News broke on Wednesday that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may not have a single-player campaign. According to multiple reports, the game’s publisher, Activision, found Black Ops 4’s single-player campaign to be “too out there” and revamping it would mean it wouldn’t be ready in time for release. If true, that would mean it would be the first Call of Duty game without a single-player campaign, and could even be an always-online affair requiring a persistent internet connection. In its place, however, could be a battle royale mode led by longtime Call of Duty support studio Raven Software.
If this information is correct, it would not be a surprise. With many big-budget triple-A games companies like Ubisoft, Microsoft and EA touting the virtues of games as a service coupled with the success of multiplayer fare like Fortnite and PUBG, Activision and Treyarch jumping on the bandwagon is to be expected. That said, can Activision get away with charging $60 or Rs. 4,449 (which is the retail price of Call of Duty games in India) – essentially full price – for a series that touts single-player experiences? refined since its creation?
It’s not like multiplayer games haven’t tried this tactic before. The original Titanfall comes to mind. It was an always-online multiplayer affair with few solo hijinks apart from a mode where you could play with bots and it cost $60 (Rs. 3,499 in India). For publisher EA, Titanfall far exceeded revenue expectations thanks to its release during a low-traffic period – there was simply no competition back then. Compare that with its sequel which boasted an excellent single-player campaign in addition to its multiplayer mode, but only sold a quarter of the original thanks to being pitted against Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Black Ops 4 faces a similar situation with an October 12 release date that should see it rub shoulders with Red Dead Redemption 2, and possibly FIFA 19, as well as Battlefield V.
Perhaps a closer-to-home precedent for Activision is Overwatch. It’s still online, costs $60 (3,999 rupees in India), and is multiplayer only. And yes, it’s a obscene success thanks to sustained monetization via cosmetic micro-transactions. Blizzard’s work with Overwatch paves the way for its sister concern to do something similar. Although given the annual nature of the Call of Duty franchise – with three studios working around the clock to ensure a new game is released each year – it’s unlikely that Overwatch’s focus on lore building events and cosmetic items translate well into Formula’s existing Call of Duty.
Call of Duty is unlikely to follow the same approach of having a single base game backed by a slew of updates and loot boxes without releasing a new game a year later. The reason for this is that in 2017, Call of Duty World War 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare alone generated $951 million in digital console sales revenue and were in the top 10 rankings throughout the year. Call of Duty: World War 2 alone brought in $502 million in revenue in 2017, just $19 million less than GTA V – the best-selling entertainment product of all time. Given the continued success of Call of Duty, it wouldn’t make sense for Activision to stop making regular, annual releases in the franchise.
While there are plenty of reasons to release the game in multiplayer-only mode, we can’t help but think that if Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 released without a single-player campaign, it would be a tough sell. There’s plenty of speculation that it might release with the Modern Warfare 2 campaign, but a remaster of a 2009 game isn’t the reason some of us care about Call of Duty games. year after year. Even more so considering that some of the game’s greatest single-player moments – such as the All Ghillied Up mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Viktor Reznov’s reveal in the first Call of Duty: Black Ops – stem from Call of Duty series.
For a very long time, the three pillars of the Call of Duty experience were its campaign, multiplayer, and co-op mode. This year, it looks like the campaign will be replaced by a battle royale mode. And while this change may sync well with Black Ops 4’s “Forget what you know” slogan, it doesn’t seem to promise the same value, at least on paper.
Hopefully the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal on May 17 proves us otherwise, but it’s safe to say that whatever content (or lack thereof) is in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, expect pay full price.
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