Online Games Need Playlists For Old People

Saturday morning. Playing the video games on my Wii U. My two year old son by my side barking out instructions.

This is what passes for my gaming habits these days.

Image from Shutterstock

But I enjoy it. I don't mind all that much. I'd much rather be playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain or SOMA, but I don't mind finally trying to finish off Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze or messing around with Super Mario Maker. That is also fun.

My Saturday's often look like this. My son and I wake up early, we play games together while my wife gets a lie in. I play whatever my son asks me to play. He has opinions on these matters.

"WANT TO PLAY MAHREEOH."

That means Super Mario Maker or Super Mario 3D World.

"WANT MONKEY GAME."

That means Donkey Kong Country.

"SQUID GAME."

That's Splatoon. It's been a while since he asked for that one. But on Saturday morning, for the first time in a while, my son asked me to play Splatoon.

I used to play Splatoon. By the standards of a man with a toddler, a full-time job and time-intensive hobbies, I played Splatoon a lot. I love Splatoon.

I love Splatoon and I was actually pretty good at it. But the great thing about Splatoon was that I didn't have to be. Splatoon, back when I was playing regularly, really felt like the perfect shooter for someone like me. Someone who didn't have the time to play intensively, didn't have the time to 'GIT GUD'. Mainly because of the way the game rewarded its players: it was about covering ground in paint, not shooting enemies. It was about strategy, not twitch shooting. I even wrote an article about this. That article was called 'Multiplayer Games Where It's Okay To Suck'.

So I wandered jauntily into the Splatoon lobby with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. "It's been a while," I thought, "what a great suggestion son."

30 minutes later I wandered out a lost, shivering wreck. Tear-stained, vice-like grip on the Wii U GamePad. A stuttering series of words from my voice box:

"Sorry son. Daddy doesn't want to play Splatoon anymore."

Let me put this in simple terms: the Splatoon I remember and the Splatoon I played on Saturday morning? They almost felt like different games. The level of play, the techniques I was using, my strategies -- everything -- were completely, hilariously obsolete. I played five games and I was completely annihilated in every single one.

It was demoralising. It was brutal. "Multiplayer Games Where It's Okay To Suck". I remembered that headline. I don't think I've ever been more wrong about anything.

I asked myself: what chance did I have? What chance did I ever have. My Splatoon character is sitting at around level 10. I don't think I was ever matched against a single player under 30. What those players were doing, how they were shooting, their knowledge of the maps, everything -- it was light years ahead. Light years ahead of what was actually quite effective when I was playing just a couple of months ago.

This is a Nintendo game. This is a game that's supposed to be friendly to newcomers. Compared to most video games Splatoon is friendly to newcomers.

I couldn't even do the 'noob' stuff without getting destroyed. You know -- just covering the home base, taking it easy. That strategy was useful while I found my feet when the game was first released. Now I'm getting jump-shot-smashed by people wielding the Splatoon-equivalent of the shotgun. RKO outta nowhere. Jesus wept.

Then I had another thought: if I can't play Splatoon online, what game can I play? Maybe we have a problem here.

We've known it for a while now: online-focused multiplayer experiences can be tough on 'casual' players. I use the term 'casual' and I wish I was dead, but by 'casual' I actually mean gamers who play other video games. I play a lot of video games. I know how shooters work.

And this is Splatoon for God's sake! It's not Counter-Strike! It's not League of Legends. I don't see Splatoon making it on the MLG circuit any time soon but today, four months after the game's release, I'm ludicrously behind even the lowest level Splatoon players. I can't imagine what it must be like for new players.

I made a joke to a friend this morning: all online games need a playlist for parents. Like a playlist that's for people who aren't playing this one video game to ridiculous lengths. The more I think about it the more I want this 'joke' to become a reality.

I think about our audience, the people who read Kotaku. I think about my own friends and their baby-drenched Facebook feeds. I think about the life stage I'm at -- I know I'm not alone. There is a whole generation of gamers. They are parents. They have full-time jobs and they live busy, busy lives. They love to play video games, they love games like Splatoon, Rocket League, League of Legends but they don't have the time to keep pace. How could they?

I don't know what I'm trying to say here. But I'll try to sum it up in a sentence or two: developers need to make it easier for busy people to play their games. There's a great Penny Arcade comic strip that jokes about offering a 'grown-ups' playlist. I wish Splatoon had that.

I'm 34 years old. I still love online shooters. Halo 5 is coming out and I'm so excited about playing online multiplayer. But if I can't play Splatoon without getting #rekt three months after release, what hope do I have with Halo 5?

It's funny, I had this conversation with Alex Walker and Hayley Williams -- our younger, childless Kotaku Australia writers. They said something interesting. They said: "you need to reset your expectations".

What did they mean by that? Well, I think they were suggesting I can't expect to just drop in and out of online video games and expect to be competitive. I need to deal with the fact that I might suck if I don't put in the time. I think that's fair. Probably. But is it so wrong to want to compete on an even keel with a group of like-minded individuals? Both Tennis and Golf have a 'Senior's Tour'.

It's embarrassing but it's true: at 34 years of age I totally need a 'Senior's Tour' for video games. At the very least I want a playlist exclusively for old people. Like me.

[Sob]


Comments

    Win too much and get booted, or have it link to Facebook so it can see how many children you have or how socially-active you are.

    Because you know the minute you set up a place for people to be not great... the wolves hear a dinner bell. Thar be slow-moving prey! Feel like a Big Hero by effortlessly wiping out the same fogies who you believe are responsible for all your RL problems besides boy/girl-trubs! Your foes will be so weak that it's basically the same as having cheats enabled!

      If they did that, you know there would be people setting up fake Facebook profiles complete with pictures of fake children if it meant it would improve their kill/death ratio.

    I'm fairly sure that they mean expect certain an abject defeat. I know I do when I play Dota and I play a lot of Dota. A game I get to play once in a blue moon? I'm happy to trouble the scorer.

    Do games still ship with the promise of pitting you against similarly skilled players? That promise that never works in the first place.

    The problem this day and age is that even after a few months, unless the game is ridiculously popular, the only people playing are the people playing it 'hardcore' and as a result know the game inside out. The 'casual' players have moved onto the next game because of the fact that time is a premium and they don't want every minute of spare time to be taken up by the same game just so they can stay competitive.

    The best solution? Hope you have enough friends and that the game you want to play will let you play against your friends in multiplayer rather than randoms, and finally that you can organise a time to all play the same game together (hardest thing of all to do)

    But if I can’t play Splatoon without getting #rekt three months after release, what hope do I have with Halo 5? It’s funny, I had this conversation with Alex Walker and Hayley Williams — our younger, childless Kotaku Australia writers. They said something interesting. They said: “you need to reset your expectations”.

    They may possibly have been referring to the natural life-cycle of the multiplayer-only/focused game. Think of Battlefield 2042. Or even Titanfall. See the dark, grim future of Rocket League one year from now.

    Just take a look at low-ranked graveyard of formerly-optimistic multiplayer-only indie arena games and the like on Steam. Great art, novel mechanics, a blast to play the first time with friends locally... they have very limited life-span and it typically goes:

    1) Launch. Everyone is playing and having a ball, telling their friends to play.
    2) The tapering off. Everyone had fun for a few months, some late-comers have finally got into it and aren't sure why everyone was so fussed about it because they're only being matched with die-hard fans who've been playing non-stop since launch and have unlocked everything that lets them destroy noobs with ease.
    3) The discounts and slight resurgences. "How has this not been patched, yet? Ugh, I remember why I stopped playing."
    4) Death. Steam reviews are mostly negative - all of them refer to the fact that no-one is playing so they can't get a match. The reviews turn off potential noobs; no discounts can save the game, now.

    Last edited 28/09/15 1:22 pm

      Do people really review a game that harshly because of that?

        Yup. To be fair, "Mostly negative," is an aggregate. Peoples' own individual power is limited to, 'recommended' or 'not recommended'. That takes a lot of the individual harshness out of it.

        If you bought a game that was multiplayer only, tried to play it for a couple hours during which you couldn't get any matches at all, you're not going to recommend it, are you? You might even warn your friends about wasting money on it.

    PVP modes in any game are just terrible now. It doesn't matter the game, no one really plays for fun anymore. I know I don't. I can't. I don't even enjoy winning because I know I'm ruining someone else's day, but I hate losing much, much more. The number of times I've nearly snapped my Destiny disc in half after a bad Crucible run because I have a quest that requires it and I don't want to play a game that psychologically punishes me for spending my money on it is a joke. But just a few years ago I had mastered Halo 3 and Reach, and played in fair games that I largely enjoyed that very few people seemed to play unfairly unless it was a legitimate competition of some kind.

    I don't know what happened in the last 3-4 years. I'm sure at least in part the issue is at my end. I've less time and energy for games which makes it more precious. But I feel like at the other end of the spectrum are people who are simply waaaaaay better, more invested, and more focused than I ever was in Halo 3, a game I played nearly nightly in splitscreen with my wife for a couple of years. Where did this come from? I put at least some of it down to hacks, network manipulation, modded controllers etc. which generally negatively affect people's experiences and ever so slightly thin out the positive experiences, but whatever the situation, multiplayer is simply not enjoyable. I'm done with games that focus on it. I want to see more co-op experiences if we have to have multiplayer at all. I wish Destiny could do without it, but they'd lose their audience to Halo or Call of Duty even faster.

      There will always be a fresh batch of 20yr olds who are eating this shit right up. They've got time and disposable income on their hands, they're competitive and hungry, they've not got a lot of experience to burn them out so this is all shiny and new for them, and their reaction times are still at world-destroying peaks that you or I can never go back to.

        My reaction times are still awesome. In fact, I'd say they're getting better.

        Unless it's CoD, then it's whoever got the better aim-assist.

    I just bought splatoon yesterday. Oh dear.....
    I don't think this will go well.
    I also got the amiibo 3 pack :'(

      I think Mark have just gotten unlucky. When I watched my friend play at level 6, she was still getting matched with people below level 10. I feel like level 10 is sort of the gate beyond which anything goes, which makes sense because level 10 is when ranked mode gets unlocked for you. So I suppose the devs thought once you got to level 10, you'd have learned most of the things you need to.

    I'm early forties, and I'm lucky to get a handful of kills in the crucible in Destiny. You can either slink off with your tail between your legs, or persevere and set your own goals. I might have a K/D ratio of 0.5 but at least I am having fun and killing the odd grunt.

      I'm in the same boat, I feel like I have the worlds slowest reaction time when play crucible and that my head must be twice as large as everyone else's. It's still fun though.

    Hey Mark, does your kiddo ever play the games or is he happy to sit and watch? My son is a few months off 3 years old and since letting him play himself a couple of months ago he's gotten quite good at 3D world. Although it's now 'ZAC'S MARIO' so we've had to start rationing him on it...

      Sounds like your guy is the same age as mine. Yeah he likes to play but he finds it hard to jump and use the analogue stick together.

      He's always like "MY TURN" and grabs it off me!

        It takes time, but Zac is at the point where he can make it through almost the whole first world on his own, including bowser, but he needs the invincibility suit for that. He hasn't learned to avoid the fire Bowser spits out. My wife is shocked because she can't even do that. Considering trying him on mario kart next.

        Last edited 28/09/15 4:48 pm

          Mario Kart 8 is pretty good for kids I found...turn on the motion controls so they can steer the kart like a car and they pick it up pretty quickly. Start them doing time trials by themselves then slowly work them into playing against very easy AI. Item usage will probably be a bit of a struggle for them though.

      My little girl is 5 and definitely starting to get the hang of playing real games (and not web-based flash games from the nick junior website) - although she's a perfectionist and gets REALLY upset if she dies, gets hit, or otherwise things don't go according to her plan (such as missing one of the Yoshi pieces in Woolly World).

      Also, despite their popular perception that they are "kid's games", these kinds of games like Mario, Yoshi and Donkey Kong actually start getting really tough in the later levels - much too tough for a 5 year old too handle on their own. Hell even I struggle with them at times, being 35 and been playing video games since the 80's.

      It is great though that she's slowly picking them up and getting better at them. She actually likes watching youtube videos of people playing these games, and then going into the game to try those things herself.

        Yeah, I've just about finished 3D world, but the very last level (Road of the Champion or something like that) is intense! Kiddo's already struggling with some of the mechanics in world 2, but he'll get there in time.

    world of tank/warships or the upcoming armoured warfare are good suggestions. play a few minutes here and there. AW also has a PVE mode with 4 other people which takes alot of the stress out of the pvp matches

    @markserrels You're over-thinking it - in a few months you won't have time to play video games, and you'll just be yelling at young whipper snappers to get off your lawn. :P

    They said: “you need to reset your expectations”. What did they mean by that?
    You are cannon fodder, scrub!

    I wanted, so badly, to be able to play the heists on GTA Online. I was ever so keen, after having playing heaps of Payday 2. I thought to myself that finally, something even better.
    How wrong I was. You wait, for what feels like an hour, to find someone to come join your party of four, so you can get started, only for someone to drop out either at the very beginning or after half an hour of play. The whole thing stops. Back to the lobby to wait for another three people to join you.
    I haven't made it past the very first "heist" of just two people. It's infuriating. I was so goddamned excited to play too after seeing how much everyone on console loved it.

    I was playing Magic Origins on the weekend. It's sort of fun and I wouldn't mind playing against some other people, but I feel like there's no point trying even the non-ranked multiplayer. Even if Magic wasn't a long established game I'm way behind the rest. If I step out there I'm not just going to be the guy who is easy to beat I'm going to be the guy who is a hassle to easily beat. I can handle the embarrassment of being new or not being great, but I feel like basic respect for my opponents time requires me to have enough experience, confidence and direction to end a turn as fast as they will. The community has spent enough time in the meta game that they're way too deep for me to reach without actually sitting down and training to develop competition level skills.

    It seems like anything you do online will attract a handful of people who have the time and patience to sit down and min-max, and once they do it that min-max becomes the only winning strategy with everything else seen as a hindrance. The developers have to balance their game to meet it. The players have to step up to that level just to play a few rounds. There isn't really anything that can be programmed in against it.
    They'll crowdsource the best strategy to Snakes and Ladders. They'll track down the one attack that does one more point of damage than the rest. They're not bad people and they're not ruining online gaming, it's just that by pushing the boundaries they dictate the pace of online play. The digital arena shatters the boundaries so the only way to shoot a few hoops after school is to play a NBA level game. They don't force you to play their way, but still the only way not to play their way is to not play.

    Even as someone who enjoys getting good at various online games it's quite frustrating because normally the best way to get experience is to just sit down and play, but when playing online with anything where strategy provides a significant advantage there's only brief windows where you can experiment without getting stomped. Even death match FPS games play very differently when the map is brand new compared to when everyone has had time to learn to play on it.

      Hit me up, I'll play 2 headed giant with you

        Thanks for the offer but I'm not quite there yet. I'm at the point where I know I need to control the field better, but I don't know the basic systems well enough to do it fluidly yet and I've pretty much got to read and re-read every card when I do anything with more strategic depth than just smashing other cards. It's like trying to play Mario when I haven't even figured out how to hold the controller yet. Essentially I'm at the skill level where if I were playing face to face my opponent would be explaining my options to me every turn. =P
        That said I'm getting better. I have a much easier time deciding when to attack and when to leave a card untapped. I'm beginning to form an idea of what strategies suit me. I'm getting a feel for the basic strategies I'll have to counter. The fire campaign was giving me trouble but I think I was confusing it's purpose. I want to give it a shot tonight and rather than trying to keep the field clean I'll focus on stalling my opponent while attacking it's life directly with special attacks. Either that or I'll rage quit and play some MGSV instead.

          I dunno how viable a burn strategy is in Duels (attacking total directly, rather than with dudes) but give it a crack, it'll be a good learning experience

            I tried it out just then. I got a Young Pyromancer out early with a pair of Chandra's Phoenix cards, then used the Instant and Sorcery cards to deal damage directly to the opponents life while the elemental tokens generated by Young Pyromancer every time an Instant/Sorcery card was played soaked the attacks. The Phoenix did a lot of the damage and it got a little hairy towards the end, but I got the achievement for over ten points in direct damage, ended with 14 life and had a much easier time than when I was using the Instant/Sorcery cards to keep the field clean.
            Looks like pure burn would fail once my opponent has enough land to come full force, but because the AI was using a slow deck it succeeded. I think a little luck was involved too. I got a second Young Pyromancer right near the end when I needed a land card, but aside from that I drew pretty much exactly what I wanted.

            Now if only I could come to these conclusions as quickly mid-duel as I do during an autopsy. =P

              The dirty little magic secret that a ot of new players miss is: There's precisely one hit point that matters, the final one. Sometimes it's better to let them have a small dude on the board and ignoring it while you bring your big guys online, rather than waste a burn spell on a 1/2 mook.

    I haven't met an old person who plays games, including online.

      Depends how you define "old".

      I'm 35, is that old? I have mates who are 40. Is that old? One of my mate's fathers would be around 60 by now, and he's still playing games. Is that old?

      Thing is you never actually know how old someone is when playing online...unless you have voice chat and you can make an educated guess...or you just straight up ask them I suppose and assume they aren't lying.

        Old is 60+.

          That old couple in the article image are using Gamecube controllers, so I'd like to think they are pwning n00bs at Smash Bros :) Look out ZeRo, you have some challengers!

      I'm 47. I regularly play Destiny with a bunch of friends whose ages range from 17 to late 20's. I rarely play Crucible but we have heaps of fun with the strikes and raids etc. none of them makes me feel old, we all have our part to play in the team. When I do (rarely) play Crucible, I'm happy just to be not the lowest scoring player. I don't even care if I only get one kill in a game, so long as it's a good one. There's a lot to be said for situational awareness in online PvP, if you don't play enough, you won't know the choke points etc on the maps or the best load out to use. I find that with PvE I can regularly wreck the AIs with a relatively low level weapon (currently a 197 Scout Rifle, even though my character is 260), yet with PvP, the weapon and armour loadout can really make a difference depending on the map and game type. I just haven't gotten around to learning those elements of the game yet, it's not all about reflexes.

      Last edited 28/09/15 7:22 pm

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