Top Ten Ingredients of Online Gaming

Instructions

Playstation 3 has been up and running online since its release, with numerous titles already proving how successful online gaming can be on the platform. This article features MeteorStorm's top ten ingredients for making the perfect online experience, suggesting that perhaps just copying Call of Duty 4 is a silly idea. Each point is helpfully illustrated by a famous cartoon bunny, for no real reason.

10. Co-op modes

Though it isn't essential for every game, adding in online co-op modes is a perfect way of opening up online gaming to more players. For those who aren't keen on jumping straight into a deathmatch with other people, co-op modes can be a great opportunity to fight alongside friends and enjoy another aspect of a game's story. Resistance 2 made excellent strides in this direction with co-op missions for up to eight players, but there's a lot more that can be done, particularly if the entire game's plot is open to co-op.

Co-op behaviour

9. Balance

It's absolutely crucial that online matches be balanced carefully. This is usually quite straightforward when everyone plays as the same type of character, using the same weapon, but there are games (like Resistance) where teams are often different species, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Ensuring that each team can always find a way to succeed is very important. A simple example is a sniper vs trooper battle, where range between players will likely determine the winner.

Balance

8. Copying

Just because one online game has become successful, others shouldn't necessarily copy the formula. Call of Duty 4 might have appealed to a lot of people, but other developers copying this formula simply alienates some people completely, while companies fight over the same subset of players. The first Resistance was a supreme example of online gaming, but the influence of COD 4 was undeniable in the sequel, and the game suffered for it. Conjure up a good idea, and make it work. Variety is key.

Copying

7. Exploits

Humans are a very annoying species, and there are a lot of us who will find a tactic, no matter how dirty and, if it succeeds, proceed to use it relentlessly. Games that feature players sat in stationary gun turrets for entire matches, or hiding in a particular alcove for complete games are flawed, and such exploits should be prevented by ensuring that every tactic can be beaten by another. There are, of course, worse exploits to eradicate, with glitchers and laggers polluting the online world.

Exploits

6. Perks

Quite possibly the most annoying thing in an online game is a perk system. The most obvious problem is that new players to a game will be confronted by gamers that are not only more experienced and capable, but also armed with far-superior technology and weapons. This initial imbalance can be overcome, but it will simply be replaced by a reversal of fortune that is entirely unsatisfying. Where's the fun in beating somebody with no real weaponry? Equal guns, equal armour, off you go, have fun.

Perks

5. Rewards

Though not essential initially, once players are immersed in an online game, rewards are key to those players continuing to invest time in that game. Medals to earn, ranks to get promoted to and unlockables that result (not the perk kind, but things that, for example, look good, like a special uniform or ship skin) are a welcome addition. Recent patches to Wipeout offered medals, whilst the likes of Resistance and Warhawk have long understood the benefit of a good medal and badge system.

Rewards

4. Stability

In many ways, you could argue this should be at number one. One thing's certain: an online mode will fail miserably if it isn't stable. Just ask PES 2008. Once you're involved in an online game, the last thing you want to see happen is for your connection to go, or the game servers to give up half way through the match. A stable online platform is the only way to begin enjoying an aspect of gaming that has enough problems without dodgy joining issues.

Stability

3. Comms

Strongly linked to the number one item in this feature are communications. Playing without being able to talk to other players degrades the gameplay to little more than any offline deathmatch against bots, except the opposition are particularly cowardly and selfish. Good comms allow teamwork and proper socialization, which is most of the fun in online gaming. Part of the secret is also the way comms are shared. Allowing for private squads or parties which can chat privately is an absolute must, and was implemented perfectly in Resistance, before being ignored by practically every online game since.

Comms

2. Menu functionality

Having a great game to play, with all the issues above addressed, is only half the puzzle. The game must still allow players to actually make use of the available options constructively. At the menu stage, before gaming has begun, players must be able to form parties, send messages, choose modes, create matches, adjust settings (of every kind), view profiles and medals, and more. Clear invite options are crucial. For a good example, look no further than Resistance, which got this right from day one.

Functionality

1. Friends

Most importantly, online gaming relies on friends. Warhawk is a flagship online title for the PS3, so it's stunning that two friends, even within the same clan, can get switched onto opposite teams in a match. Basic options to join friends in games are not enough. Online gaming is at its best when there's friends chatting away and having fun in the same game, so every option to facilitate this must be available. Online gaming must be able to emulate almost every aspect of a living-room party, and need not only exist alongside it. The best online gaming moments are those shared with friends, and every game must keep this in mind.

Friends

Guest Feature #1

To finish off the feature, some thoughts from two guest writers. Firstly, fellow YV clan member, Para:

The only times I've ever really enjoyed playing online is when I've been on with a few or all of the YV, either in the good old days of Resistance, or Burnout Paradise and the few other games we've played together over the last few years.

They say that online gaming is 'social' gaming, and if you're meeting up with friends (be they in a clan, or just people you know with the same system and games) then it is to a point. But in my opinion, if I were to go online now and play with a bunch of strangers, I don't really find that 'social' as hardly anyone speaks; you can't make friends if no-one is talking, and I may as well be playing against bots.

For me, truly social gaming is when you have one or more mates round, with some food and drink (not necessarily alcohol) and you're sat around the same console playing the games together - games like FIFA, a split-screen racing game, or games like Buzz! and SingStar (if that's your thing). That way, you can take the piddle when you beat them, or high-five when you - for example - combine to score a great goal. Not only is it more sociable, it also remains fun, because you know that all the 'insults' are said in fun - no-one takes offence.

I'd probably take to the online stuff more readily if there were less assholes in the online world. Maybe it's my age, or my upbringing, or both, but I put a lot of value in fair play and mutual respect. As I've said before, I've no objection to losing when the reason is simply that the other guy is better than me, but when it degenerates to things like spawn camping/killing or using hacks (like the recent CoD4 incident), I just think to myself 'why bother?'

As for respect, I can quite accept a bit of friendly trash-talking, and I'll even give it back - but again, there are those who take it way too far. I'm not bothered about name-calling in the slightest, but with the *beep* we used to get sent via text message on Resistance after we'd thoroughly beaten someone... or even when we'd taken a good hiding... that kind of thing just drains all the fun out of it for me.

There are too many online gamers who need to learn dignity in both victory and defeat. I guess online gaming is the same as any internet-related activity, though - the anonymity means that it's much easier for people to behave like assholes, simply because of the relative lack of consequences.

Para

Guest Feature #2

Now, thoughts from the second guest writer, Shime, fellow YV clan member.

Before I got my PS3, I viewed online gaming as a place for teenage boys and middle aged geeks (note: I am a geek so I'm allowed to call other people geeks) to trade insults on FPS or RTS games while thrusting over who has the most turbotastic mouse and keyboard set up! It was something I wanted no part of and being a console gamer, exclusively, it was an area I never had the option to try.

Then the PS3 came along with it's free online goodness and a game called Resistance so I thought I'd try this out for myself. The funny thing is, because the PS3 allowed you to play online for free, I decided to test Resistance multiplayer, before I had even tried the 2nd mission on the single player. I got my arse kicked. Badly. My lack of experience at online FPS was cruelly and clinically exposed and taken advantage of by rampaging humans and Chimerans alike. I'm fairly competitive at the best of times but there was something about Resistance that made me want to keep playing online, despite getting killed repeatedly.

Then I stumbled across some guys from the [YV] clan. I actually can't remember how we ended up on the same team but these [YV] guys sounded like nice chaps and, importantly, they played for fun. There was only friendly banter and niceties when the [YV] spoke to each other and we seemed to get along quite nicely. I used to look forward to going online most nights to see if these mysterious [YV] guys would be on. There was something about the camaraderie, morals and ethics that came across as clear as mountain water, that just clicked with me, whenever we played online. I felt like I was playing with people who had similar values as me and who played for similar reasons too.

Resistance was key to all of this though, because it had such a fantastic online infrastructure that made playing with friends so easy to set up. You could create a party in the lobby and just have a jolly chat and send silly messages while a game was found with your friends and clan mates. Before the round started, you could also choose between a number of different squads so that your chat could be kept in-clan, rather than have some weird people spouting off gibberish in a language that was as incomprehensible as the Geordie dialect. "Everyone meet in Zulu!!!" or "ZULU!!!!!" would be the pre-match messages emblazoned on the screen most times. Along with "noOb" "lol wut" and other such craziness.

A game that was launched with the PS3 had the online infrastructure spot on from day one, which contributed towards myself (I can't speak for others here) making new friends and thoroughly enjoying playing online, free of extra charges, via the PS3. A new world had been opened up to me and although I was also introduced to the absolute shitty side of online gaming too, I would never have persisted with Resistance if it's infrastructure made it hard to set up and play with friends or if you were charged to play online, as you are with the 360.

Reminiscing aside here are my key components all online games should have built in to their infrastructure: (i) open-mic comms, (ii) option to mute, (iii) private squads with private chat, (iv) party creation, (v) lobbies that do no disband after every game, (vi) ignore/block lists, (vii) in-game friends list, (viii) stats lists for friends, (ix) option to make games private.

Also, my online gaming tastes have changed since Resistance 2, which came along with an excellent co-op mode and once again a new world of online gaming fun was opened up to me. Here was a mode where you could play with friends and not worry about being spawn killed or deliberately and repeatedly shot in the back or have to deal with campers. It was a lot of fun if a little unstable and repetitive at times and it offered another option from the competitive side of online gaming. I just wished it offered more variety and game modes for online co-op. Resi 5 also deserves special mention for having an excellent co-op mode where you could play through the story as either Chris or Sheva, with one friend playing as the other character.

Since these two games offered excellent online co-op play, I've found my interests in online gaming being focused more towards online co-op over competitive. It's just a more relaxed and friendly way to play online with friends and people you get along with. I really hope more games offer online co-op in the future. The biggest shame is that too many games have failed to take note of what makes playing online with friends fun. Even Resistance 2 failed to maintain what made the first game so good, let alone build on it.

I'm not sure what is in store for online gaming but I'm hopeful there will be more games with excellent co-op options, rather than ploughing all resources into the competitive online modes.

Shime Shime

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