Splatoon

Last Rant on Video Games: Woomy! [Splatoon]

If you've somehow not heard about Splatoon, despite listening to this podcast, then you should at least go check it out.  It's surprisingly fun and has remarkably deep gameplay for a title intended for children.  If you haven't been following, I play quite a bit and really enjoy the game, not to mention kicking around the subreddit.  If you've come to read my praise of the game, though, you'll be a bit disappointed.

An idea occurred to me a couple days ago, largely influenced by one of the more enlightening episodes of Extra Credits.  I've posted it a couple times because I think it's a really important concept, but I'll quickly break it down for the benefit of the video disinclined.

Basically, the idea is that many games have first order optimal (FOO) strategies.  These are options available to the player that have a high result to skill ratio.  Saying this another way, they're things you can do that are really easy, but make you feel like you're doing something useful.  A well-designed game will usually have at least one of these readily apparent to the player, and then other strategies that require more skill, but yield higher benefit.  The problem is when the higher level techniques require much more skill than mastering them yields.  This will cause many players to abandon attempting to learn the next level strategies and, therefore, to never progress through the game.

A great example of a FOO strat that's relevant to this discussion is grenade launchers in CoD.  While I hesitate to praise the series much (it's a lot of fun, but the constant churn has staled it a lot), I think these are great.  They allow low skill players to feel engaged against higher skilled players because of the instant kill, but, due to low ammo capacity and low fire rate, are clearly not the best option available.  New players feel like they're participating and, hopefully, don't drop out of the community in the face of others using more effective strategies.

Splatoon doesn't have the problem of an overpowered FOO, however.  This was a problem that, until yesterday, I didn't even realize existed.  I then played a couple matches with Zach and Ed; my suspicions were confirmed.  Splatoon lacks a clear FOO strat, and, to my knowledge, one at all.  Some weapons are agreed to be worse, but the "better" weapons all have pretty balanced traits. 

Additionally, there's the motion control scheme which feels super awkward to veteran gamers.  It certainly took me a long time to get used to it, but I agree with the majority of the community that it's the superior control scheme.  There's the novel movement mechanic to master.  There are tactical tricks at ledges, and a lot of maps to learn.  All of this equates to a pretty large learning curve to climb to compete with moderately skilled players.

What I'm leading up to with this is that, while a fun game, and while ranked matches do a pretty good job sifting you to players of roughly your skill level, you must reach level 10 before you can play in ranked matches.  A year ago, this didn't matter, since everyone was new.  Playing with Zach yesterday, though, made me really wish that unranked matches at least tried to create level-balanced lobbies.  He was constantly being destroyed (maybe not actually constantly; he did pretty well in a few matches) by people that have a year of experience on him.  Compared to other newbies, he was dominating.  The overall effect, though, seemed to instill a feeling of disenfranchisment because there was no clear way to compete with people who have had so much time to work on their game.

Now, I fear, we might be causing new players to leave the game simply because they can't keep up.  Especially with the holidays and a potential flood of new players, we're likely to see a huge number of people pick up a new game, only to put it right back down for something else.  This problem is generally applicable to competitive games (it was a large factor in me never really getting into SF IV), but Splatoon is supposed to be kid friendly, and I weep for their poor lost souls.

So, for the sake of the community, try to go easy on new players, and avoid driving them away from a great game.

Or, do as Reddit suggests, and initiate a trial by fire. ^_^