For ages, Battle Royale games were being touted as the best thing ever, because you could always just drop in and drop out of said games whenever you wanted. What was that? You died literally two seconds after landing from the dropship? That’s fine, you can immediately quit and queue up for a new game. Doesn’t matter whether that other game is still going, you can just join a new game. That constant flow of players in and out of games helped make Battle Royales so easy to pick up and play. It didn’t matter if you died, you can just start over. And, more importantly, outside of ranked game modes, you can stop or start playing whenever you want.
But games where you can do that, drop in and drop out, aren’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been going on for years. What Battle Royale games did was streamline the system, so you can do so quicker without ditching your team. With the inclusion of respawns (particularly the respawn machines in the forced 3-man squads of Apex), leaving as soon as the game is over isn’t always something you want to do because there is a chance of getting back into the game, although it IS obvious when you are out of luck and can respawn, what with player flags and timers and things like that.
Either way, that flow is still there, but only the bigger Battle Royale games can really keep that flow going, because they have the player counts to have huge numbers of games running simultaneously. While I heavily enjoyed Super Animal Royale, there weren’t enough players to reliably fill a new lobby after your game ends, prematurely or otherwise.
Team Fortress 2 on the other hand has had drop in and drop out gameplay for years. In fact, that was how TF2’s gameplay initially started. Anyone could join a non-full TF2 server, play as long as they like and leave whenever they wanted. Servers were hosted by the community and players came and went as they pleased. Some might stick around for hours and become regulars, others might only play for five minutes then switch to a different server. Sure, the loading times were always a bit longer (especially if you are downloading custom content) but the principle is there.
My point is, you can leave whenever you want, without punishment. Or at least you could. Now, with casual and competitive matchmaking, leaving whenever is somewhat frowned upon. In competitive matchmaking, this does make sense because you won’t GET a player to replace you and being a player down is a massive disadvantage. That being said, should a player leave, once that player has gone and is definitely not coming back, everyone else may freely leave if they wish, or they can continue playing if they think they can push on with less players. Casual matchmaking is much more relaxed. You will be told that you can’t rejoin a match but half the time you can, and all you miss out on is increasing a mostly pointless rank that will increase as long as you play more TF2.
But there are still community servers, clinging on to existence, that still play like they used to, with players dropping in and out as they please. Heck, you can still do that while playing Mann VS Machine, TF2 just doesn’t give a shit. The only thing that happens if you leave early is that someone might not join to fill your spot, and the only bad thing that can happen by joining a random match is to join just as a match finishes, but you’ll be playing again in a few moments.
At the end of the day, the stakes in any random TF2 match are so, so much lower than most other multiplayer games. It doesn’t matter at all whether you win or lose. You just play another game. And probably win next time because the teams have been scrambled.
“But Medic, this isn’t unique to Team Fortress 2! Loads of games have servers and drop-in-drop-out gameplay!”
You’re right, it isn’t. For example, Garry’s Mod has the same server browser. But TF2’s direct competitor is Overwatch, which hands out penalties for abandoning matches all the time, even in quick play. You abandon matches, you go into the slow queue. While CS:GO community servers probably allow this, you can’t jump in and out of a CS:GO match the way you can a TF2 match because everything is designed around two teams of five, somewhat equal players doing somewhat structured things, rather than the pit of chaos any TF2 match swiftly turns into.
I also feel though that we’re moving away from this form of gameplay in multiplayer games. A lot of games, mainly mainstream games or big AAA games, they are designed to keep you playing for as long as possible. They don’t want players to leave early. They don’t want players to leave at all. Things look better that way. While Overwatch and mainstream games similar to it are still going strong, I don’t think we’ll have the freedom and randomness TF2 brought to this world.
Editor’s note: I had to push this article back, I kid you not,
nearly over a month, because more important articles needed to be published. Oh well.