A lot of online video games allow you to jump in at any time and just get going, making it very easy to find a match.
Others require you to set up matches ahead of time. You get into a lobby, try to find other players, and the game gets going once you all agree to get started.
There's advantages and disadvantages to this system. On the one hand, some games, particularly strategy games, require players to be there from the start, and the lobby ensures that you all agree to a game before you play together.
On the other hand, many games were originally designed to be drop-in/drop-out, such as many arcade games, and forcing players to get together in a lobby means that once the game is started, no-one else is able to join. What's more, many games allow a large number of players, but if the game is not popular enough, it's practically impossible to get a decent number of players going. If you have to wait in a lobby for a 3rd or 4th player to join, and no-one joins, the 2nd player might just get up and leave, ensuring that you won't play with any more than 2 players, and therefore nullifying the game's high player limit.
Some of these types of games punish players who quit mid-game to try to discourage that behavior. After all, if you have to wait for people to join, who would want to play if they keep quitting?
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- Spelunker HD allows up to 6 players to play online. Good luck finding more than one other person to play with, due to the game's unpopularity. You must wait in a lobby for players to join, then start the game when you're ready.
- Uncharted 2 does this, and tries to locate the maximum number of players on its own before starting a match, either competitive (10 players) or cooperative (3 players). If it can't find the appropriate number of players in time, it'll start the match without a few. Usually it's able to find the full amount of players due to the game's current popularity.
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- Left 4 Dead has lobbies players can set up. While the Quick Match option lets players join in at any game, lobbies give people more controlled settings such as what campaign to play in, difficulty, and server type. However, despite the game's popularity, most people will leave a lobby if they see only one or two people inside, because only the lobby leader can start the game and if they are away from the keyboard, it can't start. A patch in the sequel allows people to vote to get the game going right away if the leader is not starting. Despite the patch, many people still prefer the Quick Match option for its lack of waiting.
- Project Blackout uses lobbies to put together games.
- Chu Chu Rocket had this feature. Matches were pretty quick in that game.
- The Mario Kart series works this way, and generally does a good job of filling up a large number of players in its Wii incarnation.
- The Warcraft and Starcraft series work this way. Both games are strategy games, so drop-in/drop-out would be disastrous. Fortunately, both game are very popular, and matches are relatively short.
- World in Conflict has a lobby for clan matches, as opposed to free-for-all servers that can be joined by anyone at any time.
- Magic: The Gathering Online works with a lobby. Since it's relatively popular, and only up to two players can play a single game (so far), this is a pretty good way to work.
- The Game Spy Arcade service uses this to hook up players, usually for multiplayer games that were created before this trope became more common.
- All the multiplayer FunOrb games use lobby systems. A unified lobby system for all the games on the service was announced, but got stuck in Development Hell.