We know that video game companies are in the business of creating wonderfully, imaginative worlds where teens, dads, and your English teacher can run around in multiplayer online murdering and teabagging one another. We also know that companies like 343 Industries don’t get paid in fairy dust, friendship bracelets, or jailhouse cigarettes. They do it for the money. And now I’ll explain why a competitive shooter tailor-made for Arena-style competitions with balanced weapons/load-outs, skill-based ranking systems, and all the MLG Pro considerations are NOT a priority for 343.
Meet John Hopson. He was clever enough to figure out a way to design video games so that once played, the gamer would trade breakfast and -Yoink!- for more playing time. He called it Behavioral Game Design.
Ok, so you’re not interested in reading some sciencey, word-a-graph about yada yada yada. I’ll take you through the steps by comparing what MLG Pros and Posers are demanding from 343 and what Microsoft is most likely implementing.
#1 Skill-based ranking system vs The Box
Fans of MLG and the self-described competitive players are clamoring for a return of the 1-50 ranking system. Whether it returns in Halo 4 or not, I’ll tell you why 343 doesn’t see it as a benefit.
Those hardcore Halo players see the 1-50 system as a true indicator of their skill and it gives them a reason to continue playing the game. But the industry already has a blueprint for achieving this kind of result. They put you in a box and make you press a lever for food pellets. OK, that’s the skinner box blue print. Here’s how it works in the game.
“Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from your players.” - John Hopson
If the competitive player reaches his goal of 50 or “greatest slayer ever”, where’s the drive to keep playing. With the skinner box approach, the developers can get you to keep playing the game by offering you rewards every time you play. We’ve already seen this in Reach in the form of daily and weekly challenges and commendation progression.
#2 Skill Gap vs Virtual Items
Again, competitive forums like the ones at The Halo Council are filled with posts demanding a greater increase in skill gap for the next Halo. These players are convinced that if the game were designed to be balanced, then more people would return to the game. A truly gifted Halo slayer wouldn’t fall victim to a n00b that happens to spawn with an upgraded weapon.
Of course, by balance they mean the exclusion of CoD-esque features like custom loadouts, specialization options and classes, and weapon unlocks/upgrades. We’ve all heard them say that a Halo game means that everyone spawns with the same weapons. Here’s why MLG fanboys need to learn how to throw a spiral instead of making youtube videos.
The game isn’t a virtual sports arena. Instead, the game is a virtual game. And in order to keep you playing well past your bedtime, the developers know they have to give you rewards for playing. For everything you do in the game, you need to be instantly rewarded with virtual goodies like credits, and armor, and commendations and you get the idea. But they also need to make you desire these things as if they were real. (haunted helmet anyone?) Having some armor that only looks cool isn’t enough anymore. Upgrading weapons and unlocking game features that affect your play will make all those late nights seem worthwhile.
#3 No Bloom/Armor Lock vs Pulling the Lever
I admit. Nothing is more frustrating that getting the reticule centered on some jerks face, pulling the trigger, and finding out that you are the one being teabagged and not the other way around. Even worse, you manage to pop his shields and just before you finish him off down he goes into sweet invincibility ala armor lock.
The hardcore crowd likes to make the argument that these things reduce skill gap and extend the fight to ridiculous lengths. Here’s why developers like it. For all the criticism of Reach being more “n00b” friendly and Call of Duty being the FPS equivalent to a hotpocket, it’s not an accident by the team creating the games. By making it easier to survive battles and score a lucky kill it ensures that everyone gets to see sparkly medals pop up on their screen.
The commendation rewards system in Reach is designed to give you the rewards quickly and often in the begininng for doing things like toss a grenade. But have you seen the ridiculous requirements to earn an onyx commendation is say Firefight perfection. By slowly making it increasingly harder to earn those rewards, it keeps you playing longer and longer. Even the n00b feels like he has a chance at Onyx multikill commendations.
#4 Halo needs the MLG Pros vs 343 needs you to buy more stuff
We are finally getting to the core of this tangled argument. Pro gamers that have made money and carved out a nice hobby/career out of lining up headshots feel entitled. It’s like Lebron demanding that Wilson make a new basketball for him and then demanding that the NBA use it. No one questions his talent and skill, but you are not the center of the basketball universe Lebron! Being slightly delusional allows these Pros to see the video game market in way that makes their very existence vital to a FPS title’s success.
Of course, having your game played in front of thousands of people and reaping the benefit of free advertising on Twitch streams isn’t something to ignore. But even our favorite Pros (yes even I have favorites, hello Dmaq wassup!) could be traded for a youtuber with a lot of red bull, zero self-awareness, and a great internet connection. 343 would still achieve the same kind of mass marketing success without all the condescending, skillosophy lectures. (I’m blogging. I get to make up new words)
Here’s what the developers would rather do. They will give you a game that makes it so addictive, that you will feel like you are losing if you don’t play it. The incredibly arduous social ranking system in Reach was not designed to ignore individual skill. It was designed so that you could keep track of your friends ranks and others online. If you stopped playing for a week, missed all the credit jackpots, or daily and weekly challenges you could fall behind your peers. By not playing, you are losing.
Now add in DLC with special playlists with even bigger jackpot payouts. Do you need a map and compass to see where this is headed. DLC in the form of weapon unlocks and armor upgrades that will affect gameplay is the next logical step. By not buying it, and not playing it, you will be losing. Now in what way is this a platform for sports?
#Edited, Deleted a paragraph because I went over the maximum characters. (Post can be found on halocouncil)