Multiplayer shooters have fallen further than most other genres. Time has really taken its toll on it, this genre has been objectively reduced more in the mainstream than so many others. This fall from grace deserves a closer examination.
There are of course exceptions to the rule. Valve, Tripwire Interactive, Bohemia Interactive, and others preserve the greatness and the flexibility provided by older PC exclusive multiplayer shooters. But these exceptions are rare, almost nonexistent in the AAA space.
With the recent announcement of Battlefield Portal and the praise this is getting, we’ve updated this article to better reflect the gaming industry as of 2021.
Private Dedicated Server Hosting and Why It’s Important
The release of Battlefield 1 and the positive reception triggered many of us at GND-Tech, kickstarting this article in the process, but the negative trends it follows are older than the game itself. The Rental Server Program, the only way to host a server, is what really got on our nerves. Details below:
As you know, Rental Servers for PS4 and Xbox One have gone through EA. Now with Rental Servers going through EA, there’s quite a lot of questions. Let’s answer some now:
How much will it cost?
1 day: $2.99
7 days: $11.99
30 days: $42.99
90 days: $99.99
180 days: $149.99
PLAYSTATION® 4 / XBOX ONE
1 day: $1.99
7 days: $7.99
30 days: $26.99
90 days: $64.99
180 days: $99.99
When will the Rental Server Program Launch?
We’re excited to bring RSP to Battlefield 1 this November.
And it’s not just DICE. Tons of game studios are making these partnership with server hosting providers, it’s lucrative business. It’s the price of a utility bill, who wants to add that to their list of bills? And why is it cheaper for consoles? There’s no good reason for that, just a deal with Microsoft and Sony.
Compared to me hosting my own dedicated server machine, which is completely fanless and uses just a 35W Ryzen 5600G APU, this added negligible cost to my electrical bill. A few dollars at most.
By losing the ability to host your own dedicated servers and only being able to rent them, you’re losing control over the server and possibly forced to pay more compared to the increased electricity bill from running your own 24/7. In the example above, $42.99 is listed for 30 days, exponentially more than the rise in my electricity bill from running my dedicated low power server 24/7.
As for losing control, typically games limited to rent-a-server programs are going to have less configurable servers anyway. It used to be common for multiplayer game servers to let you decide what equipment is allowed/disallowed in the game, set maximum ping limits (kicking players if they exceed it), set your own region restrictions or disable them, have refined auto team balancing rules, have granular teamkilling punishment rules (from none to defining the amount of teamkills before punishment to determining the type of punishment, such as kicking or banning or more creative forms of punishment), run custom game maps on your server with automatic map downloading, run mods on your server with automatic mod downloading, randomized map rotation, and so much more.
Many multiplayer shooters on PC between the late 1990s and mid to late 2000s not only had more content than today’s on average (and free added official content AKA DLC was commonplace), but they were designed to let players do whatever they want with the game due to vast modding capability thanks to official mod tools.
Recently, this has been seen with Arma 3 giving birth to PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. But many massively popular multiplayer games began as mods before that.
Mods for multiplayer shooters sometimes make competitive gamers weary, but there’s no need for that. A game just needs a modded/unmodded filter in the server browser, and if competition is a big part of a multiplayer game, then ranked matches should be limited to unmodded servers. Everyone wins. Quake III: Arena, Unreal Tournament series, Counter-Strike series are as competitive as shooters get by design, and they are extremely moddable.
Not all multiplayer shooter modding results in total conversions and brand new games though. They can also lead to just enhancing the original game. Easy examples of this include SWAT 4 – why play the unmodded game cooperatively when you can instead play with Elite Force mod or one of its forks? Why play vanilla Rainbow Six 3 servers when you can play with improved mechanics, visuals, equipment and related functionality, and the original maps plus the maps from the unreleased expansion plus remade maps from the previous games plus brand new very well crafted maps?
Or for a more specific example, here are the mods I run on my Crysis Wars server:
The modded features of my modded Crysis Wars server over the base game includes:
- Dozens of new maps with auto map downloading. Some are heavily themed like the otherworldly screenshot above shows, maps designed not around any of the game modes but for nanosuit training, crazy vehicle racing maps, etc.
- Altered nanosuit and weapon balance.
- Altered currency balance/prices in Power Struggle mode.
- New vehicles (air, land, and sea, including new vehicles that function as team spawn zones) which are both spawned on certain maps and sold in the appropriate vehicle factories on Power Struggle maps.
- Additional item and vehicle spawns on every map, including vehicles on maps that previously had none.
- Modified auto team balancing: Nobody can join a team that has one player more than the other. If a team has two or more players over the other team, players are automatically moved to the smaller team to balance it out.
- Custom anti-cheat mod made by a group/clan I was in. It is superior to PunkBuster for that game.
- Changed the setting of the official anti-cheat.
- Auto kick players with a ping of over 200.
- Auto punish players who reach three teamkills. These players are unable to pick up weapons, interact with items and vehicles, and cannot run or sprint. This lasts for 10 minutes, a setting that is defined by myself in a configuration file for the server.
- Voting system, which is not in the base game at all. Part of the entire server side mod package as are most of these other features. Vote to kick, vote to change map, more.
- Hundreds of new console commands for server admins, for spawning items/vehicles real-time, altering the map, altering mod functionality, admin God modes which I use to nullify hackers/cheaters before banning them. For example, I would teleport hackers/cheaters thousands of feet in the air and let them fall to their deaths. Or I would put them in the penalty box (the teamkiller punishment mentioned above). I would rename them to something silly, teleport to their location every second and instantly kill them every time, to the point where they quit out of frustration rather than get banned. In Crysis I would use the !trip command to force them to topple over constantly, another modded feature. And much, much more.
- Dozens of in-game text commands available to players with unique ones for admins (see above). This is tied in with new gameplay functionality, such as typing in !flare to launch a flare which of course has tactical uses. Don’t want a certain player in your car? Enter !out. Many more.
- Improved graphics.
- Improved remote administration capabilities of the server.
Other Downgrades in Modern AAA Multiplayer Shooters
Below is a general list that summarizes the superiorities held by older PC exclusive multiplayer shooters:
- More official content – modern AAA multiplayer shooters often come with 8-12 maps, even in games with small and bare maps. In the past they’d come with dozens of maps (e.g. Unreal Tournament 2004’s 79) + the ability to make your own via the SDK.
- Free DLC was common.
- Almost limitless mod support with official mod tools/SDKs, auto mod downloading for server side mods. These mods often led to some heavily modified servers running custom game modes. Sometimes these game modes would cross into different genres entirely, like sports games in Unreal Tournament 2004 or tower defense in Warcraft III.
- Free dedicated servers, via a dedicated server application included with the game was the standard practice. Whereas now they are often paid and very restrictive, as explained above.
- More configurable servers, with parameters such as ping limit, friendly fire, weapon restrictions, spawn items, and much more, just without mods. Mods would obviously add far more.
- More diverse game modes. Today everything in the AAA space is either battle royale (which is basically king of the hill), a looter shooter, or some kind of hero shooter.
- Bots were more commonplace, though they’re starting to make a comeback today. They’re great if the AI is good enough like in the Unreal Tournament games where bot AI is far superior to the average player today (better team players too). Great for games with low player counts.
- No annoying forced external programs like Battlelog or uPlay.
- You never even had to question whether or not a server browser or VOIP was included. They were a given, as was text chat.
Note that everything above except for modding, dedicated servers, and free DLC, was actually the standard for XBOX, Playstation 2, and very early XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 multiplayer shooters as well, so even console multiplayer shooters have fallen.
To drive this point home, we’re going to first show multiplayer shooters that simply have no modern AAA counterpart and no console counterpart. One game we refer to often is Natural Selection 2, a multiplayer FPS with RTS elements. Aliens vs Marines, five different kinds of aliens with real-time evolving into the higher tier but not all-around better ones (this game predates Evolve for your information), a currency system, jetpacks and exosuits for Marines, and each team starts off with one commander which plays an RTS rather than an FPS.
This official tutorial video explains it fairly well, although it leaves out lots of details:
Now consider that the Natural Selection franchise began as a mod for Half-Life (1998). Take that in and think about it for a moment.
A somewhat similar yet ultimately different PC exclusive multiplayer shooter would be the Power Struggle game mode in Crysis and Crysis Wars. The goal is to wipe out the enemy base like in the Natural Selection games/mods, yet the way to get there is substantially different as shown by the tutorial videos below.
Everyone knows Arma 3 by now, and its Zeus mode which is basically a game master for editing the game world in real time. This game is still supported today and shows no decline, making it one of few modern multiplayer shooters that isn’t dumbed down and reduced. DayZ began as an Arma 2 mod while the aforementioned PUBG began as an Arma 3 mod. So to all those against modding for multiplayer shooters, just remember mods literally gave birth to many of the most popular multiplayer games of all time, including Counter-Strike and Dota 2 as well.
Other classic multiplayer shooters with innovative game modes include Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s Galactic Conquest (the original Battefront 2, not the modern watered down one), Battlefield 2142‘s Titan mode, Unreal Tournament’s Assault mode, Unreal Tournament 2004’s Onslaught mode. All of these in particular require a lot of teamwork, tactics, and thinking in general, and they created such a diverse multiplayer shooter scene compared to everything today being battle royale, looter shooter or a hero shooter. Team Fortress 2 has more game modes than one can keep track of.
The amount of great PC multiplayer shooters, which are inherently far greater than console shooters due to the flexibility of the PC platform (server side mods, client side mods), has reduced significantly. Included dedicated server applications with the games, extensive modding, actual worthwhile DLC, and dozens of maps and tons of items/equipment by default used to be the norm on PC, but now mainstream multiplayer shooters on PC (excluding Valve) are no different than their console counterparts. Atrocious money grabs, extremely limited and repetitive games designed for children.
But these great multiplayer shooters haven’t died out completely. It is true that not many people play the older greats, despite many of them still being perfectly obtainable and playable to this day (something that can’t be said for the vast majority of console games predating PS4/XBOX One), but some great modern multiplayer shooters still exist and are stilled play today, they’re just rarely AAA games. Games such as Arma 3, Natural Selection 2, Insurgency: Sandstorm, Squad, Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, Valve’s games, and others as well. Some great classics also remain at least somewhat alive, such as Quake III: Arena, Unreal Tournament and Unreal Tournament 2004, Battlefield 2: Project Reality, SWAT 4, Rainbow Six 3, Garry’s Mod, plenty of others. PC gamers will never let true PC games die out completely.