Project Z Matchmaking and More on “The Z-Axis” Podcast

Our very own BugsPray was a guest on “The Z-Axis” Podcast along with a few notable members from the community, including Greth and Ignorance (Project Freefall), Fire, and W1nters. Join them as they discuss matchmaking and dedicated servers, bitcoin and unique monetization models, and answered Project-Z questions from the FPS-Z subreddit community.

Q&A Round-Up: Dedicated Servers vs Matchmaking

Hey everyone and welcome to the new Archetype Studios blog!

With this first blog post we are kicking off a Q&A round-up where we will occasionally go through community feedback and discuss topics you find important.

Up first: Dedicated Servers vs Matchmaking

“Matchmaking and dedicated servers are a must. As a long time triber, I’m not excited about the matchmaking part of the game.”

“I’m kind of worried about how matchmaking will work in a game that will, at least initially, have a rather small player base.”

Matchmaking vs dedicated servers has been a big debate for us; there are pros and cons to both. This is one of the more difficult design decisions we’ve had to make and know that we are working hard to get it right.  Ultimately, we have decided not to choose one or the other and instead provide both dedicated servers and matchmaking so the player has freedom of choice.

Before we jump into the nuance of how we’re implementing this system, let’s talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Matchmaking

The biggest benefit to matchmaking for us is its ability to place players in games with people of the same skill level. If we left an expert in a server with a chaingun and a bunch of new players, MOST of the newer players in that situation would have a higher drop rate from the match than if it were just the newer players by themselves. From the expert’s perspective, they’re likely to enjoy complete domination of the new players for a hot second, but would quickly get bored. If these are consistently the experiences a player has with the game, they’re less likely to continue playing.

Matchmaking will not completely remove skill differences in games (by design), but it means you’re more likely to be able to compete on some level with players in any given game. Even with server flags and player choice on dedicated servers, trolls will consistently try to break the system by joining lower skilled servers.  In addition, newer players may choose a server with rules they’re not expecting or with skill requirements above their level and have a terrible in-game experience. With matchmaking these scenarios will be corrected over time.

The negatives of a matchmaking system are centered primarily around control and community.  Matchmaking reduces the ability for players to find communities they enjoy within the game because they’re usually queuing by themselves or with a smaller number of players and randomly being placed with other players.

Dedicated Servers

Dedicated servers are great in a lot of ways:

  • Admins have more control and can manage the experience of players on the server (e.g. getting rid of hackers/griefers, promoting server values, etc.)
  • Communities form around dedicated servers
  • Players have more choice in picking their own game experience
  • It’s more customizable to your gameplay tastes
  • If you’ve got your favorite server it’s a nice place to be  :)

But they have their drawbacks:

  • High barrier to entry due to the necessity of a server browser and all that entails
  • Inconsistent rulesets, expectations, and experiences from server to server
  • If the servers are hosted outside of the developer’s infrastructure, the patching process becomes a significant issue that would otherwise be more automated

Making A Pragmatic Decision

It is a core design principle for us (and almost every designer) to reduce the barriers to entry for a game. The quicker a player is able to get in and have a desired experience/outcome the more likely they are to initially engage with, and continue to engage with, your game. This is a known quantity in the design world and has been backed up by research for decades.

The reality is that there is now a generation of gamers out there who are used to matchmaking-like functionality and don’t want to look at a server browser.  In the end, we need to make decisions that are best for two things: 1) The players, and 2) The business. This project is all volunteer work right now, but in order to give this game and the genre the treatment it deserves, we need to be able to sustain the people working on it.

There may be decisions made that appeal to a larger pool of players in order to open the potential market for our game. With current trends in game development (software devaluation, free-to-play, etc.), old models and old ways of doing things are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain if you’re not a AAA title. The latest trends tend to require scale – large market potentials and the ability to reach your audience because you make lower margins at lower conversion rates. The type of genre this game is entering (FPS-Z) is already pretty small, but has potential to grow. We can’t hamstring ourselves by not providing functionality that has been accepted by the larger gaming community, like matchmaking. With that said, we obviously can’t implement features that make no sense for the game.

We believe a hybrid matchmaking and dedicated server model is something that makes sense and we hope to make it feel right on both accounts for an FPS-Z title.

What will this look like?

We have an idea on how we’re planning to implement this system, but we are going to stick to the high level details for now.  We want to be clear that plans around these decisions are likely to change over time due to a variety of project changes, technical constraints, and most importantly, user feedback.

  • Matchmaking will have preconfigured game types that you can join with some variation dependent on user input (e.g. team size, gametype, etc.)
  • Matchmaking will attempt to start new games and will also drop players into existing games that have open slots
  • Matchmaking is likely to be our focus for funneling new users into the game since it gives us more control over that first-time user experience
  • Dedicated servers will give admins the ability to decide server location, change game rules, size, and more
  • We are exploring interesting ways to combine the player pools for players using matchmaking and players in dedicated servers

More details to come as we progress.

That concludes our first Q&A Round-Up!  Thanks for the feedback and questions everyone, keep them coming!

–The Archetype Team