DCS community members, primarily based around r/Hoggit (although not exclusively) have been gathering complaints and questions for developers on multiplayer issues that exist with DCS and the server software that supports the series. And they are numerous. I haven’t yet spent even a minute with DCS multiplayer so the following comments are all based on what I’m hearing from around the community plus the official responses from Eagle Dynamics.
Multiple issues with multiplayer
DCS has had a great 6 months with the official launch of DCS World 2.5, a much anticipated merging of the series into a single iteration of DCS that brings with it a great deal of potential for the future. We’ve also seen DCS: Persian Gulf, DCS: F/A-18C Hornet, and plenty of action around third party developers as new modules are promised and developed.
These positive news stories for the series is the backdrop and the sunny side of the picture for DCS World. However, there is another side of things where DCS’ multiplayer experience is simply not living up to players expectations.
Without going too far into the details, players are concerned about issues with server stability where long multiplayer matches are sometimes interrupted by unanticipated server crashes or other scenarios where the server desyncronizes for players. Additionally, there are a lack of features like a dedicated server (players have requested one specifically for Linux in order to keep costs down), the ability to load datacartridges with waypoints and countermeasure programs prior to mission start, and so forth are all on the list.
I am an avid watcher of The Grim Reapers, Ralfidude, and 104th_Maverick and all of their multiplayer experiences. I’ve seen the good side of DCS World’s multiplayer where lots of players get together to have some truly engaging combat flight sim experiences. This is where DCS can shine, but it’s also a frustrating exercise for many of them, as there’s always issues in the background. Issues where things go wrong and multiplayer servers get in the way of their fun is problematic when it happens on occasion. Its so much worse if its happening all the time. This is, in effect, the status quo right now and players are not happy about it.
A message and an official response
Things have been building through the week on r/Hoggit with players venting their frustrations with multiplayer and all of the issues that they are having. Quite rightly too, players have pointed out just how good multiplayer can be when its working correctly. Multiplayer is probably the most engaging way to play DCS but the barriers to entry are many.
Eagle Dynamics community forum member jers took to the forums to voice the issues to the community and to the developers. Here’s what he had to say:
I want to keep this respectful as possible and I’m going to attempt to do this without whining, but we’re trying to run a online community here at Hoggit (and I’m sure many others) and it’s really difficult to do that with the anemia around the multiplayer side of things. I know there’s a huge singleplayer base and but I’m trying to make the case here for the online communities who are trying our best to keep your product up and running (and more importantly keeping interest in more of your modules)
The two biggest issues are we desperately need dedicated server software that can run on Linux. It’s prohibitively expensive to run dedicated Windows hardware to support dedicated servers.
The second problem is stability is a joke. For years and years we’ve put up with desync and crashes for all but the most trivial of missions.
We have a community of 14 thousand people that want to play online and most of them have given up, and I can’t blame them. We try to give them better mission experiences with things like scripting and complex missions but anytime a mission reaches any amount of complexity at all it grinds to a halt after just an hour or so.
Are we just not driving enough interest in your sales to be worth it? With decent multiplayer our community would probably *triple* and with that comes sales of modules old and new. I’m basically begging at this point to get some kind of definitive answer out of Wags or someone. Even a strongly worded “It’s not going to happen” would be better than this limbo.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, maybe we’ll get some kind of response. Maybe not, but I’m begging you here guys.
Although this is coming from a single user, the problems that have been reported have been widespread and DCS World has a reputation that stretches back for being a problematic piece of software when it came to multiplayer. That is not new in my experience as I’ve heard rumblings about this many times in the past and more than a few server owners were desperate for Eagle Dynamics to release some sort of dedicated server software – something that has been on the list of items to be developed since the early 2010s.
Matt Wagner has stepped in with an official response to this thread with his own statement:
No one is being ignored. We certainly recognize that DCS World network multiplayer needs improvement and it’s actively being worked on. In fact, we have a big announcement on this front for this week’s newsletter. We certainly agree that there is a lot of room for improvement, both in regards to stability/smoothness, GUI, and features. We hear you.
Much or our current network work is focused on the new carriers (like spawning) and cooperative multiplayer in the same aircraft (like the Yak-52 and other two seat aircraft). That’s not to say we are not trying to improve stability at the same time, we are. Our team is working network code VERY hard on several fronts.
However, please keep in mind that the server can also have a massive effect. Many factors can affect network play that range from server hardware, over-populated missions, bad scripts, too many clients based on the server hardware, connection ping/packet loss, etc. I am not saying that poor network performance only lays at the feet of the server, just that it can often be a factor in concert with needed network improvements on our end. This is why you often have some servers performing great and other so not great.
Moving forward, we are investigating “official servers” that will offer many benefits. One of the chief items will be that the server and missions must provide a quality online experience. We’ll be talking more about this later in the year.
So, moving forward, we have what I believe are some good plans to help improve the online experience (very important to us), but we also hope that you can understand that a large part of it is out of our control until we can institute some official standards for servers.
I think it was important for Matt to respond to this as the issue has been fermenting for weeks (and years) within the community. The response is good and a necessary step to making sure that users know that Eagle Dynamics is listening and working on issues. To really move the needle on this, Eagle Dynamics will need to be able to show some concrete action in shoring up the stability of server software, offering up a dedicated server, and/or doing something like what Matt is taking about when it comes to dedicated server software.
Understandably, this isn’t going to happen tomorrow but hopefully we will see things improve dramatically now that the initial launch of DCS World 2.5 (a major overhaul of everything to do with DCS World) is out of the way. And feedback from the community is also necessary.
Additional notes from ED’s Community Manager, NineLine, goes at least some of the way towards providing the kind of response that should hopefully hearten players towards future efforts. In a post on r/Hoggit NineLine says:
They have some pretty cool ideas in the works, I cant wait for them to be more ironed out to share, but I think most of you guys will be pretty happy with what they have in mind. Since 2.5 has stabilized more, a lot more resources have been thrown towards items like this.
Another thread has been started by NineLine and users are hopefully encouraged to provide their constructive feedback.
A few notes of my own
I wanted to add a little extra here at the end from my perspective as well. With no DCS World multiplayer experience yet, I can’t add my own anecdotes of multiplayer troubles to the growing chorus of players who want to see more done on this area.
I’ve read over the months and years that, in addition to being a demanding competitive/cooperative environment where aircraft knowledge as well as tactics and lingo are key factors for doing well, there are also steep hardware requirements and needs in order to make everything work well. Complex voice communications as employed on many servers further adds to immersion but also to potential barriers.
Eagle Dynamics together with the community need to be able to drop as many of those barriers as possible. High system requirements, aircraft knowledge, and complex voice communications are all part of the experience but they do make it harder for new players to jump in. Some do anyways, and some are like myself who have hung back and studied up before venturing forward into multiplayer.
I have, when asking questions in community forums, been met with nothing but encouragement and support. My questions have always been answered respectfully and helpfully when trying to get a handle on what I need to join in on the fun. So, what we need is for a stable experience so that those other complex hurdles that should be part of the experience of a high-fidelity flight sim aren’t compounded by what is ultimately unnecessary technical difficulties.
I’m optimistic this will be worked on and issues will be solved slowly over time. I’ll continue to report on it when new information surfaces.