First Look at Recent Changes to QuickPlay

Official servers only, a good thing or a bad thing?
Official servers only, a good thing or a bad thing?

Perhaps one of the smallest and yet most influential changes that Valve has made to the game was not too recently ago, summed up by one small note at the top of the patch notes:

– Add quickplay option to only connect to official Valve servers

This change was subject to much heated controversy, spawning several rapid threads about the topic on SPUF, Reddit, the HLDS mailing list, and other such communities. It also reflected growing divisions between important parts of the community, as server owners protested a change that would deprive them of a major source of traffic and players applauded an option that would guarantee a certain level of quality in their server experience.

Despite the massive outcry, however, Valve offered no public response or even any real response at all, save for a short reply to an email sent by a player:

We’re hoping the nuclear option isn’t permanent, because it isn’t ideal.  I cannot promise anything in particular or any time frame, but I can say that we are looking for better solutions to this problem.  We understand that we are basically using radiation to kill cancer.  But the player experience was really bad and we felt it called for some immediate action.  We hope it is not the long term solution.

– Fletch

Without anything but a whisper to rely on, most communities resigned themselves to a slow, painful death with no QuickPlay traffic to help boost them. Indeed, even I had officially recommended that the SPUFserver transition to nocrits as QuickPlay no longer gave us any benefit.

No later than a few hours after I had said that, a massive email was posted to HLDS by Fletcher. This email listed some of the biggest logistical changes to the game since SteamPipe last year.

In short, this update (which is coming soon at the time of writing) entailed significant changes to QuickPlay, including a comprehensive update to guidelines for server owners and a new interface that gave users more control over their search.

These changes are being universally heralded as a great step by Valve, though some are cautious in their optimism and seeking more clarification.

There are many benefits that can already be seen:

  • QuickPlay is now somewhat customizable by the user – While nothing will ever match the power of a server browser, it’s certainly refreshing to be able to select different options like nocrits and increased maxplayers for a somewhat different experience.
  • more comprehensive guidelines for server owners – For so long Valve has had a quite ambiguous policy, requiring servers to only report certain aspects accurately and disqualifying servers based on some of those characteristics, leading to the odd situation where nocrits servers would not be allowed but servers that modified fundamental gameplay like Tightrope could pass because they didn’t have anything to disqualify them. The new update has made it clearer what Valve will not tolerate and is a great boon to server owners who no longer have to wade through murky waters when deciding what to put on their server.
  • explicit ban of malicious activity – In the past Valve’s Policy of Truth has served as a mild warning to server owners not to exploit players, but a new clarified policy makes this more explicit.
  • disqualification of certain modifications – Valve now disallows modifications that change stock gameplay, affecting the economy, or have certain undesirable effects for players. This is certainly something that many players will appreciate.
  • improved server registration – Valve has announced plans to create a Steam-based server registration system that will allow owners to more easily register their servers, with the main benefit being favorites now being able to track registered servers even through IP changes, a huge boon for communities everywhere.

However, there are still a few unresolved issues, including:

  • Valve servers still default – While many servers are now newly able to compete for a new source of traffic, fully stock servers that complied with the old regulations are still disadvantaged as many players will either play only on official servers or adjust their QuickPlay preferences.
  • some ambiguous restrictions – Although the guidelines for QuickPlay have been greatly expanded, there is still some confusion as Valve hasn’t been able to clarify every single detail. Do weapons count as “economy items”? Are all modifications of stock content disallowed? Does end-of-round immunity constitute a gameplay advantage? These questions and more will need to be clarified by Valve.
  • no support for custom content – Despite the loosening of restrictions on servers, custom content is still not permitted in QuickPlay, which still limits their exposure to those that do not use the server browser.
  • restriction of certain server aspects – There is some outcry over some of the new restrictions that server Kennett’s now have to abide by like no class limits, restrictions on how reserved slots can be used, and no modifications of stock content.
  • lack of community input – While these measures are certainly driven by frequent requests of the community, there is still no easy and reliable way to contact the team at Valve.

In all, these changes will probably be beneficial in the long run, though they still leave something to be desired. We will know more once the actual update hits and Valve gives us more information.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, this article was published just after the Quickplay Overhaul update. Sorry about that.

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