So the call of duty black ops cold war alpha came out last weekend, and for the most part, it looks like it’s going to be a promising year for call of duty. However, as I am sure many of you experienced, or at the very least heard about, there’s one major issue with the game that’s causing problems in the community at the moment – Skill Based Matchmaking.
This topic of discussion has become pretty prevalent over the past year or so in various gaming communities, namely including Fortnite and Apex legends, but especially so in the Call of Duty community. Only a day after the Alpha’s public release, people took to Reddit and Twitter to discuss and voice their complaints about the games Skill Based Matchmaking system (in a completely calm and polite manner of course, this is the Call of Duty community after all), with many people even cancelling pre orders due to it.
I could even see it myself whilst playing the Alpha. As someone who’s been playing Call of Duty since COD 4, even I felt that the Skilled Based Matchmaking was out of control.
Now, before I get into the main bulk of the topic, and discuss the real issues with this system, I thought I would explain to people quickly exactly what Skill Based Matchmaking is, as I'm sure many people see the term thrown around a lot but have never really been clear on what it means.
Skill Based Matchmaking (or SBMM, not to be confused with BDSM) is a system that basically tries to identify an individual player's skill level at a game, and attempts to put them into matches with other players at the same skill level. Games like rocket league and CSGO essentially run on this system with their ranked and competitive modes.
Admittedly, skill based matchmaking sounds great on paper. Player’s aren’t matching with people who are necessarily much better with them, and you aren’t being put into games with new players who aren’t going to challenge you. It especially is good for people who are new to these types of games in general, so they don’t get absolutely crushed and put off the game immediately.
However, the issue with SBMM in call of duty and other games is that developers are adding the system into unranked modes, which leads to environments where there are no casual matches – only ones that feel competitive. Player’s don’t want to feel like they're playing at COD Champs every single match. Sometimes it’s great just to unwind a bit and enjoy playing the game casually, which is something the SBMM doesn’t allow for.
SBMM also makes it difficult to play with friends in parties, as it can lead to various skill levels mixing, making matches inconsistent. It also encourages people to abuse the system and boost during matches.
Now all of these issues are in my opinion very valid, and SBMM really can strip a lot of the fun out of the game. I have seen many people argue that the system only helps the games, and that call of duty specifically is no longer a casual shooter so it should not be treated as such. This doesn’t seem like the best take to me, as I feel call of duty is still one of the most casual shooters on the market, which is exactly the reason so many people buy it every year.
Now, it is a less known fact that pretty much every single call of duty game has had skill based matchmaking of some sort, as per Martin Donlon, director of Technology at Treyarch. Donlon also went on to say that SBMM can’t simply be turned on or off in the games, however it can be fine tuned.
In Modern Warfare and Warzone, SBMM is one of those issues that really does make the game unbearable. This system, mixed with the hackers on Warzone, really do discourage so many players from playing the games. Infinity Ward themselves have actually gone as far as to state that there is no SBMM in Warzone, however the community quickly disproved this fact, and demonstrated exactly how extreme the system is in the game.
If a player goes back and plays any of the older call of duty games, then the SBMM systems aren’t even noticeable. They work behind the scenes on a minor level, and potentially can be credited for making these other games great experiences. However, at the current level, it does the complete opposite for most players.
Now you may be wondering, if so many people are opposed to SBMM, and developers and game studios are completely aware of this – they would have to blind not to see the uproar online about the system – why don’t they simply remove SBMM and make players happier? Well, there are a few theories which have been circulating, but the main one which comes up time and time again is the simplest, and most probable, especially when it comes to game publishers – the answer, is money.
The theory is that new players who haven’t played the games as much will begin to do really well in games due to the SBMM, and will be more encouraged to spend money on microtransactions for the games – a new player is more likely to spend money on a game they are good at, one with SBMM, as opposed to one in which they are consistently getting thrashed at the game. This theory especially adds up for call of duty as SBMM has really only become a major issue since Modern Warfare, the game that has the least pay to win lifestyle compared to advanced warfare, ww2, and black ops 3. With hardcore players having no reason to pay for microtransactions, Publishers have targeted new players who are more willing to buy skins and calling cards, etc.
Now there isn’t really much evidence for this theory, but looking at the track record of certain publishers, in this instance, Activision – it seems extremely plausible that this could be the reason for the extreme SBMM.
So, what’s the solution? Well, unfortunately, the only real way that any gaming community could potentially see any change to the system is through public outcry – similar to that of Battlefront 2 a few years back. It is a well known fact that these companies respond to money, however, it is also just as true that they respond to a lack of money. If people don’t buy the games, or refuse to at least spend money on microtransactions, it is possible that Activision would respond by telling devs to tone down the SBMM, in order to increase sales.
However that is pretty much the full post and my full thoughts on the matter, feel free to discuss!
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