir, the statistics do not support your conclusion. The statistics bear out that, at least within the XBL population, the portion of which play multiplayer, a small number of games are far more popular than most others. Whether some people sometime also enjoy other games is not an issue. It is demonstrably true. The question is whether or not because of this fact, artificial actions should somehow be taken by some party (the author only says "server hosts" which in the case of XBL do not exist) to increase the popularity of these "other games" at the expense of Halo because Halo is somehow "too popular" and other games which are less popular are also fun and more deserving.

All I have pointed out in my article is not to defend Halo on its merits but simply to say that in addition to whatever merits it has, the game's own popularity creates a virtuous circle that increases its own popularity, since one of the primary reasons for owning a console and subscribing to the XBL service is to have online multiplayer available at the user's convenience, and the game with the largest potential audience offers the most utility in this respect since it maximizes the amount of time spent gaming and minimizes the amount of time spent browsing and waiting.

[quote=daedalus311]

Any game gets boring after a while. People that play 2000 games on Halo need to add some real life hobbies to their repertoire. And I don't care if they are 14. Play a sport, get some friends and go to the mall, work on some project that will develop other skills.

[/quote]

What gives you the right to tell other people what to do? They bought their console, they bought the titles they want to play, they subscribe to XBL, and they play what they like. If you don't want to play it, don't- nobody is forcing you to.

Likewise, what the author seems to want, and what you seem to want, if you agree with him, is some mechanism whereby players who currently prefer Halo can somehow be forced to play other games instead, either simply based on the assumption that variety is good or to increase the population of available players for other games, presumably games that you would prefer to play other than Halo.

This is the philosophy Bungie applies to matchmaking, where you do not have the complete ability to determine map and gametype, but merely enter a list where similar types and maps are rotated, to introduce players to a variety of gametypes and maps, to make sure that the Halo experience is varied, and to give the players who like less popular gametypes and maps a chance to play once in awhile.

This approach has many vocal critics; those who wanted a customs browser, those who wanted a traditional server browser, and those who want playlists that are straight-up mimics of a server browser. I am not one of those. I applaud Bungie for the way playlists enforce some variety. I may complain privately that there's too much team slayer and not enough oddball, but I know Bungie is already trying to put more objective games in than the majority of the population really wants anyway, and I appreciate that.

What this article seems to advocate is a playlist-style approach to the entire console, where someone puts in their Halo disc and the 360 should ask you if you want to play something else instead. No thank you. Short of that there is really little anyone can, or indeed should, do to try and artificially manipulate the online populations of various games on the XBL service. MS does, through the dashboard and other means, try hard to promote plenty of other games, and that is laudable. That is where it should stop.

[quote=daedalus311]

I play NHL 09 more than I play Halo. I played COD4 more than I played Halo. Does that make me a bad person? To you, I am. [/quote]

What? Please point me to what part of my article alleges that those who don't play Halo or don't like Halo or like Halo less than other games are somehow "bad people".

I'd have to put myself on that list since for the last two months I've played a lot more Eve Online than I have Halo 3.

Also, please note, since you seemed to have missed it-- I also *defended* COD4 in my article, as the original pieces *dismissed* it as unimportant when it was presented as evidence that Halo 3 is not necessarily the dominant multiplayer game on XBL. As I write this, COD4 is the top game on XBL, but somehow it is still Halo that is killing console gaming?

[quote=daedalus311]

Rampancy and HBO are blind. Wake up, already, and present some important news, such as how Halo can work with *other* games to increase gaming, rather than splitting your community with such negative rage. Thank you.[/quote]

What does it mean to say that Halo can "work with other games"? If I put Halo in the tray, I want to play Halo. If I want to play something else, I'll play something else. Why do other games need to "work with" Halo to increase gaming? Why is "increasing gaming" even an objective, except for the companies that make and sell games? I have no interest in "increasing gaming". I already have more games than I have time to play them, and that includes Halo.

Despite what you think, I wrote this rebuttal not because somebody on the internet said some things that can be construed as negative about Halo. If I wrote a response every time that happened I'd scarcely have time for anything else. I wrote it because the piece touched on a topic that is an important part of Halo's success, while alleging that this success is somehow bad, and that it should be artificially reduced in order to benefit people who like other games and companies that make other games. I think that's a deeply flawed concept in this respect and one that should not gain traction in the gaming community.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Ah, the politics of games. Should gamers be governed by a socialist approach? It would make sure that all games receive an equal amount of players. No game more popular than another, a perfect world. Or is the libertarian approach better? A game has as many players as want to play it, as long as that number of players doesn't infringe on the rights of another game.

The possibilities are endless.

Personally, I prefer Halo over other games, and in fact, the only 360 game I own is Halo 3. I bought a 360 so I could play Halo 3. I really don't like other kinds of games. I don't like the dynamic of COD4 and Gears is too violent for me. I'm probably on of the few only gamers on the planet who doesn't like to play a variety of games. My original xbox game lineup consisted of 4 games, two of which were Halo. The only other game I kinda want to buy right now is Guitar Hero 3, which has no online multiplayer.

an interesting side note: most people vote for politicians based on name recognition over political stance. This holds true for local elections more than national ones. I suppose you could say the same is true of people buying games, but that is the fault of the publisher for not advertising more as the result of a low budget. Low budget games will inherently be played less then high budget ones. On that same note, more hyped games will be played more then less hyped ones.

Now, if the politician you elected does a horrible job, you will not reelect them. In a similar manner, If the overly hyped game you bought sucks, you will stop playing it and sell it to Gamestop. Great games retain their audience because they are great games. Hype really just affects the starting audience. Hype does not last years after a game's release (usually).After a while a game has to support itself based on its own re playability. Halo does this. So do other games like COD4 and GEARS. Less popular games do not. I think we all remember Assassin's Creed. That game looked awesome. In my opinion, it did not live up to the hype.

I will say it one more time, hype does not keep a gaming audience, it only gets them to play... once. If your game sucks, no amount of hype will save it.

Daedalus311
I really want to add something here in answer to your fanboi accusation.
I started the thread on HBO. I thought I'd write something when the author described the days of Quake 2.
I used to play online PC games all the way back to Quake. By Quake 3 and some of the Q3 engine games I stopped apart from some Halo PC. Probably a combination of age ( bad reflexes) and boredom (deathmatch/ctf modes all the time.)
Anyway whilst I'm not totally objective, the first game's campaign is probably my fave game ever, I actually don't know anything about Halo 3 online. I wouldn't try and defend something that I know nothing about.