We recently suggested a few fan crafted pieces in our new Smuggled Cargo article that we thought warranted a nod. Today, we are starting another community feature focusing on the many open discussions taking place both on our forum and the official site. In these new Community Pulse articles, one member of the Darth Hater team will dissect an active forum thread and add in their own personal two credit point of view. Hit the jump for our premier issue focusing on PvP player rating systems.
The scope of a topic such as PvP player rating system in an MMO like Star Wars: The Old Republic is simply massive. It's complex, and people often hold strong opinions about it. A thread in the Darth Hater PvP Endgame sub-forum on this topic, started nearly five months ago, proves these statements. The thread, created by community member Caliber, generated a large range of opinions and exposed the possible complexities of such a system. I wanted to take the time to summarize some of these opinions and complexities as well as present my views on a player rating system.
On the surface, the idea of a PvP rating system sounds fairly straightforward: you assign a rating to a player based on his or her history of instanced PvP events (arenas, battlegrounds, warzones, and so on). You then use this rating to match that player up against others of a similar rating in future events. This, in theory, ensures that matches will be as even as possible, with the goal of a 50% win ratio being for the average player.
This type of system is generally referred to as an "Elo" rating system, named after the system invented to rank Chess players. Your player rating would be your Elo rating. This system is utilized in "numerous games and sports organizations, most notably the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for collegiate football..." Caliber states in his original post. His position in favor of a system like this for The Old Republic is in line with the original purpose of the Elo rating system. "It would allow newer and less skilled players to enter PvP without the punishing learning curve, as well as keep more veteran players matched up against players their skill level" Caliber commented in a later post.
However, there is skepticism on the actual benefits and utility of such a system. "I'd be against any player rating system that prevents a group of guildmates or friends from being able to PvP together." replied community member wodie. User killswitch objected, saying "I still see the possibility of a lesser player teamed up with top players and achieving wins. He then would move up the ranking based on his groups skills, not his own."
You can begin to see the complexity that goes into designing and implementing such a rating system. This is especially compounded by the fact that PvP in an MMO is inherently a group activity, and the Elo rating system was designed for a one-on-one competitive environment. "What if one guy PvPs all the time and has an OP skill rating? His friend is a PvEer and so has a low rating. When they group, where do they go?" GuyTanno asked in reference to how the actual matchmaking would function.
There is also a large opportunity for the "gaming" of such a system, hinted at by killswitch above. Totaldarkness remarked "...you don't have people who just work on being the best of the 2nd or 3rd tier, and owning everybody below them..." when the issue of gaming the system was brought up. "I find that Elo systems in MMOs are flawed, mainly because the system is easily manipulated." Remlish bluntly stated.
With all of these potential issues and complexities, only briefly touched on here, it becomes easy to see why some feel a less complex method may be better. "Take an amazing PvP orientated player, give him any character, and he will find a way to be competitive" Lancius commented. "I think it is much more important to simply prevent long losing streaks than it is to try to make each match as even as possible." said ObiTinKenobi.
Caliber and others continued by addressing many of these concerns. "When I play with friends of disproportionate skill levels, I don't expect the same level of play as I would normally." When considering the absence of any matchmaking he continued, "nobody learns anything from getting steamrolled. It is frustrating and pointless; only serving to make the rich richer by awarding them easy, defenseless kills. The reverse is also true because good players can't get better if they are constantly playing far less skilled players."
Personally, I agree with Caliber and others that an Elo rating system is something that would be beneficial to PvP in The Old Republic. It's hard to comment on the specifics of exactly how rating should be determined because of the lack of detail available on the gameplay and instances. However, I can say that it must be something that is flexible. Some combination of win ratio and individual stats/performance could be used as a start. Perhaps it could be tweaked on a "seasonal" basis to increase the accuracy of the matchmaking. Tweaks are also necessary to weed out and prevent gaming of the system.
I also believe a key aspect would be the separation of competitive and casual play. Both ranked and unranked match queues should be available, with players having separate ratings for each. The rating in unranked games is simply for matchmaking purposes, and could even be invisible to the player. The ranked rating is used for ladders, etc. This encourages greater participation by the community as whole, while at the same time keeping the appeal for competitive players.
In the end this argument, like so many, boils down the lesser of two evils. Elo rating systems, modified for group-based competitive environments they were never intended for, are not an ideal solution. However, it is the best solution currently available. Most can agree that there needs to be some form of matchmaking in these competitive environments. It is needed to encourage players of lesser skill to continue participation, to get new players to begin to participate, to ensure veteran players have continued challenges, and to progress skill at every level.