Smart Match will have the biggest impact on next-gen and nobody’s talking about it

Many of us have been there - you’re looking at your game library shelf, or the shelf of Best Buy, see a multiplayer game you’ve been meaning to play for a while and then think “ahh… nobody plays that anymore” and pickup the latest Call of Duty instead.

This happens because nobody plays when nobody else is playing, so as soon as a game population drops below some critical threshold - that game effectively dies forever. The corollary to this is that games that can maintain a healthy population continue to accrue more and more players. This is why the top 10 played games on XBL doesn’t change very much, and it’s one reason why the latest COD always sells so much - you know there’s going to be other people playing; it’s the safe buy.

Smart Match is going to change of all this. Because Smart Match removes the need to A) load the game first, and B) sit there looking at “finding match” for 5 minutes means that you’ll be playing online a lot more. What that means is that the critical threshold needed for a game’s online population to be “alive” is going to drop by an order of magnitude or more.

This is further compounded by the XB1’s TV functionality. If I don’t have to switch inputs no matter what TV functionality I want to do (live TV, on demand, gaming) then that’s another pain that is removed, meaning I’m going to play online more often.

This has few key implications for the industry as a whole…

For game developers:

1. Games won’t be as hit-driven. The PS360 will probably go down as the most “hit driven” time of the industry. With Smart Match if I can be confident that I’ll always be able to find other people to play a more obscure game like Crimson Dragon, then I’m more likely to buy it, and I’m more likely to actually play it with other people. This also means I’m less likely to pick up Call of Duty - since my gaming time and money are limited.

Because games won’t be as hit-driven the economics will become a lot more favorable for everyone that aren’t the top of AAA. This will be a major boon to indies, and my guess is that we’ll see a resurgence of mid-tier developers that got wiped out in the PS360 generation.

This will actually be better for most AAA developers as well. Since the ecosystem will be flatter, there’ll be less pressure to have mega-massive-monster releases + budgets. You’ll still have AAA, but this downward pressure should help budgets stay within sustainable boundaries.

2. People will play more games - a lot more. This is because people will always be able to extract maximum value from their game playing time. If I really want to play Crimson Dragon, that’s a 10/10 in gaming value at that time. However without Smart Match, there’s a good chance nobody else is playing that game, so I’d have to settle for COD. That may be 7/10 for me at that time, well watching Netflix is an 8/10 - meaning I’m just going to do that instead. So with Smart Match people will be able to be hit 10/10 on their gaming time substantially more often, meaning they’ll choose to play games vs other forms of entertainment a lot more often.

More game time means more active player bases for longer periods of time, more DLC revenue, more interest in sequels, more people buying games in general, etc.

For the console war:

1. If the PS4 doesn’t have similar functionality, this is going to be the number 1 complaint against it - so most likely it will be part of the first major update. If it’s not technically possible for Sony to implement this feature for whatever reason, this will be a crippling handicap that will only become a bigger and bigger weakness over time… because,

2. Over time developers will see that the XB1 versions of their games will be doing better. They’ll have more sales, have more players, have better DLC revenue, etc etc. This will make devs focus on XB1, which will attract more players, and you’ll get a compounding effect.

Conclusion

While you may not be convinced right now that it’s important, just wait. Previous to the last generation people didn’t know/appreciate things like cross-game invites,¬†party chat¬† and achievements; and now they’re industry standards.

And while this article may come off as a bit fanboyish with the focus on the XB1, that’s because MS is the only one to talk about this kind of asynchronous matchmaking system. I really hope the PS4 has it as well, because as I outlined above, a Smart Match system is a boon for developers, and as a gamer that’s the most important thing to me.