The boredom of circular based multiplayer games

I already covered why linear story based games are boring, but this applies mostly to singleplayer games and I thought there must be an equivalent for multiplayer games, since somehow multiplayer games also feel boring, but it's not so clear why, so I try to break it down as well. At first I thought there may not be enough content for an article about this topic, but I will try anyway. The first problem was that I did not really knew how to call it, so I called it circular based, which sounds a bit weird, but I will now get to why I chose those terms.

Let me summarize the previous article about why linear story based games are boring, it is because those games are just based on going from A to B in a predetermined path, which often cannot even be left. I looked at it from a level design perspective and linear story based games often have a level design which can be imagined as a tube, where you go from A to B and even if it looks like there are ways left and right where you can go to, they are often just decoration. Some might argue that now with the rise of open world game this is fixed, but this is only partly the case, because even though everything is seemingly open the story is still a linear tube.

So how did multiplayer games begin? Multiplayer games originally were just an extra to a story based linear game, but it quickly turned out to be more popular and more fun than the single player version. The linear story based game design obviously could not be applied to the multiplayer version as it would become obvious how boring such a world is and how it would destroy the gameplay. What did game designers do to solve that? Well they made extra multiplayer levels, which are not based on the linear tube design, but on a circular design, which often was still like a tube, but at least there was no dead ends, so that the game could flow. On the first impression it looks like they solved the problem, but on a deeper look they created another problem, they simply went into the other extreme.

I remember when I made my first multiplayer levels I was on a level designer community forum and there were experts giving advice how to design a good multiplayer map and I still remember one "expert" explaining how you cannot have dead ends in a multiplayer map, because if someone goes into that dead end, he is kind of fucked, because he cannot get out if someone for example is camping at the entrance or puts explosives there or whatever the game has to offer. To some degree I followed that advice, since it was kind of obvious why it is good, but after having some multiplayer matches on a level which had a dead end room I started to really like the idea of a dead end.

What happened with our dead end multiplayer level match? Well one team camped inside a room and the other team had to storm the room, the problem was, that it was kind of a stalemate, because everyone was camping the only entrance. So why was that stalemate actually good for the gameplay and made it more fun? Because you had to use your brain to solve that problem, since you could not go another way, so you were forced to think 4 dimensional. For example you could use extreme tight angles to shoot in our out, or try to throw a grenade, or use high caliber rifles to just shoot through the wall and hope to hit someone, or hide inside our outside, or play mind games. To make a long story short it can actually make the game more interesting when not everything is "perfect", it can be beneficial to have occasional bottlenecks or hiding spots.

That example was for typical multiplayer deathmatch scenarios, but there are other multiplayer gamemodes like capture the flag that work different, where it more linear and dead ends again. The problem here is not to much the linear or circular design, it's more about the balance. Think about how reality is designed, in reality you always have a bit of both, sometimes more of one, sometimes more of the other.

I think the main problem in video games vs reality is, that in video games the game designers try to be the players babysitter and try to design the game so that the player cannot go or do wrong, that is why they make story based single player games designed like a tube, where the player cannot go left and right and multiplayer games designed like a circle, so that no player ever gets lost or can run away or hide. This is one of the core mechanics on how to destroy fun. Of course a large portion of gamers are stupid and they kind of need a babysitter, but that does not solve the problem, it rather makes it worse, since the more you babysit them, the more they will need a babysitter in the future.

A funny thing is even if I think I have no content for an article it often comes to me while I'm writing, the reason why I say funny is, because I just had a funny intuition about multiplayer gaming. The thing I found what normal stupid gamers really hate is when you are trolling them, if you don't know what trolling means, trolling is basically being up on someone, because you are more intelligent. How can you do that in multiplayer games? Well the more complex the game is, the more opportunities there are to use those mechanics against someone. For example, if the level has dead ends, you can use them to hide there, to camp inside and shoot the enemy when he comes in, or wait till he gets in and camp on the outside. What happens then? The stupid gamers complain and the game designers remove all those "evil" dead ends, to make the game "flow" again. The issue here was not the dead end, but the fact that people cannot use their brain. This is just one example, of course dead ends are neither good or bad, well maybe a little bit bad, it is just one opportunity a player can use, or not use, some other examples are secret rooms or secret spots you can climb up or good hiding spots, or good camping spots and so on.

I made quite a few multiplayer levels and hosted quite a few multiplayer sessions as well as observed others play and one conclusion to me is that most players like boring levels that are basically just circular corridors, almost no dead ends, no secret rooms, no hiding spots, no climbing spots, no camping spots etc. The only variation there is, is that you can go round the circle one way or the other way, occasionally take cover behind some objects and if you try to go camping or find a superior strategic position you can almost be sure there is always a way to get to you from behind. These example are mostly for arena type shooters, which have no open world levels, but open world games partly have similar issues, they often don't let you go inside buildings, climb up buildings, hide outside the map, interact with the map or whatever. There are a few games that are exceptions and that get most of the things right, but they usually do not get popular, probably for the reasons I bring up here. Open world levels usually just use different methods to get players in line and to avoid the fun, but in general they are better I think, though I don't have that much reference as I don't play that many games anymore, it is mostly my experience from the past, but I'm pretty sure things have not changed much, even though there is the technology now to make more complex level and gameplay design. The usually just use the better graphics to decorate their primitive roundcourse levels so they look better, while not actually adding more geometry that is relevant for the gameplay.

My intuition now says to me, there is already quite some text on a single issue for an article I thought would be short, but now I think this also could have been part of the serious of "Bad game design choices", one for "boring story based single player games" and one for "boring circular based dumbed down multiplayer games", however another few seconds later my intution said, well basically yes, but practically you cannot really call it a bad game design choice, even though it is bad game design, but the problem is the choice here, since there is not really much choice, as there are not many alternatives, it is just like almost everyone does it now.

Many seconds later my intuition said I should try some self reflection and maybe the issue is just me, but for that I can reply, well maybe yes, since I have played quite a lot of games and maybe I just played it so long until it got boring, partly this is possibly true, but on the other hand I must say, that older games often did better by having a "worse" or less sophisticated game and level design, because that caused more interesting situations where you had to think outside the box to solve them. My other argument would be, that the natural process should be an evolution, where things would improve over time, which would counteract things getting boring, but this is not happening anymore for the most part. You cannot just do the same thing over and over again, then only make the decoration and graphics nicer and thin you are improving. Maybe someone who is young today and gets into gaming will not notice how boring it is, but someone who was there from the beginning will notice that it is mostly still the same boring stuff that was there 20 or even more years ago and sometimes it is even worse now. Sure the linear story based games are probably the bigger issue, but mutliplayer games also have their issues and it probably would not hurt to improve things, even if people that get into gaming now would not notice at all, because they have no reference how it was before, but better is better.

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