One of the great things about playing Red Alert 2 over Westwood Online (WOL), was the inclusion of an automatic ladder system. No matter whom you played or where you played them, be it in a quick match or a simple tournament game, the result of the game was recorded automatically, and after some number-crunching from a pre-arranged formula, both players had their rankings adjusted. From the elite of the top 500, to the sporadic players around the 20,000 area, everybody could see how well, or more often, how badly they were doing.
At its peak, the Red Alert 2 ladder was host to over a hundred-thousand players.
The attraction of this system was that it was automated; there were no complex leagues to join, no clans to sign up for. You simply had to connect to the servers and play a few games to get ranked. It was the overwhelming simplicity of the Red Alert 2 system that drew me to competitive online gaming for the first time. While my rank never surpassed 4000, there was still an overwhelming sense of achievement with every tournament victory. Unlike a large amount of online gaming, most notably the deluge of Half-Life based modifications, Red Alert 2 was not designed as a team game: You relied on yourself, and your rank showed this achievement to not only you, but to everybody else.
Despite the huge number of players present on the Red Alert 2, and ultimately Yuri's Revenge ladders, EA Pacific have chosen not to include a global and centralised ladder system for Generals. Used to feeding from the cryptic scraps that community manager Delphi throws to us from time to time, his community wide statement from the developers was alarmingly frank and to the point:
"Actually, what we've confirmed is that we will provide a "ladder kit" that will enable individuals (fansites, gaming rooms, players in general) to set up their own personal ladders. We'll provide the ladder...err...author...to enable various rules, passwords, options, etc. They'll also get to include anyone - even if its just for their closest friends. We're currently implementing the ladder kit so their will be more news to come in the near future."
An ambitious plan? Or trying to divert attention away from the lack of a major ladder? Different people view this from different points, some going as far as accusing EAP of backstabbing, and crying of an outrage. Perhaps EA Pacific should have consulted the community before making such an important decision, the chance to put forth some feedback would have been appreciated. Whatever your viewpoint, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to a central ladder system.
There are many clear advantages to the WOL ladder, a selection are listed below.
The clear advantage of a single ladder is that everyone playing Generals in the world can view how well they're doing compared to everybody else. There are no eloquent debates over who's got "madskillZ", just a quick check over at Westwood to compare relevant rankings. The best way of seeing just who is "owning" whom however, remains to have a square go in the game.
When I began playing Red Alert 2 online, and was on the receiving end of more than a few defeats, I still had a rank at the end of the day. Whether it was 5,000 or 20,000, it kept you going: Showing your progress, or lack of it. It allows novices and regulars alike to chart their gains over the period of a day, a week or a month. This means that even after a string of horrendous defeats, you still have something to work with; something to build on. It gives everyone a true measurement of how he or she is doing, and frequently acts as the stimulus for people to join our online community.
Simplicity. Although the promise of "ladder-kit" sounds reasonable, there will undoubtedly still be signing up, filling in of forms, and a subsequent barrage of junk mail. With the old Red Alert 2 ladders, there was none of this: Just registering for a WOL account, and jumping into a game. Anyone, no matter their experience of involvement with the online community could be playing tournament matches within a period of weeks. This simplicity was the key to the old system; and we can only hope that the promised kit is easy not only to implement for the fansites, but easy enough to enrol in for the casual players to get hooked. Get 'em while they're young - a bit like the tobacco industry!
Sadly, a single WOL ladder presents as many problems as solutions. Again, a few are described below.
In my view, gaining positions on the ladder was the single catalyst to the creation of hacks and cheats for Red Alert 2. Rob wrote on article entitled "WOL: Are some people too serious?" quite a while back, but after all this time the point remains: Some people forgot online gaming is still at heart just that: A game. Everyone plays to win, but in the same way athletes who strive for success may turn to drugs, some individuals wanted success on the ladder so badly, that they were willing to cheat for that success.
If there was one thing I truly despised about the old WOL ladders it was the arrogance and contempt held by those in top 1000 or so. The result of ranking people lead to a torrent of "Shut up n00b" and "you're pure crap, I'm not playing you" and so on. (All with bad grammar of course, the mark of true hardcore gamer). This not only annoyed and aggravated people, but probably put people off playing Red Alert 2 online for good.
While the quick setup of tournament games was very good for those who wanted to get ranked, this also created a lack of non-tournament games to play in. The "Quick Match" feature, for instance, only supported tournament games, further limiting options for the casual gamer.
It was 100 votes by coincidence, honest.
There is a well documented split in the community over this issue. Our own poll here at CNCSeries.com has featured this topic in recent days, and it's result shows overwhelming support for a single ladder. Out of a total of one hundred votes (from when this article was birthed), a total of seventy-four people have voted in favour of an Official Ladder. It takes no Einstein to figure out that the majority of people are not happy with EA Pacfic's decision.
Many of the well-known members of the community have voiced their concerns over the lack of an Official Ladder, one such member being Maniac of Westwood Nation. We took the time to ask him a few choice questions in regard to his opinions, ones which he puts forth well.
How did you react when you heard there would be no Official Ladder?
I didn't feel good to say the least. I am all for a strong multiplayer component and a strong multiplayer community. I was disappointed. Without a ladder, I feel the game wont have a long enough life - even if it's a good game.
Agreed. Would you agree that its moreso the 'top players' that will be put off by the inability to easily compete against each other?
Im not sure. The reason why people play multiplayer games is perhaps the competition it offers. The chance to beat an equally skilled or perhaps a better opponent. Without a ladder, I have no idea who I am playing, and there's a high probability that the person I'm playing is nowhere close to my skill level. That's why people were so put off by WOL quickmatching before the release of Olaf's match filters, because eight out of ten times they got matched with absolute newbies. The newbies didnt have fun getting beat in two minutes and the good players didn't find it fun to beat the newbies without any challenge.
Do you think that fansites or members of the community have both the dedication and resources necessary to competently run a ladder of considerable size?
If there is no official ladder then there is more or less no way of knowing how good your opponent is. The problem with fansites, not just the one's in this community, but of any community out there, is that they are too divided. No, they will not be able to run a competent ladder unless they unite to run ONE ladder for all the fansites, a united ladder that can be supported by every one. The ladder kit won't do any good if there's a hundred ladders out there with five or six competitors in each. But, if the community unites to create ONE ladder where most of the people play, then I think it may be able to make up for the lack of an official one. Leadership of such a ladder is always a cause for concern. I've seen past unity efforts fail (the many irc channels would be an example) but I'm sure if everyone puts a tough enough effort in this they will be able to come through and create a strong cohesive ladder.
Finally, do you think that the lack of an Official ladder will mean a damage to the sales of C&C Generals?
No, it will not damage the sales of C&C Generals, the game is going to sell no matter what, but it will damage the longevity of the title and that invariably effects future sales. Perhaps it's time Westwood, EA Pacific and EA realize their stupidity in not supporting a strong community.
Should our poll be correct, and there is such a demand for a single ladder, perhaps some community co-operation could set-up such a device. If the recent flurry of apocalyptic "State of the community" articles are anything to go by, we'll surely end up going to war over this issue. Despite these fools and their rantings, the community as a whole seems to be supporting EAP fully over the release of Generals, and so, as with so much of the game, we'll just have to hope, wait and see.