For years, skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) has been the hottest of topics within the Call of Duty community, with some proclaiming it ruins the experience, others saying quite the opposite. High-skilled Call of Duty players often bemoan SBMM for chucking them into what they call “sweaty” lobbies full of similarly high-skilled players. All the while, Activision has remained silent on how exactly Call of Duty’s SBMM actually works — until now.
In a blog post, which is “starting the conversation about matchmaking in Call of Duty”, Activision pulled back the curtain on SBMM for the first time, and gave players plenty to chew on.
According to Activision, Call of Duty does consider skill (or more specifically player performance) as a component of matchmaking, but skill is not the “dominant” variable. Top of the tree, Activision said, is connection. “Ping is King”, the blog post reads. “Connection is the most critical and heavily weighted factor in the matchmaking process.”
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Second is time to match (“we all want to spend time playing the game rather than waiting for matches to start”), and joint third are playlist diversity, recent maps and modes, skill/performance, input device, platform, and whether you have voice chat on or off.
“These factors have resulted in a process that we believe provides the best player experience and creates a stronger community for Call of Duty worldwide,” Activision said.
There are some fascinating insights in here for veteran Call of Duty players. Activision says that for Modern Warfare 3’s Rustment playlist (maps Rust and Shipment in rotation), players often leave lobbies and/or matches early on, hoping to requeue into Shipment instead. This creates a vacant spot on a team during an early stage of the match, Activision explained. “As the matchmaking process may prioritize backfilling that spot, this could result in players perceiving that Rust is disproportionately selected over Shipment. TL;DR – trying to cherry-pick maps may have an unexpected result.
“Our goal is to ensure that players spend more time playing matches rather than waiting for them.”
Now, onto the detail everyone wanted. Skill is determined based on a player’s overall performance, Activision said. This includes kills, deaths, wins, losses, and more, as well as mode selection, and recent matches as an overall metric across all Multiplayer experiences. “This is a fluid measurement that’s consistently updating and reacting to your gameplay,” Activision explained. “Skill is not only a factor in matchmaking players against appropriate enemies, but also when finding teammates.”
Activision goes on to say skill in matchmaking means all players (regardless of skill level) are more likely to experience wins and losses more proportionately. “We use player performance to ensure that the disparity between the most skilled player in the lobby and the least skilled player in the lobby isn’t so vast that players feel their match is a waste of time.”
“Our data shows that when lower skill players are consistently on the losing end, they are likely to quit matches in progress or stop playing altogether,” Activision continued. “This has an effect on the player pool. A smaller player pool means wait times for matches increase and connections may not be as strong as they should be. This can compound over time to create a spiral effect. Eventually, when only high-skilled players remain because lower skilled players have quit out of frustration, the result is an ecosystem that is worse overall for everyone.
“Game data indicates that having some limitations on the disparity of skill across the players in a match makes for a healthier ecosystem. We also understand that many high skill players want more variety of experience, but often feel like they only get the ‘sweatiest’ of lobbies. We have heard this feedback clearly and will continue to test and actively explore ways to mitigate this concern.”
Activision then answered some community questions, busting the odd myth along the way. Time played is not a factor in matchmaking, for example. Matchmaking does not impact gameplay, such as hit registration, player visibility, aim assist, or damage. Money spent on microtransactions such as bundles and battle passes “does not in any way, shape or form, factor into matchmaking”. Partners and content creators don’t get special consideration in general matchmaking, either.
Activision then ruled out adding an opt-in/opt-out system for the matchmaking algorithm, saying its data suggests splitting the player base in that way would make for potentially longer wait times based on the type of matchmaking selected and matches with poor connections.
And then the big one: have you ever tested removing skill as a consideration from matchmaking?
“We have run tests over the years to determine if removing skill as a consideration from matchmaking makes sense,” Activision said. “We will continue to launch these tests periodically. To date, the data remains consistent with what we detailed above – players tend to quit matches or stop playing if they’re getting blown out, resulting in a negative overall experience for all players in the lobby and the general player population. We purposefully do not disclose when these tests occur because it may impact feedback or the data we see during these tests.”
But will Activision consider removing skill from matchmaking in specific general multiplayer game modes?
“We have considered this in the past and we will continue to examine if this idea makes sense as part of an experimental playlist or in specific modes. We have nothing to announce on that front today.”
So, that’s that, you’d imagine. Clearly, Activision will not ditch SBMM for Call of Duty, no matter what the community thinks. But at least players now have an understanding of Activision’s thinking, whether they agree with it or not.
There’s more to come, too. Activision said its technology team is developing a Ping and Matchmaking white paper for those inclined to get into the more granular information about Call of Duty matchmaking.