The Intellectual Dishonesty of Gated Game Communities

AAA games on PC are becoming more and more unfriendly. Perhaps buoyed by the gatekeeping on consoles, developers are less enamored with the thought of putting their game on PC and having it ripped to shreds by technically-inclined players.

A prime example of this is the non-apology issued by Respawn Entertainment over the outcry that resulted when they removed the much-loved but rarely-played CTF mode from Titanfall. They quickly buckled, but left an interesting article in the wake of the controversy. This grotesquely bad piece of reasoning serves as a good marker for all the things wrong with the mindset of AAA PC developers, and why they are lying to themselves as much as they lie to you.

Misunderstanding Community Servers

Out of everything that is wrong with buying a AAA PC game, the lack of mod and server support is far and above the most heinous. Respawn Entertainment had this to say regarding servers:

A server browser, at its core, is when you can look at all running game instances and then choose which game you'd like to join. Some server browsers let you filter by all sorts of things; game type, latency, map, player count, and so forth. While there isn't anything inherently wrong with a server browser, we've chosen to take the onus of finding a good match off the player. The ideal goal of a good matchmaking system is to have a complete view of all currently joinable games to find you the perfect match. Why should the player have to sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of matches to find an empty slot on a server with a good connection and people who are equally matched? Matchmaking streamlines all this, in a way that hopefully creates more compelling match-ups and gameplay for everybody.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a server browser, and is so obviously wrong that it is almost self-evident. Server browsers are not there to act as a way for a player to find a good map or good session; they are there to act as a way for players to find a good community. They aren't as necessary for small-scale co-op games, like Payday 2 or Left 4 Dead, but they are incredibly important for any competitive game that has twelve or more players playing at once.

Servers are, at their core, a bit like the local watering hole. You grow to know certain players and their styles, develop rivalries, and even have interpersonal conflicts. These communities can often act as a way to keep a game alive beyond its normal lifespan. By cutting off the ability to host and manipualte servers from the community, you end up with a game that dies quickly.

This ties into an interesting point: the fall of small game clans. In the Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress Classic days, you could not look at a server browser without seeing hundreds or thousands of clan servers. These servers acted as both communities and recruiting grounds; clans hosted games on their own servers, and people playing on them could apply. Clans of a few dozen people were extremely common. Clans generally did not pubstomp - join one server as a team and completely destroy everyone - as they stuck to their own little community and encouraged growth.

Look at the sad state of clans today. The only popular modern shooter that supports clans is Battlefield, and it has its own issues with servers and mods. That said, it's still miles ahead of Titanfall, whose servers are totally invisible and unchangeable by the players. The only small clans are people who are already friends; it's very difficult to develop a friendship with a stranger playing Titanfall, or Modern Warfare 3, or other match-making only competitive shooters.

The most horrible assumption with Respawn's words is not that they feel that they need to be the guardians of all that is just and right with matchmaking, although that comes close. What is the worst is that they assume they can't simply add both server browsers and matchmaking side-by-side.

Team Fortress 2 is a good example. To the casual player, one can hit the quick match button, select a game mode, and be thrown into a public match on a Valve-run server that suits them with no issues whatsoever. To the savvy player, the server browser acts as a great way to filter through communities to find the one they want, and also acts as a way to see how players have repurposed TF2 through modding. Both players are satisfied: one by a good match-up, the other by sated curiosity.

Asserting that having both a server browser and a matchmaking service is either unfeasible or unfriendly is not only wrong, it's a lie in service to the one thing that kills games: money.

What They Really Mean

Where does intellectual dishonesty play into this? Simple: Respawn Entertainment is lying to you, and possibly to themselves, about the usefulness of servers. The purpose is not providing a good match; it's making you pay for DLC and the sequel.

This wouldn't be so bad, but the developers straight lie to you about their reasons. The server browser is too unwieldy. People don't find matches fast enough. We have an obligation to our customers to make sure they have the best experience. Some of these things are true, but none of them are good reasons for leaving a server browser out of a server-based game. The only reason is money.

Respawn wants you to buy the DLC so you can play with your friends, even though DLC playlists are often sparsely populated. Respawn wants you to inevitably buy Titanfall 2 after everyone moves to it. Respawn wants to control your experience in much the same way that Nintendo or Sony control it whenever you boot up your console. You are cattle to be milked and slaughtered on the altar of corporate greed. Worst of all, they lie to you about their true intentions. Naked greed for the sake of money may be contemptible, but it's understandable; there are clear reasons to favor making money in the world of games. Making up nonsense reasons and attempting to divert scorn by publishing a long, dry technical description of your matchmaking service is manipulative to a disgusting degree, and commits the worst crime a developer could: misleading you as to their intentions.

The true shame is that Titanfall is a genuinely engaging game. Despite its flaws - the lackluster campaign and tepid narrative being the most glaring - it has little hints of brilliance. Respawn does not care about making that brilliance last, though. They care about your money, and that's it.

Sacrificing a game - no, a community - in order to make money is the truest form of sadness in this medium.

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