TL;DR: CoD since CoD4 has been designed as a Skinner Box. SBMM makes the tasks harder and the rewards less, essentially limiting the impact of the rewards system. CoD’s gameplay can’t stand on its own like other competitive games can, leaving players frustrated and unrewarded.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the CoD community (specifically the content creators and some pros) have been causing quite the tizzy lately about SBMM in public matches/casual. Having SBMM in a casual mode isn’t something new though. Off the top of my head, Halo, LoL, Siege, Valorant, CS, Gears and a lot of other games have a form of SBMM in casual. In fact the games where it seems to be a vocal issue online are Battle Royales and CoD.
For Battle Royales, I kinda get it. They’re inherently random. The circles are random. The loot is random. There’s a bunch of other people so it’s chaotic. Part of the appeal is the randomness of just getting dropped a map with 99 other people or whatever. However I’m not a BR expert so I’ll leave it.
So that leaves CoD. These last couple days I’ve kept thinking “why is SBMM only an issue in CoD”. Why is it that I can go to the Valorant subreddit and not see a single post about SBMM in unranked while the Cold War subreddit is filled with them? I think it’s due to CoDs game design and history. For clarity’s sake, this post is only going to be about the top 25% of people or so. The ones actually complaining about SBMM.
Let’s take a step back in time to 2007. Halo 3 has launched and taken the world by storm. But surprisingly it wasn’t the most sold FPS that year. CoD4 was (this was due to being released on 3 systems but whatever). Why was CoD4 multiplayer so successful? There’s obviously a ton of reasons, but I’ll break down what I think was important:
Create-a-class: Before CoD4 shooters where either weapons on map/arena style or strict class based. CoD4s system allowed players to pick and choose how they wanted to play without any barriers.
Multiplayer progression: Everything you did earned you points towards new stuff. Perks, camos, weapons, and attachments were things people grinded for. I remember being in the 8th grade and calculating at school the number of hours I’d need to play in a given day to reach level 50.
Quick, easy gameplay: This is a big one in my opinion. Gone were the long TTKs of Halo, or the teamwork and precision of CS. Infinity Ward made a game where anyone, even the absolutely worst players, could get a kill on someone good by catching them off guard. And when you did get a kill, you saw a nice “+10” to help you unlock more stuff.
Killstreaks: In addition to unlocks and progression outside of a game, you also had it in game. Killstreaks, though an inherently unbalanced mechanic, made it so everyone had a chance at “popping off”. The dude who could barely aim needs just 3 kills to get a UAV. Now that he can see people on the map, 2 more won’t be an issue. An air strike can easily land you two more and now you have a helicopter. Suddenly those 3 kills have snowballed to 14.
The Skinner Box which was CoD4 blew up in popularity. Overtime, these mechanics have grown. “+10” became “+100”. Killstreaks also became customizable. More guns, attachments and camos to unlock. I’m not even going to act like I was above it. I fucking LOVED CoD from CoD4 to MW3.
So how does this relate to SBMM? Well CoD is still based on these mechanics and systems. CoD is still a Skinner Box, but SBMM means that the tasks are harder and the rewards are less.
Killstreaks are harder to get when everyone is as good as you. Unlocking different weapons matter less because if they’re not meta, you won’t be able to use them and do well. Same with attachments. The imbalances of the game begin to crack through. When you remove the Skinner Box elements, the gameplay itself is not deep enough to carry CoD like it can for something like CSGO, Halo or Siege.
Seriously. Once you remove the rewards systems what are you left with? A game with a quick TTK, easy to use weapons, generous aim assist and/or bullet magnesium, all played on needlessly cluttered maps with simplistic underlying designs. You don’t need the raw precision of something like CS, or the team coordination. You don’t need the map control and awareness that Halo requires, nor the tracking skills due to its high TTK. You don’t need the team composition or strategy that Siege requires. This isn’t to say CoD doesn’t require skill. It does, and if you watch pros you can see they are head and shoulders better than the average player. I just think the gameplay itself though is very shallow. I can boot up a game of Unranked Valorant right now and can guarantee at least 2 of my teammates will be making callouts and communicating. Even the people not communicating will know how to use their agents by smoking the right places or flashing before entry. These thing will happen even in the iron level because it is necessary in order to play well. I’ll play S&D in CoD and it’s just silence, and more or less it’s just 12 people doing their own thing, all using whatever overpowered load out is currently in style. Playing CoD with SBMM isn’t a rewarding experience. Not only do you not get the Skinner box rewards that you’re used to, but you also don’t get any personally rewarding experience from the gameplay. CoD, at its core without any of the surrounding systems like unlocks and killstreaks, is a game where the only time I feel rewarded is when I’m personally doing well, and I just don’t think that’s good game design.
Anyways, I guess the entire premise of this posts rests on my observation that SBMM complaining is usually just done by the above average CoD community. If you agree with that premise, why do you think that is?
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