The multiplayer portion of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is experiencing a huge problem with it’s skill based matchmaking system (referred to as ‘SBMM’). According to many gamers on Twitter, Reddit, as well as YouTuber TheXclusiveAce, players are matched against similarly skilled players. The implementation of the system, however, seems to be flawed. Here’s what’s going on.
When a new patch for Modern Warfare is announced, you’d expect excitement from the community. When Ashton Williams, community manager of Infinity Ward, announced a second patch for Modern Warfare this week, she was met with a lot of complaints. Modern Warfare’s matchmaking is singled out as a huge problem for the wildly successful multiplayer shooter.
What went out today was a patch. We have an update coming out in the next few days that includes fixes to perks, private match options, weapons, and more.
— Ashton Williams (@ashtonisVULCAN) November 19, 2019
If you have played a multiplayer match in Modern Warfare, it is highly likely that you were matched with players of similar skill. One could question whether said matchmaking system is actually a problem. The problem though, isn’t that there is matchmaking based on the skill of the player. The problem is how it is implemented.
YouTuber TheXclusiveAce compared metrics like level, kill-death ratio, and score per minute. Based on the (fairly low scale) research, things like level and score per minute do not affect what enemies you are pitted against. Kill-death ratio, however, seems to play a huge role for the matchmaking system. Specifically, the game takes your recent K/D ratio (and not your global or all-time ratio) into account when dropping you in a new match.
The three big problems
There are a couple of problems with this system though. As the researcher explains in his video above, a lot of the fun of Modern Warfare is mitigated by pitting equally skilled players against each other. For example, because the skill rating of a player is hidden (unlike competitive games like Overwatch or CS:GO), there is nothing to strive for; no rank to grind for. You are just unknowingly put in lobbies with similarly skilled players.
This way, you never get the sense that you’re improving or getting better at the game. Your enemies are always just as skillful as you are. According to the researcher this contradicts the design philosophy behind the reward system in this game.
Kill streaks are our in-game rewards. So the incentive to improve in Call of Duty (…) has always been so you can earn those kill streaks more efficiently and more consistently. But you can’t do that [in this game] because as you get better, you just get more difficult opponents
Not to mention the problem that arises when you are playing with friends. When one player has been slaying noobs left, right, and center, while the other is barely scraping by, the latter is going to have a bad time while playing in lobbies with the invisible skill rating of the former.
What makes the whole system even worse according to the researcher, is the fact that only your last couple of games are taken into account. In other words, you can’t have an off day because then your rank will drop and suddenly you seem like a god. The game suggests you’ve gotten better, but after a couple of rounds you get thrown into much harder lobbies which can leave the player confused about his seeming improvement.
The Reddit-post containing the video shown above gathered more than 6.5k upvotes in the first 21 hours after it got posted. On Twitter, many of the most liked comments on Williams’ post are complaints about the SBMM. So it seems that, apart from nerfing the 725 shotgun multiple times, Infinity Ward has it’s work cut out for it when it comes to Modern Warfare’s matchmaking system.