Call of Duty’s Battle Royale Problem
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 will release on October 12th and will introduce the Battle Royale formula to the Call of Duty series in the form of Blackout.
This mode is Call of Duty’s take on the now famous formula and is described as such:
In Blackout, Black Ops comes to life in one massive battle royale experience, combining Black Ops signature combat and the biggest map in Call of Duty history. Play as fan favorite characters and battle through iconic settings from the Black Ops universe. It’s a collision course bringing together the worlds of Black Ops in an all-out survival and elimination experience featuring weapons; equipment; land, sea, and air vehicles; RC-XDs; traps; and even Zombies in an experience that is uniquely Black Ops.
This will of course excite fans of the series and of the genre as Battle Royale has yet to be attempted by a AAA series. Venturing into the world of Battle Royale will come with many hurdles for Activision though beyond crafting a large open map for players.
I have no doubt in Treyarch’s ability to create a fun and well polished Battle Royale game for Call of Duty fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if it quickly becomes one of the most popular modes in the game. Where the issues lie though is in 2019 and next years Call of Duty game.
When looking at the most popular game in the world, Fortnite, it brings up many questions as to how Activision can possibly structure Blackout in a way that will bring long-term success.
Fortnite and many Battle Royale games are built around seasons and cosmetics from leveling up rather than character progression that influences gameplay. This means that any player can join at any point and the only factor contributing to winning is skill, not some special gun you’ve unlocked.
This allows these games to have long lifespans as long as the core gameplay is fun and engaging.
Call of Duty however is an annual series with a new game each year. Each game also tends to bring its own gameplay mechanic’s and features to help make it feel unique. Does this then mean that if Blackout is successful then next years game will redesign the gameplay and start their own season? I can’t see this being something fans of the game would want.
Maybe then Blackout continues but instead just includes cosmetics and map updates to reflect the latest game. This also wouldn’t work as Blackout would then have slightly different gameplay mechanic’s compared with the normal Multiplayer. This would surely confuse new players and fracture the player base.
Somehow Activision needs to come up with a way of giving Blackout longterm appeal without changing the core experience to match what each of the developers are trying to achieve with their game.
This year will see Call of Duty ditch the single player campaign in favour of 3 pillars, Blackout, Multiplayer and Zombies.
I think that for Activision to make Blackout a success and really compete in the Battle Royale market beyond 2019 they need to look at a completely new approach to the Call of Duty series.
I would propose three smaller games released each year, each based around those pillars.
Blackout can continue on its own with regular content drops and seasons that celebrate the history of the series with cosmetics and map features that are call backs to past games. These season cosmetics can come with a premium charge to cover the development of the game.
Multiplayer can also be spun off into its own stand alone with a smaller £20-£30 price tag. This would purely be the classic multiplayer focused and could keep to the same development cycle now to bring new modes, maps and mechanics each year.
Zombies could be the final spin-off and take a similar approach to Multiplayer. Each year see’s a new release based around a different theme while having various narrative elements to give a plot to the mode and become the new ‘campaign’ mode.
These three smaller games could then be sold as a bundle for a discount or include exclusive features to encourage players to buy and play them all while not punishing those that only want to play Multiplayer.
Call of Duty is transitioning into a ‘games of service’ model and for that to truly work they need to adapt to new ideas. The traditional AAA multi platform shooter is becoming a thing of the past and Activision need to realise this and learn from competitors to find the record-breaking success they have had in the past.
Can Blackout do this for them, potentially. I can’t see it working as an annual release though. Fans want to get invested in a game and build experiences, Fortnite has shown this it has to be what Activision and Call of Duty are aiming for.