Throwing Fortnite players from all platforms into the same matches was a bold move risking horrible imbalance, yet Epic are still confident their matchmaking will work it out. The idea that someone on PC with keyboard and mouse playing against a person tapping on a pocket telephone or twiddling a diddy Switch is a weird one to me. Epic trust that their matchmaking system will be able to sort players based by effective skill, no matter their platform, but it's an idea they're now defending to players who are less than convinced.
Fortnite introduced cross-platform skill-based matchmaking last week, in an update which also added bots to fill out low-skilled matches. A phone screen is a clunky way to play, no doubt, but would a great mobile player be able to beat a rubbo PC player? Epic think their system can make fair matches across platforms. Internet chatterers are sceptical.
Epic responded to criticism in a blog post yesterday:
"With the rollout, we've seen a lot of discussion about potentially unfair competitive advantages from pooling players together across platforms and input devices. The new matchmaking system, however, accounts for various skill levels across different platforms and control inputs, and groups players of similar skill levels together.
"Our goal with the new matchmaking system is to create fairer matches for all of our players, which includes special considerations for each platform. This means that where similar skill exists, players may be paired against opponents from ALL platforms — whether they’re using mouse + keyboard, a controller, or touch input. We are closely monitoring match analytics and your feedback, and we'll make adjustments to ensure everyone is playing a fair match."
That could just work with enough players to choose from. Fortnite does have a lot of those. I've yet to play a game where the matchmaking system doesn't occasionally throw together chuffing horrible matches, mind, and the difference could be particularly striking here.
It brings an interesting collection of quirks and problems. Someone on a clunky platform could lose a fight to a 'worse' player given an edge by a platform with better controls and framerates. But the system isn't trying to define a player's raw skill, to calculate some abstract measure of their goodness. It's rating how well they do in matches, the outcome when player and platform are combined. That might undermine grand ideals of gaming meritocracy but hey, meritocracy is a sham.
What's interesting to me is that two players with identical skill ratings earned on different platforms might play very differently. A mobile player might need to be a master tactician to gain an equal rating to any old average PC player who can do well just because their platform lets them move with ease and toss up buildings in the blink of an eye. Console players with controllers and PC peeps with keyboard and mouse have notable differences in how they look and move too. I'd be fascinated to see a four-way rumble between PC, phone, Xbox/PlayStation, and Switch players with equal skill ratings.