I am a passionate gamer trying to break into freelance video game journalism and blogging. I try to put as much attitude and personality into my writing as possible without being bias, sometimes I get it right, and other times I have to eat some humble criticism.
[NOTE: This is a blog I wrote about a year ago on my personal blog while I was still playing Battlefield 3 and Bad Company 2. I just thought I would post it on here since I still feel that this is a relevant issue, and it has also come to my attention again with me currently playing the Dust 514 public Beta. Please leave some feedback and comments on where you stand with these issues]
Multiplayer games have been around for a long time, even before online gaming was popularized on pc and consoles. And during the life-span of multiplayer gaming there have been several accounts of Improvised cheating. From screen watching to camping, or even exploiting parts of the game for an unfair advantage which in some cases entirely destroyed the fundamentals of the game in of its self. These acts where normally met with a very negative outlook by other gamers. Even in my past screen watching was a good way to get punched in the shoulder from across the couch, and spamming the same move over and over to win (Back Back High punch GET OVER HERE + Down/High Punch uppercut FTW) was left with you being victorious in the game, but ridiculed as having no real skill at the game. But in recent years I have noticed that these activity’s are not only becoming more popular but becoming socially accepted and even stated as “Valid Strategy’s” among the gaming community. But first let me detail some of these events to better clarify them.
I will start within the most popular multiplayer genre in the current time of gaming. FPS (First Person Shooters) have seen a great increase as the controls and big budget titles have improved over the years. The genre has seen a very large scale improvement from its origins in wolfinstine, doom, quake, and unreal tournament to name a few. And with the release of a popular title on xbox called Halo, that revolutionized FPS games on consoles, it has spread from its origins on pc. While halo was not by far the first console fps to gain critical acclaim, (Golden Eye, Perfect Dark to name a few of the more popular ones), it did prove that an FPS could be played with a controller effectively instead of a pre-conceved notion that keyboard and mouse was the only way. Once Halo Exploded on the console market more and more title where released on consoles ever since.
One popular FPS that started on the PC and was eventually brought to the console market is the Battlefield series. And with in it lies one of the Taboo's of FPS exploits and unfair advantages that where looked at as being a cheap and non socially acceptable practice. Spawn/Base Camping/trapping. And what it was is one team would set outside, or sometimes inside, the enemy teams spawn point or base and continuously kill them before they could leave the spawn in order to complete objectives. There is also a flip side to this in the fact that some people would set with in their spawn points, that sometimes offered spawn protection, and exploit its protection and quick spawning capability’s to kill enemy players. Normally the point of view of a person that sets inside their spawn point killing enemy players is that if they are killed they can spawn right back where they where to get a quick revenge kill. Sometimes this could be reversed into spawn camping by the other team as well which is kind of like the old phrase two wrongs don’t make a right.
Another popular FPS is the Call of Duty (COD) franchise. And I have also first hand witnessed spawn camping in this as well. But where I have relay noticed this practice is within the commentators of this game. If you have ever been to youtube or other social media sites allowing users to upload videos, you have no doubtfully witnessed a game commentary. It is when someone records their game play and commentates it smiler to a boxing match. They also try to give out tips that they have used to be successful in the game. The reason I bring this up is because iv noticed that a lot of the commentators have given some advice that not only explains the best way to spawn camp, but actually encourages people to do it as a valid strategy. The phrase I hear a lot among the commentators is to “Control the Spawn” and “Know the Spawn points”. Which brings up the question Have these distasteful strategy’s become socially acceptable among the gaming community at large?
One of the big advancements in gaming in the past decade other than the online and social aspects is that game developers can now release “Patches” post launch on there games. So where as before if there was a problem and or exploit in games already released it was permanent, now the developers can release a fix for it after the game has been released. For the most part developers try to look at community feed back and release patches accordingly and as needed. But that is not always the case, sometime exploits become so popular that they are left in. Again I want to bring up halo which I believe has one of the biggest in game Glitches/Exploit, that was so popular that it remained un patched. In halo 2 there was an exploit that allowed players to reload extremely fast. All you had to do was start to reload your gun and right as the clip touched your gun you pressed the melee button to execute a melee attack, which in turn made the game skip the rest of the reload animation allowing weapons to be reloaded up to 50% faster. And since at the time Halo 2 was a very big game with in the MLG (Major league gaming) and most of the professional players where using this exploit, it was left alone. A smiler glitch can be found in Call of Duty Modern Warfare two where you start your reload and as soon as you see your clip ammo change you switch weapons and when you switch back your weapon was fully loaded without the extra second or so of animation.
And then there are exploits where players take what the developers have set up to improve the versatility and balance of the game, and use it in a way that was not intended to gain an unfair advantage. The biggest example, and I also believe the most different cases of this, are found in Call of duty games (mostly in Modern Warfare 2). The first is using a combination of perks and weapons for the purpose of using an under mounted grenade launcher, which normally has very little ammo due to the sheer power of it, which allows players to have an endless amount of ammo for it. Players would get their primary weapon with and under mounted grenade launcher, and then use the perk “One man army” which allowed them to change classes in game, and the perk “Danger Close” which made their grenades do increased splash damage and have a greater range. Then they would shoot their grenades over to enemy spawns across the map, and into high profile areas of the map until they run out of ammo at which point they would use the one man army perk to switch to an identical class which would start them out with full ammo to repeat the process.
Another exploit, and one that people try to connect to “Skill” is “Quick Scoping”. Quick scoping is achieved with a scoped sniper rifle and where the player quickly brings the scope up but before it is all the way up and zoomed in they fire with deadly accuracy. This is not, Despite popular belief, a skill so much as an exploit. In console FPS games to compensate for users using joysticks which are “unnatural form of controlling your aim and weapon control, have an “Aim Assist” feature. The way this feature works is it will help users compensate for the some times “Jerky” aiming of joysticks in several ways. One method is the auto track feature, which is when you aim at an enemy and when your reticule goes over them the game will track them a little bit to help you keep your aim on them. Another is the snap to method which is where you aim close to an enemy and the reticule will automaticly track towards the enemy player. And yet another method is the drag feature where if you are quickly turning towards an enemy to aim at them the cursor will actually slow down as you drag across them allowing you better accuracy on them. Most FPS games use all of these features in a precise moderation to improve the console FPS experience. With quick scoping the player is only taking advantage of this to make quick and easy kill-shots.
COD games are not the only games in which the developers put something in that is later exploited by players for “Cheap” kills. The popular PS3 exclusive game Killzone 3 is an FPS that has Mechanized armor vehicles that the player can control that offer superior firepower and armor for the controlling player, as well as user placed Auto-Tracking turrets. Both of these can be difficult to kill with standard weapons so the developers added an Anti-Armor Rocket launcher to the weapon list of the game to help players take out these armored adversary. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, it was most often used in ways that where never intended with the original idea of the developers. More often than not players would use the extreme damage and effective range of these weapons to repeatedly shoot them into high traffic areas to kill large groups of players. The amount of damage dealt by these weapons, and in a large radius around where they where fired, led to some very cheap tactics, that where often paired with other Unsportsmanlike conduct such as the previously mentioned spawn camping. This is another case where the developer could have easily fixed this problem, but due to the popularity of the weapon and tactics associated with it it was never fixed.
These are all cases of socially unacceptable strategy’s in online gaming. But is it really socially unacceptable or have we as gamers come to accept this as part of the game due to its increase in popularity. Is it because of the professional players that other gamers look up to as role models approve of it, or is it something else entirely?
Multiplayer games are not the only place you can find game breaking exploits that players take advantage of either. Some single player games are found to have game breaking exploits that are considered socially unacceptable. Take Fallout New Vegas for instance. Soon after its release, there was an exploit found that allowed players to quickly level up and max out all of their skills in the starting area. Some community’s on the internet looked at this as an unacceptable way to play the game, and its developers also shared this view and it was quickly and completely eradicated from the game via a post launch patch. But why was this exploit, that only affected the person playing the game (especially in a game that allows people to play how ever they want), so quickly patched and deemed unacceptable by the social gaming community?
Several single player games have had exploits removed from them that allowed players to make their character more powerful than intended, but It was only by the choice of the player. Why is it that these exploits are almost always done away with quickly while multiplayer games sometimes never have exploits removed from them? This is a question that does not seem to have a simple answer. And most likely a question that each gamer will have to come up with an answer to themselves. So I will leave you with this question. Have Exploits and social gaming behavior De_evolved in recent years? Are we as gamers starting to accept what used to be unpopular ways of playing as a valid part of the games we play? The debate rages onward and forward with no end in sight.
At the core of this issue is why does Microsoft charge its consumer base for something that no other platform charges for? In fact, why is it that the same feature that is built into the game itself, and players are allowed to use on every other platform are able to access without paying, is being segregated and sold separately in a sense only on the xbox console?
First off let me start with a easier argument to support my claims before you think this is just a console fanboy argument. On the Xbox 360 console, you have to have an xbox live account to download updates, and access the online features of the console, smiler to having a PSN acct on PS3, and a web handle for an online forum on pc or for services such as steam. Ok so you have your account, and once you create it you are considered a Silver subscription holder. This basicly means that you have the basic account and can access the online features of the console, such as downloading updates and demoe's, or purchasing things from the online store.
Once you have your xbox live account set up your games will stay up to date as long as you get online with your console. Now you go out and buy a game, for the sake of argument that game is either Call of Duty or Battlefield. What game it is does not matter, but for this example it must be available on Xbox, ps3, and Pc. Ok so you put your game in, update it and then you play the single player campaign and enjoy it. Yes I know most people that buy either one of the example games never do this, but for the sake of argument.
Now as a PC or PS3 gamer, you can select multiplayer and go right into the online multiplayer of the game with little to no effort. But on xbox, and only xbox, you have to pay Microsoft $30-$60 [U.S.] to get your silver membership upgraded to a Gold membership before your alowed to access the multiplayer.
Now again, to keep this from being considered a console fanboy statement and before I get into the deeper arguments here is an example that proves that Microsoft is just exploiting the powerless by charging for this. The game I will use to prove this will be Dead Rising 2. I use this game because it is on Xbox, PS3, and PC. Now PS3 gets access to the online co-op for free out of the box. Pc requires a Games for Windows Live Account (The PC equivalent to Xbox live) in order to play the game, but again the 360 version requires that you shelled out for Gold.
There is no way you can make that into a console/PC fanboy argument. Both requre a microsoft online membership of some sort, but only one requires that you pay them for access to what is already included in the game. Why does Microsoft charge on Xbox and not PC? That is a simple answer, they cant Exploit the PC gamers. If they where to say well you can't play online unless you have a games for windows live gold membership for X$ a month do you know what the PC gamers would do? A 20-35% chunk of them would accept the cyber bullying and pay out to Microsoft. But the majority of PC gamers would just go download a crack and either find info on user hosted servers, or use some type of program to host the games themselves for just their friends.
The main difference is that Microsoft would actually have to work very hard and file out a lot of different lawsuits and work their legal team overtime to find a way to control the market and force it to do their bidding on an open platform. While it is possible to jailbreak your xbox and play games online without big brother microsoft stopping you or charging you, for the majority of the Xbox owners this is either not worth risking the destruction of the system or they do not have the knowledge to do it.
Now that we have some of the more basic arguments out of the way lets go over some of the reasons I commonly see either Microsoft employee's and or Xbox fan boys defend the price tag.
The most common reason given by Microsoft and its most loyal fan base is that its to maintain the cost of the servers. This is complete and utter bullshit. Microsoft has the Xbox so locked down and dominated with regulations and red tape to practically launch their profit margins into fucking space. They regulate what content is sold on their store and system, and make sure that the maximum amount of profit imaginable is always achieved and surpassed.
Further more the developers of the games that utilize multiplayer for the majority of their content have to either set up the servers themselves, or reimburse Microsoft for the cost of hosting it themselves, unless its a Microsoft game. Secondly there are more efficient and easier to manage ways to manage and offset the cost of multiplayer servers as well as more profitable ways. For one they could use advertisements to pay for the cost's of servers entirely and still cut a huge profit margin. This might be looked down upon by customers, but I dont think I need to tell you that Profit is more important than fans to Microsoft and indeed all company’s.
Another valid way to offset server costs that is thankfully making headway into console territory is something that has been mainstream for PC games for over a decade. Player hosted servers. A good example of this would be Section 8 prejudice. Games that take this aproach normally have their own official servers, but partner with a server hosting service which will then rent out and manage game servers payed for by AD's and players. In this scenario it would be just as profitable if not more than gold because the third party would do all the work and Microsoft would just get a slice of the Fee's straight into their pocket.
Another legitimate way to offset the cost of servers is Xbox Live Gold subscription fee's. Yes you heard me right, Xbox gold would be a legitimate way to offset the cost and raise profit margins, but it needs one key change. It needs to keep all the features it already entails, but not be required for access to multiplayer content. In other words all silver accounts should be able to access the multiplayer without being forced to pay the subscription fee. Now if microsoft wanted to require gold for Xbox exclusive games that are developed by them, such as Halo, then they can do that and have no real room for complaints, but all non Microsoft developed games that have multiplayer should not require a gold subscription.
On top of all the features currently included with gold except for multiplayer access, they should also take a note out of Sonys book and do things smiler to Playstation Plus. As a matter of fact Playstation plus is what Gold should be all together. Early access to certain types of content, free games, discounts on most of the store merch, premium features such as party chat, etc. Sony has done really well with Playstation Plus and if XBL Gold was the same as it, I would not even be against it in the slightest because it would not be blunt exploitation of the end user.
Now on to the most common argument that I see from Fanboys. For some reason most people try to defend paying for what is already included in the game for free by claiming that since they pay for the service they get higher quality service. This is entirely not true. Pc has the best over all for the majority of time, but even just in the console market, all the online services, such as multiplayer and online content are exactly the same with some differences between platforms. Your multiplayer experience on Call of Duty is pretty much going to be exactly the same on Playstation 3. As a matter of fact the only claim of superior online service I would give either PS3 or Xbox would be over the Nintendo Wii simply because of how the social features work.
A majority of online issues and lag on games are 98% of the time caused either by the users internet connection, or the net code and performance of the actual game, and have nothing to do with weather or not you shell out money for the ability to play online. If you do not believe me, buy any Call of Duty game, or any multiplayer game thats available on Xbox, PS3, and PC and play ten games back to back on each platform using the same connection. The game will perform almost exactly the same with some minor fluctuations, since sometimes there is a small difference in code, plus the players ability and comfort level with each type of controls. Another fluctuation to consider as well is that you will not have Aim assist on PC so that must be taken into account as well.
A highly over looked example that proves that there is no reason for Microsoft to charge for server costs is Final Fantasy XI for Xbox. The servers are hosted by Square, and they charge $15 a month to support the servers, mostly because they are only hosting those servers for that specific game so only the people who bought that game will be accessing it so it only makes since to charge a little per month to manage the over head especially since unlike standard multiplayer, MMORPG content is a constant online community. Fortunately you can play Final Fantasy XI online with a Xbox live Silver membership, which goes to show that Microsoft does have some limet's that keep them in check.
In closing I find no acceptable reason for Microsoft to charge for multiplayer access to all games on the Xbox other than the fact that they can exploit their player base for extra profit. I dont see this changing any time soon especially since most people who spend the money then defend their shelling out of money in any way they can. The truth is you can not tell a hard core Microsoft fan that there is no reason for them to be paying because they consider it a personal attack on them unstead of an attack on Microsofts business practices. And the people that pay it but agree that it is an unmerited charge just brush it to the side saying things like “well I can't play online without it so I have no choice”. At the end of the day its just another shady exploitation of consumers who either do not know better, or who feel trapped, all in the name of profit margin.
I am not against a company for making profit, but when your a fortune 500 globally recognised company pulling in over 300% in profit margins per year, you might consider giving some of that back to the people that shell out their hard earned money to you, especially in an econemy like we find ourselves in these days. Microsoft is not the first company to do this, nor will they be the last, but we as gamers and consumers can use our money to shift this. While it is possible for the consumer base to influence the way a large company such as Microsoft to change their ways, it is highly improbable that it will ever happen. People will gleefully keep being exploited while defending their corporate masters to the death.