When we get to around 5 to 10 minutes looking for a match, we might start to get thoughts like "This game is dead" or "Matchmaking is terrible". In some situations, this genuinely might be because of coding mistakes on the part of the developers. However, a large number of the options for giving players more matches actually relates to controlling player behavior. I'll provide my own knowledge on the subject, but it'd be interesting to see other people's inputs and which methods they think are more/less important.
Reduced game modes and destinations
A popular theme back during the Xbox 360 / Early Xbox One days for multiplayer was for games to have everything from Team Deathmatch to Free for All to Capture the Flag and eight other game modes. Some games even allowed granular options like "Realism Mode On/Off" as part of their matchmaking. Every choice you filter players into turns their own queue into something smaller and smaller.
Another option rather than simply taking away these choices is to make sure that for every option, there is an "I Don't Care" button that allows matchmaking to take fewer particulars into account. This might mean that 63 players go into a Battlefield match with I Don't Care set for their realism mode, and the 64th player alone deciding Realism Mode would be turned on.
Something I liked in Final Fantasy XIV, which might be present in other MMOs, is that there's an extra-rewarding "Match Roulette" system that will put you in a 'random' dungeon but gives a much faster queue time. It's not always actually random though. When you're completing the story of the game, and must complete Dungeon 45 specifically in order to advance, usually you're being paired up with 3 party members that all queued for random dungeons, and don't mind helping with that one. When players are presented with the option to give up any personal preferences for faster queue times, they'll often take it.
There are many games for which one platform out of several isn't enough to maintain the weekly feed of players. One player might queue for 10 minutes before getting bored and leaving – just before another player queues, and while a player on another platform has been waiting too. The obvious issue with cross play is competitive gaps through the mouse and keyboard. Some genres of games are able to ignore this since they don't work within the space of standard shooters. Call of Duty allows for cross-play, but this has contention from its players. The more notable total cross-play game I know of is Dead by Daylight, which has its own issues, but little competitive worry in matchmaking since the game is largely based around movement – some pros actually use controllers on PCs.
Reduced minimum players
One of the reasons many fighting games survive, even with their low popularity, is that you only need 2 players to start a match. We've also seen many arena-style FPSs change their requirements from something like 8-12 people per team to a standard of 5-6 per team. Some of this relates to other elements like choosing Hero characters, but it may have also been for the sake of matchmaking. Some styles of games can also start without having a precise number of players, although these tend to be less competitive. A good example might be Team Fortress 2, where a server might start as a 6v6 match, and have people trickling in to turn it into 12v12; at certain intervals having 1 extra person on each team.
One of the issues around matchmaking is timing. Not only do all players have to be available for a match, but they have to be in the waiting period at the same time. This ties directly in with minimum players; if a game is best played with more people but CAN be played with fewer, then it allows for people to jump in midway. This even helps with friends playing together because it avoids the "I'll wait for your next game" situation. Of course, the game then has to be built for this kind of fluctuating balance.
Dropping Competitive Balance
Much of the wait for matchmaking can come from the fact that the matchmaker has found you players, but they'd trounce you in a matchup so it's not even worth doing; so it's trying to find you people close to your skill level. In fact a common theme you'll notice with many of these options is that they don't work well with precise competitive settings, where a game must start with X players on both sides, and have no one leave. Situations like being in a 7v8 Team Fortress match are slightly annoying, but generally far less annoying than being stuck in a queue for an extended time. The only exception might be if someone is specifically very interested in proving their skill against an equal foe.
PVE games actually allow for much more flexibility around the given options. Games like Deep Rock Galactic and Sea of Thieves cover most of the headings I've offered. Their mouse-based players can aim more quickly, but when most of the gameplay is against NPCs, those NPCs don't get to complain. PVE can also react better to imperfect netcode, since NPCs often move in predictable ways that can be broadcast ahead of time to clients; netcode being at its worst when trying to apply actions of two humans at long distances attacking each other in fast, reactive motions.
Even for a game that's primarily based around competing against humans, it may be possible to use things like handicaps, or even just a less focused competitive atmosphere (dropping things like win screens) for the simple sake of letting people play.
What other suggestions do you have for matchmaking beyond the simple programming level? Which less-played multiplayer games do you play that have an inventive queue system?
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