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What makes a game competitive?

Posted 01-27-2011 at 08:58 PM by Spacebear
Updated 02-09-2011 at 05:38 PM by Spacebear (Cut out the ugly early remarks.)

I can't help it. I love to browse random game forums. As bad as some of them might be, I still like to see how people feel about things. But some people seem very misguided when it comes to what makes a game competitive.

I read some comments about Halo Reach and how it was a bad competitive game. Flaws included:

grenades are too good
easy sniping
slow pace
kill trading
and more!

None of those "flaws" keep a game from being competitive. Bloom doesn't change as much as people think. Timing shots becomes something that actually matters, rather than the consistent rate of shooting that the old Battle Rifles offered. It adds a new element to the gunfights.

The grenades do not look to be too good to me. The frags still only drop shields. And they are still as situational as ever.
Is a game that is too easy to play not competitive? Chess takes almost no dexterity at all, yet proves to be a strong competitive game. How about a fighting game where the hardest motion was maybe a quarter circle, if that? Does the game take no skill anymore? Of course not. You have to ask, "What skills do I want to see tested?"

If a game is easy to play, the barrier to play it at a certain level is low. Suppose that you didn't have to aim AT ALL in Halo. What skills could be tested? Map control still would be a factor, and so would teamwork. Positioning would still be important as well. Granted, that game wouldn't be very interesting, but skills could still be tested. What if you didn't have to gather resources in Starcraft? You still have to learn the best way to defeat your opponent through building the correct units.

In a fighting game, you can test dexterity, but more importantly, it is testing knowledge and foresight. If I know someone has a playstyle that they favor, I must be able to counter it. An example would be in Street Fighter, a Ryu player who is content with just spamming fireballs all day. You know his strategy, and he is easily defeated if you have the knowledge to know how to counter that strategy.
Slow pace? Not every game has to move like Quake. Again, chess is the slowest game ever, yet is competitive. I would argue that a game that is too fast pace becomes too difficult to gauge skill, or at least the ones that I would want to see tested, such as team coordination.
Kill trading has nothing to do with Reach's status as a competitive game. It is more of a side effect of the game design. Would you rather see people getting robbed of kills? It isn't really a flaw, more of an annoyance, but its hard to get around it and have a better solution.
And finally, randomness! What is a game made of? Code! Variables! People on the forums are saying that the game is too random. Spawn systems have to be random, otherwise you run into situations where a team is helpless because they can't escape the other teams superior position. Bullet spreads are a little different. Every bullet firing straight would be great for a competitive game. But that is something that is totally up to the game designers. And they chose to have a slight variance in bullet sprays.

How random is Texas Hold em? You have no control over the cards you or anyone else gets. Yet that is a competitive game. How about Magic? Same thing just about. All card games are going to have a little bit of randomness to them. That is what shuffling does.

Think about how many decisions you make in a game of multiplayer. Anything from going left or right, to what class to spawn as, every single little thing you do. It all adds up. In Magic, not countering the right spells might add up. Maybe sideboarding incorrectly will cost you. My point is, most games have so many decisions that you, YOU, have to make constantly. And at the end of the day, those are what are going to cost you games, not because a gun doesn't shoot straight every time. In close situations, sometimes luck does become a factor. But that is only so often.

How about this: If a game is too random, then the professional players shouldn't be much better than any random dude online. Is that true? Is the only thing separating an MLG player from guys like me a bit of luck? That would be absurd and insulting. Who in their right minds would think that it would be a fair game of Poker if you pitted a random no namer and a bracelet winner? After all, the cards dealt are all random! It could happen that all of the scrub's hands are just better. Yet, he will still most likely lose. Why? Because the Pro can pick up on small details and generate an advantage.

I will finish this off with my definition of a competitive game.

A competitive game has many viable options, viable strategies to explore, the ability to outplay your opponent, and choices to make. Thats it. The game doesn't have to be perfectly patched, it doesn't need to be perfectly balanced. As long as it doesn't suffer from too degenerate of gameplay, and provides plenty of interaction, it can be competitive.
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  1. Old Comment
    Agnostic Pope's Avatar
    A competitive game is anything and everything related to players competing. :P Depth has nothing to do with it. It used to matter once.
    Posted 02-07-2011 at 03:58 PM by Agnostic Pope Agnostic Pope is offline
  2. Old Comment
    A good competitive game will have some amount of depth to it. The card game WAR can't really be called competitive. But a game like Rock Paper Scissors, as boring as that game is, still has some mind games to it. But you are right about any that people want to compete in can be competitive. I was just angry how flawed some people's thinking was when I wrote this.
    Posted 02-09-2011 at 05:35 PM by Spacebear Spacebear is offline

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