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What Other Games Can Really Learn From Black Ops 4

Despite the fact that the Call of Duty series has been allegedly dying for years, Black Ops 4, the shooter franchise's latest installment, is nothing if not a success story. The game, which arrived on Oct. 12, raked in $500 million in its first three days and has received tons of critical praise for its multiplayer-only approach, a series first that's paying off in dividends.


With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, it seems that developer Treyarch and publisher Activision have learned a few lessons about mistakes made in the past. For example, the game doesn't have a traditional single-player campaign, which earned Treyarch the ire of some fans, but it doesn't seem to have hurt sales. When you look at the stats of how many players finish Call of Duty campaigns in the first place, you find out why. Most players don't really care about CoD campaigns, jumping into the multiplayer in droves instead. Treyarch looked at those stats and adapted accordingly.

That's a lesson quite a few other franchises could stand to learn from Call of Duty. Here are a few other things others games could learn from the latest Black Ops.


Don't keep developing the usual modes if they're not working

By ditching a single-player campaign, Treyarch decided to break with tradition. The cinematic shooter experience that initially put the series on the map in the early 2000s hasn't really been much of a priority for the franchise in the past few years, as it's continued to shift towards multiplayer experiences. You only really need to look at how the last few campaigns have been received to see that they've become filler (look at this review of Infinite Warfare's campaign, for example).


As Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 shows, tradition isn't really worth sticking to if it's not helping the franchise. Instead, franchises should adapt to meet the needs of players. If people aren't playing your single-player mode, there's really no reason to keep designing campaigns for your games. Abandoning campaign mode and putting more resources into the Zombies and battle royale modes as well as the competitive PvP was clearly the right decision for Black Ops 4, which is on track to outpace last year's installment in sales if the first three days are any indication.

You can chase a trend, even if you're late to it

Besides incorporating a battle royale mode to the mix, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has also changed its traditional multiplayer experience a bit, adding a hero element to the PvP. The game's multiplayer now features ten Specialists with their own abilities and roles in the battlefield. Specialists include Breacher (a tank character), Crash (a healer), Torque (a support Specialist), and several others. Like in Blizzard's Overwatch, each player picks a Specialist and plays that character's specific role in the match.


Some would call Treyarch's decision to adopt the hero multiplayer shooter as the foundation of its new PvP experience a risky move, considering that it's a trend that has its clear champions, Overwatch and Paladins. Even though Treyarch already used this approach with 2015's Black Ops 3, to re-enter the hero shooter space this late in the game is to open yourself up to being compared to those other games. But based on the critical reception, Treyarch has shown that you can be late to a trend but still succeed if you release a polished alternative to what's already on the market and add your own twist to it. 

Some franchises are just made for multiplayer

There was a time when most shooters were built on single-player gameplay, with an additional multiplayer component attached for those who wanted to stick with the game beyond the title credits. This was true of Call of Duty, whose early installments were designed to provide cinematic experiences the likes of which we'd only seen on movie screens. Even more modern installments featured storytelling that explored America's complicated war history. But despite all that, players just weren't as interested in storytelling as they were in blasting away their friends with a shotgun in multiplayer.


Just look at the stats compiled by Ars Technica, which show that most players weren't even finishing the campaign modes. Only 38.2 percent of Steam users finished Call of Duty: WWII's campaign saw and only 22.4 percent did on Xbox. Less than half of players finished the campaign while 90% of players jump into the multiplayer.

There's a clear imbalance there that shows that people want to play Call of Duty as a multiplayer title and not a single-player game. Treyarch was wise not to fight that and adapt accordingly by making Black Ops 4 multiplayer-only. Other developers should learn to double-down on their strengths as well, even if it means cutting out part of the series' traditions.

You can tell stories outside of the game

While Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 doesn't have a traditional story campaign experience, Treyarch does provide a story about the Specialists in the game through a series of comics. These comics explore the backstories of each of the Specialist characters, fleshing out where they came from and how the ended up fighting in the Black Ops universe. They're even written and drawn by some of the biggest names in comics, such as Greg Rucka, Chris Roberson, Adam Hughes, and Eric Wilkerson.


Call of Duty isn't the first video game franchise to use comic books, of course. Halo, Mass Effect, and plenty of other franchises have used comics to expand the stories told in the games. But these Black Ops 4 comics aren't as supplemental as that. They're the actual story component, giving players the narrative they won't get in the game.

Kotaku said of these comics, "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."

Games that can't fit a story into the package should consider other ways of getting that story across through comics or other outlets.


You should listen to what your fans want

Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting explained that the decision to make Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 a multiplayer title was based on how fans like to play Call of Duty.

"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."


With such a large percentage of the player base prioritizing the multiplayer component, it was an obvious move for Treyarch to shift to a multiplayer-only experience. Indeed, the studio has created Black Ops 4 to be a game players can enjoy with friends for years to come.

"[Black Ops 4] is built to be expandable, adaptable, [and] it's going to evolve over time," he said. "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, many years."

Simply put: give your fans what they want.

Cooperative PvE is really in right now

It's clear from the presentation and the review scores that Treyarch put a lot of work into delivering a Zombies experience worthy of its top billing in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. What began as a bonus mode meant to keep players around after finishing the World at War campaign has become one of the major reasons why fans pick up the new installment each year. With its gladiatorial fights and adventures aboard the doomed Titanic, this year's edition of Zombies is no exception.


Treyarch was smart to put focus on the game's cooperative PvE as it's a style of play that's seen a big resurgence in the last few years. Recent games like Warhammer: Vermintide 2 and Strange Brigade, as well as several that are on the way such as Overkill's The Walking Dead, World War Z, and GTFO, are all competing in what was once a niche genre. Call of Duty's growing emphasis on four-player co-op PvE shows that this style of play is only getting more popular. Other developers would do well to take note.

Fortnite and PUBG don't have a stranglehold on the battle royale market

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's biggest test was breaking into battle royale, a genre already crowded with two giants as well as several copycats, posers, and a few noble attempts. But the fact that Black Ops 4's Blackout has turned out to be so popular is proof that Fortnite and PUBG don't have a stranglehold on the market and that players welcome new ways to play battle royale as long as they're polished, worthwhile experiences such as Call of Duty's.


While some on the internet are already pointing out how Black Ops 4 could dethrone and maybe even replace PUBG as the premier realistic battle royale experience, it remains to be seen if Blackout's popularity can last beyond this year's installment. Some are calling the experience the pinnacle of the battle royale genre and a sign that there's nowhere else to go with this style of play. If this is true, then Blackout could reach the top echelon of the genre before the end, proving that battle royale isn't just a two-person game.