The idea of the Call of Duty series moving towards a subscription-based persistent online experience has been mooted for a number of years now, usually to be vehemently shot down by vociferous gamers accusing Activision of yet more greed and avarice. Yet after the recent release of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, I’m finding myself increasingly open to the idea. And so, what follows, are nine reasons why Call of Duty going persistently online might not be such a bad idea after all.
Since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare you’ve been able to prestige up. Now to the uninitiated, what this means is that rather than the game be completed/beaten once you reach the level cap (typically 50-70), you can start all over again but with the added bonus of a prestige icon that tells everyone how special you are. Previous CoD games have allowed you to prestige up to 10 times, but Black Ops set a new standard allowing up to 15.
I’ve been playing Call of Duty quite intensively throughout the years since CoD4, and the highest I’ve ever managed to reach is prestige level 4. Every single year when the newest game is released, my friends and I instantly migrate across and all of that hard earned progress is lost. Sure there are thousands of players who reach the top level of prestige before the year ends, but a lot of the time this is down to XP-boosting, hacking or just an insane amount of free time and lack of responsibilities. I find it hard to believe that anyone with a job, a partner and a life outside of CoD ever reaches this cap.
A persistent online Call of Duty would avoid the inevitable annual reset. And prestiging would actually mean something again. Match-making could also be much improved as over a longer period of time and with many more statistics to analyse, it’d be so much easier to put players of the same skill level together for a more rounded experience.
2) Persistent Stats and lifetime records
Serious Call of Duty players pay obsessive attention to all manner of ridiculous statistics. For instance, how many headshots they’ve got, how many times they’ve killed an enemy with a helicopter or mortar strike or how many times they’ve killed multiple combatants with a single grenade. With the addition of in-game challenges to Call of Duty 4, a whole other meta-game emerged and suddenly, on top of kill-to-death-ratios, there were numerous other key statistics to keep track of. All of which again makes the annual reset all the more infuriating.
I’ve always been fascinated by the this obsessive compulsion but at the back of my mind there’s always been this nagging feeling that the each new release further waters down the importance and validity of these stats. But if I were able to view my life-time stats in one single place and if I could measure my e-penis on a daily basis then surely my life would be worth something. Surely all those wasted hours would be worthwhile?
3) Game Maps
The last few years have been consistently familiar with a CoD game releasing in late November, a map pack in February then a second and final map pack during the summer. What’s particularly galling though is how the developers of each respective game continually see fit to charge gamers for the privilege of downloading maps from the previous games - in effect charging us twice for the privilege of playing them.
With a persistent Call of Duty experience, no map would ever have to be made obsolete and we wouldn’t have to pay through the nose for additional map packs. They could be released as frequently as the developer so chooses and all be covered by our monthly subscriptions.Sure, the number of maps could spiral out of hand and prove to be slightly unmanageable and daunting for newcomers, but the developers could generate playlists for each previous game in the series. They could generate playlists containing maps whose focus is close-quarters combat or long-range sniper-friendly combat. Such choice could lead to a plethora of customisable options meaning each player could play the game however they see fit and have an experience tailored around their own particular play-style.
4) Game Modes
With the release of Black Ops, Treyarch really mixed online play up with the introduction of Wager Matches and the brilliant Sticks and Stones, One in the Chamber, Gun Game and Sharpshooter game modes. Being able to add new experimental game modes on the fly would be revolutionary.
One of the excuses developers and publishers frequently use for the relative lack of updates and new features is the difficulties inherent with the stringent certification processes. Being in full control of the game’s infrastructure would alleviate this issue and encourage innovation and experimentation. These modes could be separated off from the core multiplayer experience allowing for the ultimate live test-bed/beta and the popularity of these modes, much like what currently happens with PC games like StarCraft and World of Warcraft, would determine their ultimate success or failure.
This could also be taken one step further with past/modern/future playlists that incorporate weapons, maps and killstreaks from each of the previous games.
5) Emblems and call-signs
One of my biggest criticisms of Black Ops was the removal of emblems and call-signs.
Giving gamers the ability to design and craft their own was a nice idea but proved to be ultimately mis-guided as in my opinion, it removed a lot of the reward that came from completing difficult challenges.
It took me literally months of Modern Warfare 2 play to complete the Multi-RPG III challenge which required me to kill 2 or more enemies with a single AT4 or RPG 50 times. And so, enabling my hard-earned German Shepherd emblem told other players of my RPG prowess and as a rare emblem was something to be proud of.
Black Ops’ approach means there’s no reward for completing challenges, which combined with the fact that they’re also now relatively well hidden within the overly-complicated player-card menu, means there’s much less incentive to even bother attempting them. Even less so when you consider that some of the more challenges have to be attempted with a blatant disregard for kill-to-death-ratio.
And so, with a persistent and permanent system, the emblems and titles feature could be fleshed out much more than ever before with an enormous database of challenges set up for all manner of ridiculous meta-games. This could be expanded upon over time and similarly to Black Ops’ current contracts system, there could be weekly and monthly challenges that are grander than the current typical “Get 10 head-shots with weapon X” type challenge.
6) Greater Parental Controls
Applying a monthly online subscription to the Call of Duty franchise would also make it that much more difficult for the people that shouldn’t be playing the game – i.e. kids – to do so.
The biggest complaint I have with the previous Call of Duty games is the incessant homophobic and racist abuse you have to put up with from teenagers and kids. I don’t mind a bit of good-natured smack-talk, but offensive and deeply personal vitriol is never fun. The fact that Black Ops is 18-rated is often conveniently forgotten about, as kids just get their friends or older siblings to buy them copies. Requiring credit card payments would make it much more difficult for minors to be able to play the game, which while alienating a considerable chunk of the audience, would win the publisher some respect back from the Fox-news brigade who are all-too-keen to jump on the ‘games are bad’ bandwagon.
7) Increase protection against piracy
The age-old bricks and mortar vs. digital downloads debate will continue to rage on until the latter eventually prevails. But making CoD persistent, online and digital only, would make pirating the game extremely difficult if not impossible. A point which long terms means the publisher and developers reap the financial rewards. You need only look at the success of World of Warcraft for evidence of a rosy online future.
8) Less cheating/glitching/oosting
Continuing on from #4, giving the developers full control of the online infrastructure without having to continually run patches by Microsoft and Sony for approval would lead to tighter controls and better policing again cheaters. This has already been somewhat alleviated by Treyarch’s addition of Theater mode which allows you playback and record clips from recent games from any players’ point of view and submit as hard evidence. But if Treyarch and Infinity Ward could immediately respond to issues, then cheats could be banned, fixes immediately applied and everyone’s overall experience improved considerably.
9) More effective and efficient use of resources
Without the pressure of having to release a brand new title every year, Infinity Ward and Treyarch could also make better use of their resources. Having the freedom to develop new features, game-modes, maps and additions under their own steam without the pressures inherent with annual deadlines would undoubtedly lead to a better quality overall experience. The game could evolve more naturally and could be updated with ever greater care and attention, which benefits everyone.
10) Greater integration across a wide range of formats
With a single unified experience all paid for by a monthly subscription, Call of Duty could become a platform rather than a one-off game. Your subscription could allow you to play on PS3, Xbox 360, Mac and PC giving you greater freedom to play whenever and wherever you choose. The game could even be tailored for Smart-Phones and Tablet PCs, with players taking on the role of the undead-masses in the Zombies game and therefore still having an engaging and fulfilling experience regardless of the quality of their respective device’s controls.
The Left4Dead franchise has ably demonstrated that players are more than happy to fight for both sides and so rewarding players for taking on the supposedly lesser appealing roles could lead to unique rewards, loot, or customisation options that can be utilised across other game-modes. You need only remind yourself of the point I made at #5 which proves that players will adopt a certain style of play – no matter how repetitive or relatively boring – if there’s ultimately a special reward to be earned.