Game Design 102: Matchmaking

This blog will discuss what does 'good' matchmaking made of? How should we define matchmaking for our multiplayer game? also, learn more about what factors make matchmaking so difficult in development.

I bet most of you guys have played online games before. League of Legend, DOTA2, Counter-Strike, Overwatch or any other games. It is fun, right?

But let’s imagine this… What if you play some game with extremely high skill players, while you just start playing and learning about it?

Hurt? Bored? Rage? and then delete.

To solve this kind of problem, the Matchmaking system has been implemented in numerous online games. Most of online have matchmaking

Matchmaking in Overwatch

It uses software algorithm, player statistics and other important data for analysis and makes a good match for players. Think this like some kind of dating app that introduces you someone that have same or likely interests and personalities.


Well then, this is programmer job, right?

You are totally right. As a game designer, we don’t want to code and programming or work with those thousand lines of code. That might be too much for us.

However, game designer sometimes defines how matchmaking should work.


sounds strange right? But let me explain.

So, our goal is to define what is good matchmaking for our online game. What kind of matchmaking that we define and design and it should be fun for players?

Now, let’s list some of the good matchmaking’s definition(s).

1. To make players met each other

One of the most classic idea and sounds like the very first idea in the world of online games.

There is nothing in the matchmaking system but matching player randomly. Sometimes players lucky, but sometimes not.

And it is one of the worst ways to define good matchmaking for players.

Think about how players would feel to meet someone that has high experience in the game or met someone who is very new to the game and die over and over, or player that know nothing before and lead a team to disaster.

Frustrated, right?

2. To make players meet with someone at the same or almost the same skill.

See? Sounds better.

With player statistical data from previous matches and other related data, matchmaking algorithm can find someone that very likely have the same skill, so that player does not have to experience with ‘too wide skill range ‘ problem again.


What if I said that I made one of that best matchmaking in the world that can match player exactly same skill every time?

Let’s make our own rules.

Imagine that I develop a game called Legend of Link (LoL). It is an online player versus player game. Have more than one billion players.

Assume that I already made a matchmaking system for this game as well. It uses a score to rank player skill. 0 is very bad and 100 is very good.

Player ‘A’ plays LoL for 6 months now and have scored at 50. He was matched with other players that have the exact same score as well and every time. Those matches of player A are so nailed-biting, but in the end, Player A got 100 losing streaks. But he fights with someone very near his skill so there is no problem with this matchmaking.

Frustrated, right?

Okay, 100 losing streaks sound impossible in the real world. Think of probability is sounds as hard as winning some prize from the lottery. But, only 10 losing streaks can cause frustrated and rage feeling to players, Right?

Still frustrated.

3. To make players have 50% winning rate and 50% losing rate.

Players should feel satisfied and fair right?

Let’s think like this. You have played 10 matches of Legend of Link (LoL). 5 out of ten, you are extremely great, you can kill other players easily. But other 5, you lose poorly, those players are pro player, like international competitor work for the league.

Still sounds frustrated.


What should I do to define good matchmaking then?

Actually, there might be other definition for matchmaking. But those are most that I found in the game industry right now.

First, get rid of ‘To make player met each other’ definition. This will never be our answer unless that game has a legacy system that you have to work on.

Second, another definition still can cause frustration with the problem that I tell.

Then, what we should do is find the in-between of definition two and three.

So, this is why sometimes score can get higher or lower.

Matchmaking must understand that sometimes player skill can drop down, because players may leave this game for too long that forget how to control or not used to the system yet.

So many things to discuss, how about the next definition?

Make a fair match with players that have a similar skill level,

So that when you lose, the score may drop down 1 or 2. Then you can play with someone that has a skill a bit lower than before and fight with someone skill similar to you.

This way will get rid of losing streaks problem very soon, players can find some match that he/she can win.


The end?

Sorry, not yet.

All that I said sounds great but this is an ideal idea and hardly happened in real life.

Why? There are so many factors that cause this. Some samples are…

No player: Well, there are so many games that are more fun than this game currently. This will lead to players leave issue and that’s mean we will not have enough players to make good matchmaking, so matchmaking itself has to ‘widen’ skill range to match someone for players.

Bot: You are not great at that game? Why don’t you let program play instead? With this kind of program, you can be like a god. Shoot through the enemy head every single shot, move with the flash speed, have trillion of money to purchase items and many more.

This caused trouble not only in matchmaking but also in-game communities.

Smurf: You got bored with playing with someone skill level so high? Why don’t you create a new account and fight with someone who never played this game before? You can kill someone so easy with the skill that you have before, right?

This also makes trouble with matchmaking. This can cause algorithm error since scoring of skill that player have been very high from start.

Other players: You want to make your account look badass but cannot make by your own skill? Hire someone with the high-level skill to play your account and win it instead!

Other players 2: You go to someone house and let your friends or your nephew or related play game.

I understand this problem. Sometimes we just want to share how good the game is by letting them experience it on their own, but this also causes some problem to the matchmaking as well. Since account will drop down the skill score and then come back high and then drop down again.



All of those factors can cause scores system big chaos, it will make the matchmaking algorithm confuse in learning and end up a match with someone ‘too far away’ skill.

So, all we can do is coordinate with customer support and programmer, listen to players problem, track down statistic and so on.

Matchmaking is one of the most important factors that can tell this game will live or die, so do not underestimate this issue.


The Real End

Any comments and claps will be appreciated.

Thank you for reading.




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