Player hosts are annoying, unfair and unreliable, I said it. You’ve all noticed it. You’re playing a game, you watch a replay, and what you saw doesn’t match up with whats being shown to you through the enemy’s eyes. This, and the fits of rage that often ensue are due to minute amounts of latency that exist in sending signals to and from the host of the game. The player that is the host of the game doesn’t have to deal with this latency and often has the advantage over his opponents. It is because of this that things that can only be perceived as false come into play.
Latency is something that we all have to deal with. There will always be issues with it in online games. LAN and split screen games don’t have to deal with this issue because there are no signals to be sent, just hard wires. Dedicated servers on the other hand, such as those found in Battlefield 3 or League of Legends puts everyone on a level playing field, making players deal with the same amount of latency. Usually, when dedicated servers are employed, latency isn’t really an issue at all. The problem is, and always has been, player hosts. When one player in the game is serving as the conduit for every other player in the game, they don’t have to wait a fraction of a second for a signal to make it back to them. They are, in essence, playing the game in real-time, just as if it were a single-player game. Except, there are other people in the game, and they’re a tad bit behind you in witnessing the action unfold on screen.
Players hosting games aren’t necessarily all bad people but under certain circumstances some understand their position and use it to their advantage. The first two Gears of War games were infamous for host advantage. The player wielding the “host shotgun” and its mythical properties had better range, more forceful buckshot, and somehow, got easier headshots as well. Not having to deal with latency made it slightly easier to aim, making it easier to deal damage, and in some cases, easier to blow your enemies in half. This issue was addressed in Gears of War 3, but in Gears of War, and Gears of War 2, the unlucky team that didn’t land the hosting player often ended up losing with nothing they could do about it.
In addition to the practical problems that player hosting causes, there are also regional problems. When dedicated serves are used, you’re usually grouped with players on the same continent or region. With player hosts, this is not always the case. When you host a game, you can be joined by players from anywhere around the world. Naturally, if you’re bouncing a signal off someone half way around the world from you, its going to take longer to reach its destination than if you were just connected to someone a few hundred or thousand miles away. This in turn means that you’ll be at even more of a disadvantage and you’ll probably lose terrible, not enjoy the game, scream young lungs out, curse, and throw your controller.
Call of Duty is probably one of the best games in terms of player hosts if only because of “Kill Cams”. The Kill Cam shows you exactly how the last seconds of a life played out through the eyes of the executioner. Things that once went unexplained are now explainable. Though it doesn’t actually help avoid latency issues it does help you understand what happened and understand how your enemy killed you and that they didn’t use a cheat or exploit.
In addition to the gameplay in consistencies, some player hosts are completely unstable.Awesomenauts is an absolutely great game which uses player hosts that unfortunately adversely effect the game. The developer, Ronimo Games has addressed the problem and have stated that it will be addressed in an upcoming patch. Regardless, the way things are now, problems exist maintaining connections between certain NAT types and disconnections during matches are frequent. Unlike most games on dedicated servers where you get to keep your stats and experience even when you disconnect from a game, in Awesomenauts you lose everything after a disconnect which is particularly frustrating as matches can last upward to half an hour.
Proper host migration is a simple way to solve the problems caused from player hosts leaving a game. Unfortunately many times the new host is poorly chosen and one or two minutes of abysmal gameplay can occur while you wait for the game to readjust and choose another new host. Additionally, if the new host leaves during the migration it can lead to the game being completely abandoned and lost. In the worst scenarios, host migration doesn’t work at all in certain games and every time a host leaves, everyone is sent back to the menu and loses everything. Pretty much all of us can point to a time when we we’re dominating in a match but were unable to finish it and were left disheartened.
While the need for player hosting certainly exists (especially for smaller developers and publishers) dedicated servers are a necessity in multiplayer games in 2012. By going to dedicated servers, developers and publishers stand to make a cost effective investment that will undoubtedly result in more happy customers. As we all know, happy customers leads to more game sales, everyone profits, and everyone wins. The bottom line is that player hosting just isn’t and never has been acceptable. So let’s join together, make some noise, and help convince publishers to make player hosting a forgotten feature of yesterday.