Halo 5: Population, party restrictions and solo queue

Guys… Halo 5 has a shitty online population. I wish match making in Halo 5 was better too, but please, stop requesting party restrictions in match making – It’s not possible. I’m the last guy on Earth that wants to defend 343 Industries, yet time and time again I find myself getting blasted by every member of every Halo community just because I have the audacity to tell them the facts.

Yes, I’d love to have party restrictions in match making. Why would I argue against this? The point isn’t that 343 shouldn’t have party restrictions in match making, the point I’m trying to make is that 343 can’t have party restrictions in match making.

Ever heard the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger”? Well, today I’m the messenger, and here’s the message that 343 doesn’t have the guts to tell you…

Halo 5’s online population sucks.

Halo 5’s population has been shitty ever since launch.

Halo 5’s population sucks so much that no matter how hard I tried to get a ranking in FFA I couldn’t because each season I’d be lucky to get a single FFA game. I was trying within just 2 weeks of Halo 5’s launch.

Halo 5’s population sucks so much that top players around the world, even in North America had to resort to creating smurf accounts because they were no longer finding matches in a reasonable time in match making once they ranked high enough. (This was eventually fixed, but probably still a problem for top ranked players during off-peak hours)

Halo 5’s population sucks so much that the game dropped out of Xbox’s Lives Most Popular Top 10 after a few months.

Halo 5’s population sucks so much that I can’t even find a game of Warzone in the Oceanic region outside of peak hours.

Halo 5’s population sucks so much that Microsoft and 343 are bending over backwards to hide the numbers of Halo 5’s population. There is no player population count in the UI. Major Nelson no longer updates his “Xbox Live Top 10” blog (probably because Halo 4’s player population was so bad).

Fortunately, we can estimate Halo 5’s numbers thanks to other games including a population counter.

Here’s the top 10 most popular games according to Xbox.com (As of 8th December 2016 – 12pm Sydney):

  1. Battlefield 1
  2. Gears of War 4
  3. Grand Theft Auto V
  4. Minecraft
  5. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
  6. Fifa 17
  7. Forza Horizon 3
  8. Overwatch
  9. NBA 2K17
  10. Fallout 4

Now, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect this list isn’t 100% accurate and could very well shift around during the week or even depending on the time of day. We’re not sure how these numbers are calculated and only Microsoft knows. What we do know, is Halo 5 isn’t currently in the top 10 and hasn’t been for a very long time. Every now and then it pops back into the top 10 for a brief period, but the information we do have doesn’t look very good for Halo 5 at all.

By my estimates, using data from Titanfall 2 and Star Wars Battlefront which do have population stats available (The Microsoft store lists Halo 5 between these 2 titles when listed by popularity), Halo 5 peaks around 20,000 active players world wide in 24 hours.

Party restrictions – Fantasy vs Reality

Of course, in a perfect world Halo 5’s match making would throw you into a game with less than 50ms ping to the server. All players would be very similar skill level. Everyone would communicate and the party compositions on each team would be the same and all this would happen in less than 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Here’s how it works in the real world:

  • A lot of players don’t communicate, especially players that have queued solo.
  • Some players can’t find a game in their region and are forced to expand their search parameters meaning they might end up in a game with 200ms ping where everyone else has under 50ms.
  • Some players need to expand their match making preferences because they can’t find games at a high rank. They might end up in a game with a significant skill gap between others.
  • Too many options leaves some playlists completely dead in lower populated regions
  • Some playlists aren’t as popular and may take longer to find games

Lets imagine a scenario…

We have 2 teams in Team Arena. Each team is made up of a party of 3 as well as a solo queue player.

Let’s call them Team Alpha and Team Bravo.

Team Alpha’s solo queue player isn’t using a microphone and he lives in England. The other 3 players are all American and the game is being played on American host.

Team Bravo’s solo queue player is American, just like the other 3 team mates. He’s using his microphone and communicating very well with his team.

So on Team Alpha we have a player with a significant latency disadvantage not communicating, versus a player without a latency disadvantage and is communicating.

Which team has a significant advantage here?

As you can see, party restrictions in match making aren’t going to somehow balance every game and make it completely fair.

Now, you could argue that party restrictions would make the games more balanced, but if you increase the importance of parties in the match making algorithm then you have to make compromises somewhere else or match making search times become too long.

It may mean that players from other regions suffer because it’s harder for them to find local games. It may mean that skill parameters need to be expanded because players in Onyx and above struggle to find games.

I’m sure someone will argue “Why not just make it an option”. The problem is that would make search times worse for everyone. Not only will players searching for “similar party composition” need to wait longer to find games, but the players that don’t use the option have a smaller pool of players to match with so they also suffer longer search times.

North America isn’t the only continent on the planet

This might be hard for you Yanks to understand, but it’s true. There other continents that exist outside of North America. Out of these billions of people, some of them also like to play Halo. Unfortunately, Halo isn’t as popular in every region as it is in North America or Europe so players outside these regions have a significantly smaller player population.

Here in Australia we have a very small population and we’re in a very isolated area of the world. Because of this, to enjoy an online game with reasonable latency we need to play others from our region of the world, mostly consisting of Australia and New Zealand players.

In Halo we can only get games in a small selection of playlists with reasonable latency. Last time I checked, Warzone, Team Slayer, Team Arena and SWAT could find games, with the rest of the playlists requiring you to search for international games. Since then things have gotten worse.

Now even in Warzone I’ll struggle to find games outside of peak hours. Team Slayer at 1pm on a weekday? Not even worth turning on my Xbox because I already know it’s not going to happen.

Other games have party restrictions in match making

Other games like League of Legends? The game that has over 100 million active players each month? The same game that funnels people into just a few different game modes instead of more than a dozen?

What other games? Go ahead, list them for me.

But, but, Halo 3 had party restrictions in match making!

Every time I see this argument I can’t help but laugh. Halo 3’s match making isn’t as good as you remember. You’re wearing nostalgia goggles. Halo 3 also didn’t have a problem with throwing a team of 4 Aussies into a game on US host with a 200ms ping disadvantage.

Hmmm, let me think here… Would most players prefer to lose against a party of four players because they had better team work, or would you rather lose against the same party composition because you were shot through walls, your rockets took 2 seconds to fire and your melees didn’t register?

Pro tip: The vast majority of players would choose the former option. Just sayin’.

Halo 3 also had the advantage of remaining in the top 10 Xbox Live games for pretty much the entirety of the Xbox 360’s life cycle and spent most of the time in 1st place, eventually losing to Call of Duty.

Anyone that says “I can still find games in Halo 3 with party restrictions in 2 minutes so you’re wrong!” I’d like you to open up a GPS. If your location is anywhere within North America, please, do me a favour and shut up, because your argument is invalid.

A party of 4 isn’t necessarily a team of 4

In this fantasy land where solo players are constantly getting 50:0’ed by parties of four, I’d like to remind you that a party of four isn’t magically better than four solo players.

I could decide to party up with four of my friends in real life that suck at Halo. Using the logic that we should only be able to match against other teams of four means we have to wait longer for a match and we may get matched up against a team of four that plays together constantly. In this case we’re likely to lose most games, even if we were facing four solo players.

The entire premise falls apart once you actually stop to think about it. The amount of tournament teams searching in match making is incredibly low, yet for some reason the Halo community pretends that every single party of four they come across is a team qualified for the HCS grand finals.

People keep on making out that a party of four is somehow better than four solo players, but there’s absolutely no way to know this. A party of four could just be partied up because they did well in a game together and someone invited them to their party.

They might be very average players. They may not be using microphones. They may have NEVER played together before. Should a party of four that isn’t communicating and have never even played with each other before seriously be limited to ONLY being matched against other parties of four?

I used to do this myself all the time in match making. If someone was making an effort to communicate I’d invite them to my party just because I’d prefer team mates that are actually talking. Hell, they don’t even have to talk about the game, they can talk about their dog for all I care.

Once you actually start to think about what you’re implying it makes less and less sense.

Solo players vs a team of 4 constantly? There’s your hint.

I love how people that constantly bitch that they always get matched against parties of four when searching solo are literally proving my point. Do you know why you keep on getting parties of four? Because the population sucks. You’re literally proving the exact point I keep on trying to make. There’s no one else for the game to match you with in a reasonable time frame.

Yes, theoretically the game could match you with the same party compositions on each team, but then you’d bitch that it takes 20 minutes to find a game. If the population was better then the game would be more likely to match you against similar party compositions. The fact that this isn’t happening frequently tells you all you need to know: Halo 5’s population cannot support this.

No party restrictions is making the population lower – FALSE

This argument has absolutely zero evidence to back it up and it just proves that many people are completely out of touch with the average gamer. The average gamer wants to click on match making and be in a game within 60 seconds. The average gamer doesn’t give a shit about party restrictions in match making.

I’ll tell you what the average gamer does care about:

The average gamer cares if they buy a new release game for $60 USD or their countries equivalent, boots up the game, searches for a game during their day off work can’t find a game.

That gamer then says “What the hell, why can’t I find a game?”, promptly returns the game for the latest Call of Duty and is able to find a game at any time of day almost instantly.

You might think this is hyperbole but it’s not. I have video proof here and here.

Halo 5 is almost completely dead in the Oceanic region and the match making algorithms most likely played a very large role in that. FFA was DOA, BTB was the same. Players have rapidly given up on finding games in match making which starts a death spiral until the game is dead.

So in actual fact, more restrictive match making parameters would only hinder the games population, not boost it. The claim that making players wait even longer to find games would help boost population proves that many people have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.

4v4 is about team work… So what?

Another thing I don’t understand about the entire argument of solo players versus teams of four is why the hell it’s even an issue to begin with.

Yeah, no shit, a team of four players partied together, that try hard, play together often and communicates effectively will probably beat a team of four solo players.

And? I’m failing to see the problem here.

4v4 is a game mode all about team work. What, you think you should win games just because you think your BR is amazing? That’s not how team games work. If you want to be rewarded for your amazing BR then go play FFA. Team Arena, as the name implies, is about a team of 4 players. If you don’t work together as a team then you’re probably going to lose. Your individual skill doesn’t mean a whole lot and it shouldn’t.

All I see is players that want to be handed wins without putting in the effort. A team of four that has practised together and beat you are simply being rewarded for their team work. That’s called meritocracy.

Plug in your damn microphone

Thankfully, for solo queue players there’s a very simple solution for your problem of getting spanked by parties of 4. It’s called COMMUNICATING.

The wonderful thing about communication is that it undoes a lot of the advantages of a party of four. The reason a party of four has an advantage over four solo players is (usually) communication. Simply plugging in your microphone and making an effort to communicate with your team mates removes most of the advantage a team of four has against you.

Of course, a team of four that has been playing together since launch is still going to be pretty damn tough to beat, but if you’re complaining about parties of four in match making while your Astro A40’s are sitting a metre away from you gathering dust then I can’t say I feel sorry you.

It doesn’t come with the side effects of longer search times and who knows, you might even make some new friends to party up with and then you can be the one spanking everyone online with your party of four.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far and you still believe Halo 5 should have party restrictions in match making than I can only pray you never end up on a development team for a video game.

I have video evidence to back up my claims that the Halo 5 population is suffering and those videos were from months ago.

If you agree with me than perhaps you could do me a favour and share this article every time someone tries to argue for party restrictions in match making.

I’ll stress this point:

Yes, it would be nice if we could have party restrictions in match making.

It would also be nice if Halo: The Master Chief Collection wasn’t a steaming pile of shit.

I’m not saying party restrictions are bad, I’m saying they’re not possible with Halo 5’s current population which is only going to get worse over time.

Unfortunately, these are the cards that we’re dealt so we need to make the best of them.