In 2009, Bungie announced it would be making its final Halo game, Halo: Reach. For a year I waited in antipation, itching to jump into the new game. I was in for a shock.
Like all new games, Reach brought in new features which hadn't been seen before. Most notably was the addition of the Credits reward system. If you don't know what this is, I'll explain it. A credit based system rewards players for their in game performance. Any time you play a game, you gain a certain number of credits based on your individual stats. This has the effect of rewarding anyone who picks up the controller and plays online, by giving them credits, armor, hearts and goodness. Now while this may sound brilliant, it couldn't be further from it. The problem is, by handing out credits to everyone who plays, anyone with enough free time can rank up to the top. Thus higher ranked players aren't defined by their ability or skill, but instead their lack of sunlight.
As the world catches its first glimpses of Halo 4, it has become apparent that a new perk system will play a heavy part in the multiplayer aspect of the game. As a fan of the series I would prefer it if this was an optional feature. In fact, if there was a choice between a perk system, and say, a pizza topped with broken glass, I would gladly take the pizza. This is because, like the credit system in Reach, perks only serve to to promote individual play, and not teamwork.
Making the in-game reward system revolve around individual performance is like ranking the NFL by players, not teams - and when a player wins, he gets a new trophy. If all rewards are centered around the individual, this changes the mentality of the player. Why win games, or help team mates, if there is no reward? If there is no incentive to win, it quickly falls down the list of priorities.
Let's look at this in terms of Halo games. Halo 2 and 3 had skill based 1-50 ranking systems. This rank was based purely off winning, and could only be improved by increasing your ability to play. "How can I get better?" was a question that echoed through the minds of the thousands of players who jumped into multiplayer everyday, striving to become better. This desire to win spawned communities who would work together to get better, and pushed some of the most dedicated players to begin hosting and competing in tournaments to see who was the best in the game (mlg, anyone?).
When the focus changed from teamwork in Halo 3, to individual performance in Reach, it had effects which were visible outside of the game. The community as a whole has shrunk to a shadow of its former self, and the competitive aspect of the game is all but gone.
Will the community with hundreds of clans on dozens of sites return with Halo 4? Only if a decent ranking system is put in place (343i, see Halo 2 and 3 for details). The requirement to improve by playing as a team is the single most important driving factor here, and if it is ignored, the game will fall off completely.