My attention has just been brought to a rather interesting article published by PC Gamer. You can read it on their website here. Don't bother with the long-ass video (for now), but go and read the article. It's pretty short. I'll wait.
I wanted to talk a little bit about my feelings on this article. First of all I want to say that every time Valve does something I think they're more and more awesome, ever since when I first met them, playing Half-Life: Uplink in a dimly lit basement. They do everything with a real sense of style and artistry, both in terms of their products and in terms of how they appear to operate as a company. Steam was a real blunder at first but they sorted it out in the space of a few months, and now it's one of the best things going on in PC gaming. Other than that, I can't think of a single time where they went wrong, especially in light of this article. Previously, I considered a lot of things they did with TF2 to be horrible mistakes, especially the addition of micro-transactions, but it really makes sense from the stand-point of a developer testing the waters with different ideas.
And I think that's something that's really important for Valve specifically. They've always followed pretty old-school design principles in their games - that is to say, their games are actually well designed. They're looking for ways to modernise those ideas without compromising the sense of balance, forethought, and clarity in their design. Experimentation is an important part of this process.
But what about the real meat of the article, this idea of splitting up players?
I'm... intrigued. I'm not sure how such a system could work. The only way I can think of is having it based on a system of player feed-back, but that's something that's verily easily abused. Then again, on a very large scale, like, say, the audience of a AAA game released by an established, much loved developer, it becomes more difficult for one or a few people to really mess things up. And it'd be cool to not have to play with total asshats, or to be able to claim retribution by leaving negative feedback that actually has a direct impact on their gaming experience.
I think probably the best reward for good behaviour would be choice. Give players with a lot of positive feedback the option to choose to play with any group of people, and restrict asshats to playing together. Something like that is hard to make practical with a typical PC hosting arrangement of a whole bunch of privately operated dedicated servers, though. Unless it's just available as a server setting, I guess, but wouldn't everybody just run a server that only allowed players with good standing? Maybe not, I don't know.
Even give players with a lot of positive feedback more cosmetic options in games. I'm sure Valve's research with TF2 has showed that people will go to absurd lengths to get a hat that hardly anybody will notice and less people will actually care about. Hell, in TF2's case, hats would probably be enough motivation for 90% of problem players to mend their ways.
Incidentally, the article seems to suggest to me that Valve is thinking about releasing an ad-supported game, or maybe making some of their existing titles ad-supported. I'm okay with this assuming the implementation isn't TOO intrusive, but I know it's something people have mixed feelings on. Maybe an option to either buy the game or to see ads?
Interesting things Valve is working on, as always, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up next, even if their recent direction has been somewhat terrifying.