News broke on Wednesday that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may not have a single-player campaign. According to several reports, the game’s publisher Activision found Black Ops 4's take on a single-player campaign to be “too out there” and retooling it would mean it wouldn’t be ready in time for release. If true, it would mean this would be the first Call of Duty game without a single-player campaign, and might even be an always online affair requiring a persistent Internet connection. In its place however, could be a battle royale mode helmed by long-time Call of Duty support studio, Raven Software.
If this information is correct, it would not be a surprise. With many a big budget triple A game company like Ubisoft, Microsoft, and EA extolling 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 how much Call of Duty games sell for in India) - basically full price - for a series that’s touted polished single-player experiences since its inception?
It’s not as if multiplayer games haven’t tried this tactic before. The original Titanfall comes to mind. It was an always online, multiplayer affair with little in way of single-player hijinks outside of a mode you could play with bots and it cost $60 (Rs. 3,499 in India). For publisher EA, Titanfall exceeded revenue expectations in no small part thanks to releasing during an uncrowded period — there simply was no competition at the time. Contrast that with its sequel that boasted of an excellent single-player campaign in addition to its multiplayer mode, but sold only a quarter of the original thanks to the fact it went 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 the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, and possibly FIFA 19, as well as Battlefield V.
Perhaps a precedent closer to home for Activision is Overwatch. It’s always online, costs $60 (Rs. 3,999 in India) and is multiplayer only. And yes, it’s obscenely successful thanks to sustained monetisation via cosmetic micro-transactions. Blizzard’s handiwork 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 make sure a new game is out every year — it’s unlikely that Overwatch’s focus on lore building events and cosmetic items would translate well into the existing Call of Duty formula.
Call of Duty is unlikely to follow the same approach of having a single base game supported by a wealth of updates and loot boxes without releasing a new game a year later. Reason being, in 2017 Call of Duty World War 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare generated $951 million in digital console sales revenue alone and were on the top 10 charts through the year. Call of Duty: World War 2 by itself netted $502 million in revenue in 2017, just $19 million less than GTA V — the largest selling entertainment product of all time. Given the ongoing success of Call of Duty, it wouldn’t make sense for Activision to stop making regular, yearly releases in the franchise.
Although there are plenty of reasons to release the game as multiplayer only, we can’t help but feel that if Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 releases without a single-player campaign, it would be a tough sell. There’s speculation abound that it could release with the Modern Warfare 2 campaign, but a remaster of a 2009 game isn’t why some of us bother with Call of Duty games year on year. More so when you consider that some of gaming’s greatest single-player moments — such as the All Ghillied Up mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the Viktor Reznov reveal in the first Call of Duty: Black Ops — stem from the Call of Duty series.
For the longest time, the three pillars of the Call of Duty experience were its campaign, multiplayer, and cooperative mode. This year it appears that the campaign would be replaced by a battle royale mode. And while this change might sync well with the Black Ops 4 tagline of “forget what you know”, it doesn’t seem to promise the same amount of value, at least on paper.
Hopefully the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reveal on May 17 proves us wrong, but it’s safe to say that regardless of the content (or lack thereof) in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, expect to pay full price.
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