In part one of this article series, I thoroughly explained why we shouldn't assume one multiplayer game takes more skill to play than another overall. My theory is the personal fable we construct is heavily skewed by our experiences. Because we know so much about the games we play it can be difficulty seeing how other games compare. As a result gamers often argue about non existent differences from a standpoint of ignorance.
Biting the Bullet: Give and Take
Another way competitive gamers tend to unfairly view multiplayer games they don't like or play is by pointing out "glaring flaws." These flaws can be anything from an effective playstyle, the speed of a game, the art style, to the community and any rules it creates. Just one of these reasons, real or rumor, and some gamers dismiss an entire multiplayer game as inferior. It's one thing to have an opinion or a preference. It's another to be blinded by prejudice. I think such a view is unfair or at least unproductive because I've never experienced a multiplayer game or a large community that I completely appreciated all parts of. There's always some aspect that I don't like. It seems like the whole point of multiplayer competition is to minimize what you don't like and beat others trying to draw on your weakness. There's always a balance between what you like and what you're willing to put up with. When there are more disliked aspects than liked aspects in a game, you'll probably stop playing. For some specifics, the following is a list of aspects of competitive multiplayer games that I dislike and deal with.
- Mario Kart DS. Raptoring, a technique where you fight for 2nd-4th place item boxes to gain the item advantage at strategic points in a close race. Unbalanced karts killed the variety and narrowed the gameplay down to light karts with fast acceleration for the best snaking. Though not as bad as the other examples, blue shells can be frustrating.
- Smash Brawl. Tripping at a 1% chance is barely tolerated among many pro Smashers. Some have hacked the game to remove this feature. In general, I dislike the run away tactics more than tripping. I hate it when opponents camp the ledge for invincibility. Balanced is an issue as well.
- Mario Strikers Charged. When I played, the tiers were the fastest characters because speed was everything. Slow characters with great shooting became unused because of the new, emergent trick shots using the CHIP mechanic. Boo's high speed, great passing, and defensive deke made it an over powered character all around. Abusing goalie invincibility by camping defensive was very frustrating.
- Metroid Prime Hunters. The characters are unbalanced especially in the FFA online ranked matches. Trace, one of 6 characters, gets the powerful sniper gun by default. Just imagine if one player defaulted with the snipe in competitive Halo. Quickly regenerating health pick ups encouraged lots of running away. It is difficult to kill without the snipe. The FPShuffle is pretty significant.
- Pokemon series. At first, I didn't like how high level competitive play is built around lots of switching out. Now, I've embraced it.
- Bomberman DSi. At the highest level of play, opponents will run away rather than confront you in the mid-late game. This is because players get negative points for losing and positive points for a draw. It's extremely difficult to trap a skilled player even when the arena is slowly shrinking in the final phase of combat.
- Call of Duty series. Grenade spam, camping, and stackable killstreak bonuses are common complaints.
- Advance Wars Days of Ruin. Mech marching is when a losing player will only build mech units, a fairly cheap, powerful, and slow unit. After a few turns, there's enough to form a wall of these units. Countering this strategy slows down the game to a counter stall strategy. I didn't like the CO meter comeback design of the older older Advance Wars or the double CO design of Dual Strike.
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Battle. Roll locking is a technique where you can continually roll into an opponent, stun them, and repeat almost indefinitely. Also the powerful, match upsetting invincibility powerup can be hard to deal with.
It's probably unfair to judge the competitive viability of a game on these features. Community rules change, new techniques are discovered, and popular trends often die down. Part of the reason why competitive gamers stick to their games for so long is that they fight through the difficult times by embracing the rules and sharpening their skills. They face these emergent problems and find emergent solutions. Knowing the metagame of a competitive game in great detail is literally knowing the history of competiting forces. It's rich, detailed, seasonal, trendy, and a world to itself. It matters little what the game is. As long as its members are dedicated and continue to compete (a requirement that that deep, complex games satisfy) an interesting metagame will develop. So in many ways one of the most satisfying parts of competition stems from human players. The "glaring flaws" just make the journey more interesting.
Attitude, Drive, Skill
Another bias is one that single player or non competitive gamers have against competitive multiplayer gamers. Single/non-compeititve gamers often view competitive gamers as having fundamentally different skill potential, attitudes, and drives. I see very little difference between the two groups. I've met single player gamers that have devoted hundreds of hours mastering incredibly difficult challenges. And I've defeated some competitive gamers that didn't put enough time or heart into truly competing. One group doesn't necessarily have more skill or drive. Also, fun is a bit of a moot factor. It's so highly subjective that it's not worth trying to determine which of two gamers is having more fun. Practing and losing may not be fun in the same ways as winning is fun, but they're parts of the gaming experience that we accept. So as long as gamers choose to play, they're having fun.
The biggest difference between single player gamers and competitive gamers is a preference in the challenge type. Single player games tend to have challenges that are predictable and static. The challenges are set and tuned by the developers, and players are free to attempt them at any time as many times as they want. For the most part, if you don't like a single player challenge you can pick another level, difficulty mode, or use powerups. For healthy multiplayer games, none of these options are typically available. The healthy part of the equation means there's an active community. Ultimately the challenges one faces in multiplayer competition are in flux. New techniques are discovered. New players with unique styles rise to the top. And everyone else constantly improves their game.
The developers make the game, but the community shapes the multiplayer challenge through the rules and unpredictable metagame. With competitive multiplayer games there are no in game tutorials on how to play at the highest level. Even community guides are rarely very user friendly or effective. The best way to improve is playing against other skilled players. At least in my experience, I never feel like I can get enough practice or retries against other players. The mistakes you make in tournament matches are permanent. Once it's over you and your opponent will never face off at the same skill level again.
Comeback Mechanics Balancing Pros and Beginners
With practice, dedication, and even some outside help we get better at the games we play. It's a slow process, but learning always is. One lesson at a time we build more elaborate models and stories about games so we can make more informed decisions. Games are made of rules (complexities). Outside of games of chance, skill makes the difference. The more complex a game the more knowledge skills will be stressed over the other 4 DKART skills. It's amazing how many developers don't realize there's nothing that can be done to maintain skillful play in a game and increase the ability for significantly less skilled players to compete (outside of handicap options). As long as advantages are available to all competing players, more skillful players will learn how to gain more advantages using them. Comeback mechanics mostly effect games between players of similar skill. From Street Fighter 4 Ultras, Marvel vs Capcom 3 X-factor, to items in Mario Kart or Zelda Spirit Tracks Battle, skilled players always find more effective ways to use every tool given.
I hope I've broadened your view of multiplayer games and gamers. It's much more accurate to view all gamers as being more similar than different. From here we can better understand how game design and social dynamics shape us into gamers of one type or another.