For a while the venerable Call of Duty franchise looked to have been left behind by the battle royale usurpers. With first PUBG, and then Fortnite, showing the annual franchise how best to engage and monetise the shooter audience in the modern era of live games.
Last night, though, Activision proved that it had not only caught up with the opposition but was potentially managing to have its cake and eat it. By launching Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War (yes it’s a mouthful of a title) within its highly successful Warzone spin-off, it synergised the new world of live game events with its traditional annual release schedule.
The event itself was taken right out of the Fortnite playbook. A limited time event, with players logging into the servers (if they could get on) in order to play a special game mode. This was the culmination of months of easter eggs and in-game teasers, with the special event consisting of a range of missions, and attached in-game rewards, culminating in the reveal trailer of the new game.
Pre-order numbers are yet to be announced, but with numerous players engaged, and many major streamers broadcasting their own run through the event, it undoubtedly had reach. For those playing, being able to go straight from the game into pre-orders for the upcoming title is a more frictionless route than seeing the trailer on YouTube and then having to navigate through to the appropriate console store yourself.
And this is just the first in Activision’s experiment to conjoin its annual cycle with the ongoing success of Warzone.
Warzone was developed in tandem with the current Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, with both coming from Infinity Ward and sharing both engine technology and in-game locations. Now the baton is being passed, as usual, over to Treyarch for the next installment, Cold War, it will be intriguing to see if the two games can continue to work neatly in lockstep with each other, or whether Warzone will spin off on its own trajectory.
“It remains to be seen who will lead the design as Warzone moves into its second year alongside Black Ops – Cold War”
Common sense tells us that retaining a close relationship would aid sales of Cold War over 2021, as it has with Modern Warfare’s longer-than-usual tail over 2020. But whether the two studios can work together, almost as a single ‘live’ team, remains a big question. At present Warzone is at its core Modern Warfare’s multiplayer with some tweaks for the larger format, it remains to be seen who will lead the design as Warzone moves into its second year alongside Cold War, and what reorganisations Activision will need to make within its studios to accomplish its goals.
At least the current Warzone map, Verdansk set in Eastern Europe, thanks to its somewhat drab styling, could easily transition into 1980s Cold War era without practically any changes. Convenient maybe, but that’s unlikely to wash with Warzone players, who will be expecting more serious changes.
With Warzone’s huge success putting Call of Duty firmly back in the top tier, Cold War’s sales will undoubtedly boom, aided in addition by next-gen consoles, cross-generation promotion and editions (at the now usual £10/$10 premium). Whether the actual games can work together, though, will only be made clear well into the next year. Still the first obstacle has been neatly hurdled and the future is looking bright for the franchise.