The real reason Black Ops 4 doesn't have a campaign

Activision and Treyarch might have put the Call of Duty series back on the map (not that its sales were anywhere near disastrous) with this year's installment, Black Ops 4, an entry that does things just a little bit differently. But it's exactly those things that make it unique to its predecessors that has made Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 the most anticipated game of this holiday season.

You might have read this headline months ago: "Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 won't feature a single-player campaign mode." While it's true that Black Ops 4 has done away with the mode that was at the forefront of the series, the game more than makes up for it with the excellent Zombies mode and a new battle royale mode called Blackout. With Black Ops 4 enjoying a very warm reception, it might be time for Activision to consider ditching campaign mode for the whole franchise.

Here are the real reasons why Treyarch decided to ditch the single-player campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

A traditional campaign was never part of the plan

There's a pretty simple reason for why Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 doesn't have a campaign mode: Treyarch never planned to include a campaign in the game in the first place. Speaking to Polygon, Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting explained the studio's reasons for not including the mode.

"When we set out to make this game, we never started with the idea that we would make a traditional campaign," Bunting told Polygon. "That was just not part of our plan. We started from a place that we were gonna make a game that across the board can be playable with friends. That's been our mission from day one."

Bunting said that the studio had a desire to try something new with Black Ops 4 in order to challenge themselves. "Of course, through the course of development, as always happens with every game, we're to challenge our conventions … trying different things."

The game has Specialist Missions instead

While you won't get a story mode from Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, you can play self-contained story missions for the Specialists featured in the multiplayer mode. These Specialist missions are set on the game's multiplayer maps and task players with completing several objectives. The main goal with Specialists Missions is to show players how to use each character.

"The key there is explaining about the Specialists," Black Ops 4 producer Miles Leslie told US Gamer. "Who they are and what they're about. So you get to know them, but at the same time, [we] educate you on how to use them."

The Specialist Missions also flesh out the backstories of these characters.

"The narrative around them is meant to give a sense of purpose," Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting told Variety. "Why they're together. Who are they working for? It builds the connective tissue between each one."

So there is a bit of story to be found in the game, just not as much as you're used to.

Call of Duty doesn't need a campaign to post major sales

Treyarch's decision to forgo a campaign mode this year hasn't hurt Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 in terms of sales. According to Fortune, Black Ops 4 made $500 million in just its first three days. That puts the game on track to surpass Call of Duty: WWII's impressive $1 billion sales, which it earned after 47 days on the market. (For comparison's sake, it's important to note that WWII did have a campaign mode.)

Despite complaints from some fans that felt that Treyarch was straying too far from the traditional Black Ops experience, it's clear that people still came out in droves to buy the game. It's also possible that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 attracted more casual battle royale fans with its new Blackout mode. This could be bad news for current battle royale heavyweight, Fortnite, and especially for the pay-to-play PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

According to Fortune, Black Ops 4 also set a new day one digital sales record for Activision on both the PlayStation and Xbox. Needless to say, Call of Duty has had a good couple of weeks.

Call of Duty campaigns haven't been well-received recently

Another big reason Treyarch probably didn't bother with a campaign this year is that Call of Duty players don't seem to care about the single-player mode anymore. Ars Technica created a bar graph based on the completion rate of Call of Duty achievements on Xbox and Steam which shows how few players actually bother to complete the campaign.

According to the graph, which was published in 2018, only 9 percent of players finished the Black Ops 3 campaign on Steam and only 8.1 percent on Xbox. Only 20 percent of Steam players finished the Infinite Warfare campaign while only 12.8 percent did on Xbox. WWII's campaign saw an uptick: 38.2 percent of Steam players finished the campaign and 22.4 percent on Xbox. That's still less than half of the player base, though.

It doesn't help that these campaigns haven't been very well received. Rock Paper Shotgun said of Infinite Warfare's campaign, "The premise is brainless sci-fi politics with a lower-case 'p', a story which can safely be summarized as 'Killzone again' and stuffed with dry characters who have nothing interesting to say. The villains are likewise gray and lifeless."

Meanwhile, The Guardian said of Black Ops 3, "Like every Call of Duty before it, [it] is a throbbing mass of blockbuster movie cliches, masquerading as a cogent plot line."

No one was really twisting Treyarch's arm to design a new campaign.

90 percent of CoD fans are playing the multiplayer

While Call of Duty fans might not be playing the campaigns very much, they're definitely invested in the multiplayer. According to Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting, 90 percent of fans are playing the multiplayer modes.

"When I first started on multiplayer in the Call of Duty franchise, 10 percent of our population was playing competitive multiplayer," Bunting told Polygon. "Fast forward to 2015 or 2016, you're looking at 90 percent of our players are playing multiplayer … If you look at it through that lens, and trying to deliver more for your players and how you're playing the game, it's a pretty easy decision. I realize it's also a challenging decision for other reasons. But we've never been ones to shy away from a challenge."

Based on Bunting's comment, it looks like Treyarch spent some time looking at how players enjoy Call of Duty games. By developing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 as a multiplayer-only title, Treyarch sought to cater to the greatest common denominator.

Linear experiences just aren't as popular anymore

Single-player campaigns aren't only seeing waning playercounts in terms of Call of Duty. According to publisher Electronic Arts, players are less interested in linear gaming experiences to begin with.

EA CFO Blake Jorgensen appeared at a conference in 2017 following the cancellation of Visceral Games' action-adventure Star Wars title and the closure of the studio to explain that the decision was made in part because that type of game was no longer trending with players.

"As we kept reviewing the game, it continued to look like a much more linear game [which] people don't like as much today as they did five years ago or ten years ago," Jorgensen said. He went on to say that the company feared that it wouldn't make any money off of a linear game. "You gotta cut the bridge when you realize you can't make a lot of money on something."

It seems Activision and Treyarch took a similar approach with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, ditching the campaign for a broader experience involving three modes that you can play infinitely.

As Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting explained to Polygon, "[Black Ops 4] is built to be expandable, adaptable, [and] it's going to evolve over time. We've gone into this knowing that we're making a game that can be played with friends across the board and going to be played for a long time to come."

Treyarch decided to chase the battle royale craze instead

Before Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was even formally announced, many on the internet were already theorizing that the game would feature the series' own take on battle royale, the genre that's been taking the video game world by storm in the past few years. Indeed, it was inevitable, especially after Fortnite proved to be so incredibly profitable for Epic Games and popular among gamers, both hardcore and casual.

Adding a new major component to the Black Ops 4 might be another reason why Treyarch decided to ditch the campaign mode, choosing instead to focus its resources on getting its take on battle royale right. Entering a genre that was already so crowded with titles fighting to be the next Fortnite or PUBG meant that Call of Duty had to provide something really special to complete.

According to IGN, Black Ops 4 has succeeded in creating a battle royale mode that's not just a quick cash grab. Instead, Blackout has turned out to be a worthwhile replacement for campaign mode.

If players really want a Black Ops 4 story, they can read the comics

There might still be some Call of Duty fans who feel like Black Ops 4 isn't a full game without a traditional story. If you've gone through the Specialist Missions and still don't think it's enough, Activision has also released a series of comic books for free! You can read all the issues released thus far here.

Like the Specialist Missions, these comics also expand on the backstory of each Specialist in the game. The Black Ops 4 comic isn't an afterthought either. Activision has recruited well-known comics writers such as Greg Rucka and Chris Roberson as well as artists Eric Wilkerson and Adam Hughes to pen and draw each issue.

Reviewing the first five issues, Kotaku called the series "pretty great," explaining that it's a worthwhile read to better understand the Specialists.

"A one-shot issue doesn't give the artist and writer teams much time to tell you about a character, but these Black Ops 4 comics mostly provide a good piece of the character's backstory to make you care or at least understand them," Kotaku's S.E. Doster said in her write-up.

Call of Duty needs to keep trying new things

In 2015, Vice called Call of Duty "the video game version of Coldplay," referring to how rote the series had become up to that point, as it stuck players in the same-ish modern-ish warfare scenario year after year.

Regardless of how you feel about Coldplay's music, it's hard to refute Schilling's point. Even after 2015, Call of Duty continued to deliver the same basic package of a single-player campaign, multiplayer PvP, and cooperative PvE year after year. This formula seemed to hit a breaking point with fans in 2016. According to Forbes, that year's installment, Infinite Warfare, sold 50 percent fewer physical copies than 2015's entry, Black Ops 3.

But in 2017, Activision decided to really change things up for the series with a nostalgic return to WWII. It paid off, too. Call of Duty: WWII raked in $1 billion in its first few weeks — proof that the series could still be profitable if it changed up the formula a bit.

Activision is doing this again with Black Ops 4, skipping the tired campaign cycle for the new battle royale mode. This is also paying off. Black Ops 4 made $500 million in its first three days! If Activision is smart, it will find yet another way to tweak the Call of Duty formula again next year.

There are already dedicated single-player shooters

There's one last thing to consider: there's no reason Call of Duty has to compete in the single-player market in the first place, especially if there are already dedicated single-player shooters that emphasize storytelling. Take Bethesda's impressive lineup of single-player shooters. Wolfenstein, Doom, and Prey all feature campaign modes that tell worthwhile stories with their own unique styles. These games don't need to be formulaic because they don't emphasize multiplayer gaming. Instead, resources go almost completely to getting the campaign right.

Call of Duty, on the other hand, hasn't made much of an effort to tell great stories in the last few years, opting instead to grow its multiplayer component, making it the star of each new installment. It's clear with Black Ops 4 that, while there's certainly market for great single-player shooters, Call of Duty isn't all that interested in chasing it. Instead, Call of Duty should focus on what it does well and what it's best known for.

With Black Ops 4, Call of Duty is doing just that: improving its multiplayer with a polished battle royale mode that will keep it at the top of the multiplayer shooter food chain.