This week, Microsoft detailed the coming improvements to game matchmaking in Xbox LIVE on Xbox One. Called Smart Match, this new feature takes matchmaking to the cloud, adding an asynchronous capability that lets you do other things while you wait for the perfect match.
Xbox LIVE’s matchmaking capabilities date back to Halo 2, which offered a way for players to enter one of any number of available games in progress. Seeing the success of this, Microsoft added matchmaking as a formal feature of Xbox LIVE with the Xbox 360, allowing any multiplayer game to offer this capability. With that release, matchmaking was integrated with a ranking system called TrueSkill that attempts to pit players (or teams) of roughly equal skill against each other automatically.
Moving forward to Xbox One, Microsoft is enhancing game matchmaking yet again with, among other things, Smart Match. According to Xbox Live Services program manager Micheal Dunn, this feature doesn’t replace the previous matchmaking capabilities, but instead adds a new twist: It lets the gamer make a specific game type request and then go do something else while other players show up. It is, in other words, asynchronous matchmaking.
“Smart Match” makes it easy for a [game] to create a match request and then ‘untether’ me so I don’t need wait in the game while the match search is processing,” he says. “I can switch to reading a quick social blog or watch a viral video and when the match is ready Xbox One tells me to pull me back into the title to play.”
Under the covers, the change is perhaps a bit bigger than it may seem at first. With today’s Xbox 360 games, game requests are peer-based, meaning that your console is essentially the host for the game session. With Smart Match, these game requests are now cloud-based and not reliant on your console.
Future Xbox One games will still offer standard “Quick Match” contests and Beacons to let others know you wish to play a certain game. But they can also offer new match types develop as a result, perhaps leading to more diversity of game play.
“With Xbox One, I’m looking forward to putting in my match request in for a super special online play style or specific DLC needed for a play mode, then kicking back and letting Xbox Live do the work to find me a good person to play with while I practice my mad skills,” Dunn says, using tedious gamer language. “Here’s an example of playing Ryse and then getting a match ready toast to jump into Killer Instinct online play.”
Given my own game playing tendencies—Call of Duty Multiplayer, generally, always with the stock game types—I’m not honestly sure this will make a big difference for me personally. But this will probably be a big deal for people looking for a bit more in online play. Which is obviously the point.