Developers Should Support Player-Run Servers

Some of my fondest memories are scurrying home from school, dumping my bag on the stairs nonchalantly – a price I would pay later in the day – running up with a thud for every step, slipping on my cheap, ‘gaming’ headset, and booting up some Counter-Strike: Source before loading into a sweet game of Jailbreak. It’s what sparked my later adoration for Garry’s Mod, something I’ve unashamedly put over a thousand hours into at this point.

Those early years of school were rough – not many friends, power-hungry teachers that abused what little shred of authority they had, and waning passion for the subjects that gripped me in my primary school days. Gaming was my outlet, a way to put all that to the side and ignore my problems, even if it did mean I fumbled on homework every now and then, leading to a ‘corrupt’ Word document being shipped off to my teacher’s inboxes to buy a slither more time. But those hours that I lost, fading into a mist of obscurity, a portal from 4 pm to 10 pm, were often in these player-run servers.

Jailbreak, for the uninitiated, is a fairly simple mode that pits prisoner against guard with a row of cells that the guards open, an armory that they spawn in, and a few fun activities dotted around the map. The aim is to either kill the guards or outlive the prisoners, and the expected form this takes is that the prisoners follow the guard’s instructions. Every time an activity is done, those in the last place get a quick shot to the head before there’s one left standing that takes on each guard left in L for L, a one-on-one to-the-death competition. Alternatively, the prisoners can form an uprising, stab a guard, steal their gun, and escape, crawling around like a loose rat looking for the armory to open it up to the other inmates.

When CSS’s charm began to wear and the boredom began to sink its teeth, I found Garry’s Mod’s TTT, a mode that I made friends in that I still hang out with to this day, over six, maybe seven years later. To put it briefly, imagine Among Us before Among Us, with guns, weapons, James Bond tools of destruction, and voice chat. It was a treat, and I even went on to run a couple of my own servers, an equally enjoyable outlet that made me feel productive when school was becoming a monotonous cycle of writing the same shit over and over. Some games don’t support custom servers, or completely limit what that ‘custom’ is with their own arbitrary parameters: sliders for gravity, health, and all the things in between. The real custom – fully-fledged, scripted modes, designed by fans, built upon by others, and ran by the players – that’s where the meat of so many online games is found after the core gameplay runs dry.

Developers can ‘support’ these modes quite simply by letting them exist. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive still thrives on its custom servers whether its players pitted against players in 1v1 aim practice, or surfing on a giant loop de loop of spiky geometry. However, developers can and should go a step further by making these easy to access, by offering browsers, menus, discoverable ways to get into those modes, and hell, the ability to download whatever custom content you need just through booting up the server. It’s what, for a dumb little 12-year-old squeaker, made Jailbreak such an intuitive experience. Later on, I’d test the waters with Arma 2’s DayZ which, sure, was a lot of fun, but took a lot of legwork to actually get up and running. This was an entirely new chapter in my online gaming story, something that got me pumped for the standalone DayZ – it blew my mind, a game and a studio spawning from a custom mode, a custom server, a fan-made expansion of a game. It happened again with Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds years later which brought the little TTT gang that I’d fallen into after our favorite server went down to yet another world.

But DayZ? Suddenly I was playing with mates from school, falling off one-foot drops on bridges and breaking my legs, camping out in the hot-spot city of Elektrozavodsk in a single building, making all the noise we could, luring unlucky gremlins up the stairs to meet a barrage of unwavering gunfire, only for their corpses to refill our rusting weapons, giving us another round to topple the next brigade of wannabe action stars. Or, there was that time in Solnichniy where I got kidnapped by some goons, stripped down to my boxers, and held at gunpoint with my hands bound. What do I do? Well, some good Samaritans came to my rescue, shouting, “Leave him alone!” before opening up their own barrage of hellfire. Only, I got hit in the skull in the crossfire, and I heard them feigning wailing. The memories these old modes gave me are still rich to this day, whether it’s DayZ, CSS, Rust, Garry’s Mod, Minecraft, or whatever else.

Even now, there’s Grand Theft Auto 5’s roleplaying scene that lets you cook, cut, and sell meth on the streets with other players in the shoes of the cops, while Jailbreak – surprisingly – is still going strong even on CSS of all places. Multiplayer games are designed to be played a certain way and that’s fine, but giving the freedom to expand on that canvas put out there by the devs completely changes a game’s landscape, transforming it from a bog-standard multiplayer dive into a sprawling world of different possibilities, different genres, different niches, that likely wouldn’t be made with the same polish or high-end graphics if they were put out there standalone. My teen years were filled with exploring these games, and I probably would’ve put down Garry’s Mod after the 100-hour mark if it was just Sandbox, but throw in TTT, Prop Hunt, Murder, and all the others? Suddenly, it’s like you’ve stumbled onto the WarioWare of multiplayer experiences.

Next: Raphael Colantonio Talks Xbox Game Pass, Dishonored, And Microsoft’s Bethesda Acquisition

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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.

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