The Five Stages Of FPS Multiplayer

I wouldn't lie to you. Not scribbled on a press image, anyway.

Over the holidays I started playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer. After initially mistaking it for a “shooting people in the back” simulator wherein I had accidentally signed up to play the exciting role of “sole target” I started to pick into it a bit further, upping my KD ratio and experimenting with a bunch of the loadout perks and options. I think an 8 kill streak is my current most impressive achievement and I’m kind of in love with my Steel Bite variation on the ARX-160. It makes me feel like a weaponised Pat Butcher.

But another thing I started to pick into at the same time was my own behaviour when starting any new multiplayer FPS game – hi Titanfall, Counter-Strike, CoD… I get exceedingly grumpy for about the first 10 hours. It’s for this reason I prefer to grapple with multiplayer in a quiet room where people who think I’m a reasonable member of society can’t hear me wailing about the unfairness of it all, swearing about IMPOSSIBLE odds and declaring that I never liked videogames anyway and that I’m going to go and have a calming walk (all the while queuing for another round).

With that in mind, here are the five stages of an FPS multiplayer experience*:


Guns in the game have slightly highter production value

That thing that just happened? It simply did not happen. It couldn’t have. Literally no-one in the universe could have sniped anyone else in the universe from that position. It’s also not possible to have crept up behind you without appearing on the minimap.

Other things which are not possible in multiplayer: reliable and accurate gunfire; understanding recoil, knowing which button is the knife, advanced map awareness, basic map awareness, correct use of grenades, teamwork.

Other people’s kills are obtained strictly through a combination of cheating and witchcraft. Your own are through extreme skill in the face of cheating and witchcraft.


Learning process my ass


Congratulations, the game no longer feels like a gunfire-ridden manifestation of pure id! But with greater intelligibility comes an enormous sense of injustice. You start to see how the game works and try to use that to your advantage, but others have had the same idea and are further along the learning curve than you are. They beat you with the exact same strategy you were trying to use against them.

“But *I* was trying to snipe *them* in the head,” you whine after titting about on a roof with your rifle for about ten seconds too long. “That was *my* punch-to-the-head idea!”

With CoD you also become very aware of the possibility of spawning with your back to someone and all the attendant injustices of that scenario.


Proportional responses are key

Conversations arise between yourself and the game. “How about you stop being such a total dick,” you might say, “and then I promise I’ll go back and let Kevin Spacey finish telling me about how power works on our little jeep ride.”

Or perhaps it’s more along the lines of “Just let me get one kill. One single kill and I won’t snap this disc in half and put it in the smoothie maker.”

The problem here is that Activision, for the purposes of team deathmatch success bargaining, is akin to an Aristotelian Prime Mover. It’s at the root of your actions and reactions but you cannot change it. Activision just *is*. It knows only itself and no amount of sobbing into your desktop will change that.


“I just don’t know why I even crawl under this blanket and huddle on my chair pressing buttons anymore,” you sigh through a fog of ennui so thick you could probably just use that as a blanket instead. There is no joy in this world. You don’t like Call of Duty, you don’t like first-person shooters – hell, you don’t even remember liking videogames. There is no place for fun in life anymore. Only endless repetitions of getting shot in the back and sniped in the eye.

Your hands flop into your lap and you watch yourself just standing there, taking shot after shot and death after death.

“OH HOW SYMBOLIC. THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE, ALL HITTING ME IN THE BACK,” you think, because if you’re going to indulge in your first world misery you might as well do it via melodramatic repurposing of Hamlet quotes.



This one is purely theoretical right now but I assume it will be all about being at one with the game and dealing with your own limitations. I’ll let you know once I’ve finished REPEATEDLY SHUFFLING OFF THIS MORTAL COIL.

* Okay so Kübler-Ross got there first and thinks her model is about grief but that’s just because they didn’t have Call of Duty or me in 1969.

This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter Program.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Well that was a fun little read :D

  2. Grizzly says:

    I always seem stuck in the latter two phases, but this is completely relatable in every FPS I have played. Some players never go to the acceptance phase and create their own servers where they subsequently ban weapons, for example (leading to these weird 64 man metro no explosive servers in BF3).

    • Rublore says:

      What I’d like to know is if you can ban every single weapon and force players to resolve their differences through negotiation. Wait. Why is my server empty?

      • Grizzly says:

        THere are actually servers which do ban every weapon, called “Flagrun” servers but this is mainly done for point boosting.

    • Alfius says:

      Metro is a pretty awful map with more than about 20 players. Low player counts are pretty fun though/

  3. cpt_freakout says:

    Fun, clever stuff! :)


    Oh! This is the first supporter post I’ve read since I’ve paid up! Hooray!

    My particular strategy is to stay at the Anger level where I understand the game well enough to know what I should do but not well enough to do it well enough. Except instead of angry I get intense until I no longer care that I’m rubbish. That is when I’d have reached nirvana if that Buddhist student hadn’t cut off my finger.

    The only exception is TF2. TF2 is the only MP shooter (or as I like to call them, multiplayer online battle arenas) I’m good enough at to actually be good enough at. I don’t know why that is, I just know it is.

  5. Skabooga says:

    Pretty much my experience with every multiplayer FPS game I’ve had a crack at, except in this case, acceptance for me is accepting forever being below-average with no signs of improvement. And then it’s right back to depression.

  6. monsieur_cronkypont says:

    Favourite part – titting about on a roof. Nice one Pip.

  7. Grizzly says:

    On introspection, I feel this article misses a very important phase. The sixth phase, also known as the commitment phase as shown here:
    [youtube link to

  8. liquidsoap89 says:

    I usually just waffle around in the acceptance stage myself. I’m never going to commit enough of my time to becoming genuinely good at mulitplayer, and when I actually try to care I get really stressed out. So most of my time is spent trying to help other people, or dicking around in private servers where everyone tries to climb on top of each other’s heads and stuff.

  9. Krull says:

    Stage 6: Progression – You finally understand the game as a whole and start getting better more rapidly.
    Stage 7: Ascendancy – Increase of situations where you are being called a Cheater (fun part) or being banned on one of the favorite servers (sad part).

    Anyway, nice article !

    • Mezmorki says:

      A bunch of my buddies started playing CS:GO more recently … and called out for cheating and/or banned is a painfully cynical reward for good play. Thing is … We’ve been playing counter strike since beta 1 back in 1999. Most of my chaps played in a CAL invite league.

      It possible the people banning us weren’t even born when we started playing CS. Think about that. I don’t want to ….

  10. unkind says:

    You’re forgetting the final stage. “this game sucks i wish i didnt waste money on it”. I can’t believe people still buy this garbage when you can go back to even DOOM II for better gameplay.

    There are some notable exceptions, like tribes ascend, chivalry (to an extent), and quake live (not as good as quake 3), NS2 etc. But nobody plays them compared to the truly horrible games mentioned here… I don’t understand people.

  11. Blackrook says:

    I’ve felt some of those in the past.
    But playing with friends the “No Way” expression of denial against random idiots players
    is the most common.

    Personally in CODAW I only use a knife – that way if I die I can comfort myself and shout but your cheating by using a gun, while if I get a decent score I can feel smug against those people who need a gun.
    I’m useless with a gun but personal best kill streak 21 > with a knife :-) and then of course you get accused of being a hacker. “Of course I’m a flaming hacker, I just hacked off your head with this knife!”

  12. sapien82 says:

    I often find this when starting up a new FPS , Im not sure why people are so anal about their KD ratio , after all you are immortal in FPS games, so use each death as a learning tool.

    I sometimes record my matches and watch them back to see where I went wrong it can help even if it increases your chance at a kill by 1% it helps

    I normally find that it takes maybe a couple of days spent playing battle after battle before you pick up the mechanics and the flow of a game before you get any good.

    and as you said yourself , sometimes you just harness the Ki of the universe and go on one of those rampage kill streaks and you absolutely body everyone on the server !

    • Reapy says:

      First sensible reply in here. I feel like if you’ve been playing games enough you go right to ‘acceptance’ as soon as you connect to a server the first time, before you even venture in.

      The other steps are barriers to learning people seem to have where they care too much about the results or their appearance and waste time getting angry or frustrated with the game. Really the best time I’ve had with any game I’ve played for a long time online are those first weeks when you are a newbie. I love getting dominated by awesome players, it shows me what the game has to offer and what I could strive to learn to do myself. I love the mystery of not fully understanding every nuance to game and the level layouts. It is great, and it’s a shame if you have to spend those moments frustrated and angry.

      There are tons of new mechanics to learn before you play any game, having an expectation of success is silly. Really what you should do is explore the mechanics and see if they are something you enjoy. Is it fun? Do I like playing this game?

      If the answer is yes, then you are golden, play the game and you will automatically get a baseline of familiarity with map layouts and game pacing. If the answer is now, I typically go hunting for a new game.

      This is where most people stop, and I often wonder why they stop here with a game they continue to play for several hours a week at the same skill level. Take 5 to 10 minutes before you start up playing the game for a session doing some focused practice, or heck even while playing forget a moment about your stats and try to work something out new for 10 minutes.

      If it’s an fps try snap shots or learn a spray pattern for a weapon, try to get up to an area f aster at the start of the round, whatever. Just taking a moment to increase your skills somewhere for just a short, short moment in time will pay off in dividends.

      If you’ve been playing a game several times a week for months, I don’t see how it is some boundary to cross to divert 10 minutes of your play time to ‘srs business’ and it may actually be really rewarding to watch some ‘work’ you’ve put in get executed in normal play with success.

  13. OctoStepdad says:


    “The problem here is that Activision, for the purposes of team deathmatch success bargaining, is akin to an Aristotelian Prime Mover.”

    I think your problem is here with in the quote above. When I used to play Call of Duty, I never played deathmatch/team deathmatch. I always played more objective based games like domination or capture the flag. It was a lot more fun going for objectives than just straight kills. And also you can always just focus on kills in them if you want to be that guy.

  14. Gap Gen says:

    I ended up last night winning a War Thunder map basically all by myself, destroying 15 ground targets including a last one where I’d already been shot down and released my bombs in the grace period just before I crashed into my target. Point is I’m still kinda pumped and the game where I was repeatedly spawnkilled by Bf109s is a distant memory.

    That said, my coping strategy with inevitable defeat is largely to stop caring and just have fun.

  15. grundus says:

    I think most of this can be explained away with one simple word: Lag. It is to online gaming what nanomachines are to the intense retcon action in MGS4. “How on earth did that guy just knife me in the back even though I was shooting him in the face?!” – Lag. “How did that guy snipe me even though I was safely behind a wall?” – Lag. “How did those missiles ignore the flares I dropped when I heard the lock sound?!” – Lag. “How come I got a hitmarker with a one-hit-kill gun and yet the guy with the weak shit AK one-shotted me?” – Lag. I could go on.

    No one sucks at online gaming and we all play perfectly at all times, it’s just that our connections suck.

  16. CraigTheLiar says:

    One day you will attain Stage Derulo: mmmm whatcha sayyyy

  17. farrier says:

    When trying to learn a new FPS in competitive multiplayer, I usually last about 0.5 rounds before I get the adrenaline-shakes, and I CANNOT HELP IT. So I end up trembling my way through the rest of the round, which does wonders for my aim and ability to hit the correct buttons at the correct times. Which then creates mounting frustration, which continues to degrade my already abysmal performance.

    This ruined my experience with Destiny’s PvP. I couldn’t calm my nerves even when I was doing well.

    Destiny also allowed me a Stage 4.5 – Insanity. When I would completely lose all sense, I would find unique places in the map to just set my character dancing until someone killed me. Respawn, go find another place to stand, dance. Sorry, team.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I only get that judder every so often, and that’s while seeking it out. *Envy* Just like I’m jealous of people who can enjoy horror films as opposed to getting annoyed at the rote nature.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    Well, for new Advanced Warfare players, let me give some advice for a starter gun, choose that energy weapon you get under heavy weapons. It has great range (allowing your shots to travel a longer distance before damge starts falling off), firerate, damage and it works like its own lasersight, just place the shiny beam on the bad guy! It doesn’t run out of ammo, although you need to fire it in bursts or it will overheat. The only bad thing about it is that you get movement speed penalty, but I consider this a good deal in the beginning, forcing you to play more careful and take in your envirnoment, rather than run haphasardly into harms way.

    If you’re into quickscoping, forget sniper rifles, there’s a pistol (I think it’s called Contender), one bullet to the centre of mass or head will kill, just quickly press down Aim Down Sight and land your perfect shot, works surprisingly well when you lag, the game tend to register the first shot at least. The pistol only holds one bullet in the mag though, so make sure you hit or dance around the nearest corner.

    Disclaimer: I played AW last time a few months ago, so patches might have rendered everything I wrote obsolete.

  19. Wytefang says:

    Really laughed at this article and enjoyed it immensely. So many truths in this one.

    I find that I’m usually able to enjoy the first several hours of any shooter’s MP. But after I start to develop some core competencies I find that my expectations for greater success can start to derail that sense of wonder, exploration, and fun (unfortunately). So I’ve learned to temper expectations and try to just enjoy the successes as they come.

    Of course all of that is easier said than done. Heh.

  20. Tiktaalik says:

    So true, although with a small child to look after I find it hard to get enough time in to progress past the anger stage…

  21. Marblecake says:

    What an absolutely spiffing article!
    You have single-handedly convinced me that this whole supporter thing is worth my money.

  22. DanMan says:

    I think that’s the 1st supporter post I’ve actually read. Didn’t regret it either.

    I think there’s a compliment hidden somewhere in that comment. If you find it, you may keep it. ;p

  23. Heliocentric says:

    Acceptance is not the final stage as grief counselors endlessly repeat, it’s empathy. As you die you realise what it is to do, unfortunately not enough grief councillors have died… Wait, that came out wrong.

    It relates to all manner of multiplayer games that eventually you stop fighting and become an actor. Your empathy for your enemies and team mates (maybe clan buddies) becomes the reason you play, win lose or draw you get drawn into the drama of the game instead and enjoy the playing or higher level teamwork.

    This is why I consider Hidden: Source such a achievement, it drives you to empathy nearly immediately and a high level Hidden is a work if art… Something Evolve seems struggling to replicate.

    Pinning up dead soldiers in doorways and forcing people to push by their flapping corpses is always a pleasure.

  24. Neurotic says:

    Brilliant, and so, so accurate! :D