What the L4D2 boycott means to me

With over 40,000 people in the Left 4 Dead 2boycott group, there are bound to be a lot of varying reasons for why they're there. The popular one is about past promises unfulfilled, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I've also got issues with the general quality of support we've got from Valve.

Lack of content

One major nitpick I have with most of the boycott community is that a lot of people consider new content to be "free updates". A lot of us paid $50 for a game with very little content with the expectation, due to explicit statements from Valve, that we would be getting more. To me, this means I have already paid for this new content with my initial $50—it is not a free update. Consider it a pre-order.

Calling it free just gives the impression that any new content is a gift of good will from Valve, which makes a lot of people sound like whiners with silly expectations of getting everything for free. This is supported by the way the media has been reporting it—nearly all mentions of the boycott has attributed it to whiny kids wanting stuff for free.

So far, two minor updates have come out.

In the first update, we got the two old campaigns released for versus multiplayer. This amounted to adding invisible walls, very slightly restructuring some areas to be more balanced, and adding some climb spots for infected. The second update, called the "Survival pack", added a Survival mode where you see how long you can last against hoards of enemies. This added a new survival-only map and again very slightly modified all the old ones. Unfortunately most of us have found Survival to be a remarkable failure with very monotonous gameplay, a very quick curve to master, and virtually no replayability.

How much new content is enough content to fulfill the obligation from those promises? This is another point where people have differing ideas. I could personally care less about new characters, stories, or achievements. New weapons can be cool to degree, but they would need to be a real game-changer, like the gravity gun was in Half-Life 2, for me to care much. For new content in Left 4 Dead, I was mainly expecting my $50 to pay for another two or three full-sized, full-featured campaigns.

Valve recently announced a "Crash Course" campaign for Left 4 Dead. I'm really hoping they designed it with all the experiences and flaws of the current maps in mind. One interesting quote:

…the primary goal of "Crash" is to deliver a complete Versus mode experience in just 30 minutes, resulting in a streamlined version of the game's existing Versus campaigns.

I can't help but feel this is marketing-speak that means "We wanted to spend as little money as possible considering we've got a sequel about to come out, so we built a small campaign that should release us from our obligations of more content". Sigh.

Lack of support

Anyone who plays Left 4 Dead will be able to tell you how riddled with bugs it is, and how slow Valve is to fix them. The issue is compounded by Valve's veil of secrecy around development, because players don't know if Valve is working on a fix or has even acknowledged something is happening. With how little support the game has got to fix its flaws, I can't really feel comfortable thinking Valve will be any more competent with Left 4 Dead 2.

One example that I see in nearly every single game is 1-4 players are kicked from a game within a few minutes of starting, getting a "No steam logon" error that no doubt has to do with poorly implemented DRM. This is a pretty glaring bug that has been around since the initial release, with no fix in sight. Another is that games tend to get "lost" in Valve's master servers. In pretty much every game, new players will randomly stop coming in to replace old ones. Sometimes it recovers in 10-15min, but usually it doesn't.

A lot of maps have serious exploits. There are several areas that, with a little skill (or luck), an infected player can instantly kill a survivor. There are ways for survivors to skip or out-run crescendo events, which are supposed to be a major gameplay element introducing a temporary chaotic challenge. In areas you can't outright skip, there is almost always a spot where survivors can sit that makes it all but impossible for infected to deal any damage.

Left 4 Dead is incredibly sensitive to lag. Unlike most modern games, and even old ones such as the nearly 13 year old Quakeworld, Left 4 Dead has no sense of lag compensation. When pouncing a survivor, you need to actually make sure you land a little ahead of the player. Landing on the player will just result in you sliding off as your client catches up to reveal you didn't actually hit your target. Other players will just see some stupid hunter landing 10 feet off his mark. This isn't just something that affects those of 200+ pings, either -- it is still stressful at pings lower than 100.

There are some general flaws with gameplay too. "Ragequitting" was certainly not invented with Left 4 Dead, but it's the first time I've seen it become such a common phrase. Losing in Left 4 Dead can be a very frustrating experience, but there is nothing to balance that out to keep people having fun. Because there is no incentive to stay, the great majority of people will quit at the first sign of a loss. Sometimes they will even "grief" the game by killing themselves or their teammates. Most days it takes two or three games of everyone quitting before I find a decent one. Even then, the only prize for winning is often the enemy team quitting right before you get to play your fun infected finale round.

This could be partially solved by a better matchmaking system. The current one, when it actually works, makes no distinctions between skilled and new players, good sports and quitters, and full experienced teams and random people. Valve has been promising a new matchmaking system that solves at least that last point for a while now, but keeps pushing it back. Even then, it wouldn't solve the problem that the game just doesn't offer any reason for a losing team to stick around.

Posted on August 05, 2009 in Gaming, Left 4 Dead 2, Valve

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