Xbox Live has a huge problem... And I know how to fix it...
The hill had just moved to one of the most crucial and difficult spots on the map to capture and defend, the Hammer of Dawn spawned in the middle of the railroad tracks. Most objective matches on Tyro Station tend to be a bit light on combat due to the nature of the speeding train map hazard splitting the map in two. However, this match was anything but typical.
From the opening bell, the match had turned into a blood bath. We had been playing with the same teams for nearly an hour, and even without the rest of our team communicating via headset, the nature of play styles made it clear that tensions were running high. My bff, and wingman, and I led the game in individual points while our teammates lagged behind.
“Hammer Spawn in 5. I've got rocks!” I shouted in the mic, the score tied at 156. Capturing this hill meant the difference between winning and losing this game, the match time of which quickly ticked ever closer to twenty minutes.
Our team rushed the hill, hoping to beat the defending Cogs to the objective. I hit the hill first, hoping to use my teammates' momentum to capture the hill before the train hit, a sinking realization struck me... we were down a player. Instead of coming in flanked by three teammates, I was only flanked by one. The cogs quickly overwhelmed us, ending the inning and sending us back to the spawn queue. As we waited for the respawn clock to tic down, it was clear. We couldn't win. The Cogs took the hill and the game.
So the question I pose to you, dear reader is this... what exactly happened here?
“What the fuck was that?!” I screamed into my headset, my shoulders sinking into the rest of my body as I slumped back into my sofa. I was quickly enlightened by my wingman.
“We had a guy not playing.” He replied angrily. Sadly, this had been a daily occurrence since my partner and I began to play shooters on a higher level.
“Fucking bullshit! Who?”
Of course, I discovered his identity and reported him to Microsoft, as I try to do with every offender. The offense? Quitting early. Although, in the back of my head, I know that my diligence and efforts to make Xbox Live a better place are likely going to waste.
Quitting early and simply setting the controller down mid game, especially during a losing effort have a been a problem since the day the Xbox Live “On” switch was flipped. Likely going back to the days of Doom and Quake, rage quitting and refusing to play are certainly not new problems in the realm of competitive online gaming. However, the very nature of Xbox Live changes the entire paradigm. Xbox Live's pay to play formula makes the accepted climate of only playing to win inexcusable.
Look... let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I've rage quit before. I've faced insurmountable odds in a multiplayer contest and selected “Exit Match” in frustration. I've become so angered at a team's cheap or unsporting tactics that I've left the match, cursing like a sailor. And yes, I've had a situation arise that was far more important than a video game, forcing my exit. We've all done it... and that doesn't make it any less wrong.
In giving Microsoft my hard earned money every year, I'm paying for a service that I expect to be delivered. Imagine, as a Netflix or Hulu subscriber, that you were able to receive programming, however, only at the whim of a complete stranger. The sound might go out. You still get to enjoy the show, just not the whole show... but they still take your money.
The very nature of team sports dictate that the entire team work together as one, or at very least, try. Every Xbox Live member pays for this service, and it is interesting to think that one would use it as an excuse to not play a game. There is nothing worse than losing due to a player, or even multiple players, not participating.. Winning a game via this method isn't much fun either.
So how do we fix it? How do we use language or consequence to change and dictate human behavior, especially when the humans we are referring to are strangers who in all likelihood couldn't give less of a shit about how upset the person on the other end of the tube is? The solution I am proposing contains three very important segments to the creation of lasting change.
Adaptation. Enforcement. Punishment.
In my experience, no other video game both depended on, and rewarded, tight game play and teamwork more than the popular zombie shooter, Left 4 Dead 2. Teams that were not working as one unit or were composed of lone wolves who were destined to fail. To preserve this dependence on cooperation, Left 4 Dead 2 contained a very interesting system for dealing with players that were either not playing, or purposefully lagging behind.
A player on the same team could put the expulsion of a fellow teammate up for vote. If a majority of players in the game, including the opposing team, voted to boot, the player was kicked, and a new player was able to join the game. While not a fool proof system, a player who chose not to participate for a period of time, or otherwise chose to sink the game, was typically destined to be kicked.
Of course a system such as this isn't completely impervious to abuse and usage to settle petty squabbles, it would stand as a benchmark for other games to follow. A system to track offenders and allow players to dictate the composition of their teams is an important step to improving the peer to peer experience.
If a system such as this were to be implemented in competitive shooters and other multiplayer games, those who offend would need an incentive to not continue in such a way. Multiple games currently use stat tracking as a deterrent to acting like a shithead. Disconnect from Mortal Kombat, and the game you quit from goes in the books as a loss. However, if you play 1000 games and quit from 100 of them, does having an extra 10% of losses on a high win/loss ratio really act as a deterrent? The answer is most likely no.
A true and effective punishment is necessary to change this behavior, although there are times when quitting a game is forgivable. Emergencies happen. Life gets in the way. Babies cry. dogs need to go out before pissing on the carpet. Shit happens, we all get it. Allotting a combined ten disconnects per month is more than reasonable to account for internet outages, or issues that may arise during game play.
If a player were to exceed a level of allowed disconnects in a month, action should be taken against the offender. I would recommend privileges either being suspended for the remainder of the term, or that the player only be allowed to play with other, like minded individuals, ala Grand Theft Auto Online. If a player were to break the allotment repeatedly, perhaps revoking one's Xbox Live Membership and refunding the term is the answer.
While suggesting a permanent ban on one's online privileges may seem excessive, an individual who disconnects or is booted from 50 different games in 5 months is signaling that change is highly unlikely. I imagine that with the threat of not being able to play a beloved game online looming over one's head, most players would change their behavior in a hurry.
Now, of course, details in my proposal would need to be hammered out, and infrastructure would need to be adapted. Fluctuations in Xbox Live would not count against one's quit ratio, and ISP outages would also need to go under this list. I imagine an appeals system would need to be implemented to deal with unique situations, such as an excessively sick child, or power outage. The system is by no means perfect, but it certainly begins the conversation.
This is not a problem that is unique to competitive shooters. I can say, without hyperbole, that in the more than 100 games of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 I have witnessed my partner complete, I have seen less than 10 players see the game to the finish. Once the game is clearly a loss, the opponent often quits. I have also witnessed him receiving a message thanking him for not quitting the game when the shoe is on the other foot. This is embarrassing, and Microsoft should be ashamed.
The Mortal Kombat 9 disc stopped spinning in my console due to quitting, and Duels of the Planeswalkers never stood a chance due to the community. My proposed combination of a “Vote to Kick” system and a set number of allotted opportunities to leave a match would force the hand of players to see their commitment through and force the change that Xbox Live has needed since day one.
The Rep system is useless, and reporting players as troublemakers has not seemed to stem the tide. If Microsoft is serious about changing the nature of their product, change must start here. For a $60 SRP, games go unfinished or become so hopelessly lopsided due to outside factors far too often. This situation has only gotten worse, and as the user base that rage quits will only grow larger if left unchecked. I call on Microsoft to work with developers to create lasting change in dealing with the problem of quitting. For if this problem continues to fester, the gold standard of online gaming will see heavy and dedicated users such as myself grow more and more disenfranchised and frustrated with the usage of my money being dictated by strangers.