Saturday, May 10, 2014

Open Letter to SHGames: What I'd Like to See in CoD:AW

Dear Glen Schofield, Michael Condrey, and everyone at Sledgehammer Games,

Titanfall famously shipped without a normal singleplayer campaign and one of the reasons was explained by Vince Zampella, "We make these single-player missions that take up all the focus of the studio, that take a huge team six months to make, and players run through it in 8 minutes."  To me that begs the question, Why do players spend so little time going through these campaign missions when they are perfectly content to play the same multiplayer maps over and over again, often hundreds of times for each map?  

Here are a few of the reasons:

  1. In multiplayer games you are playing against an intelligent opposing team making each game play differently.
  2. You can play many different game modes on the same maps.
  3. You can use different weapons, equipment, perks, killstreaks, and change your playstyle according to what you are using.
  4. You have the ranking up and prestige system to go through, with challenges, titles and emblems to earn.
And here are some ways that could add more replayability to the singleplayer portion of the game:
  1. That the game has four difficulty levels is a start.  Another way to mix things up would be to have a variety of skill levels among the AI.  For example you could have an option for the player to choose what percentage of the enemy to make Recruit, Regular, Hardened and Veteran.  However the choices here are limited.  (You should use the MW3 survival mode AI as a starting point.  The AI in BO2 and Ghosts are definitely worse)
  2. Call of Duty 4 included two game modes for the singleplayer portion of the game and I see no reason why every game shouldn't include both the standard "movie mode" and an Arcade mode.
    I also think the game would benefit from adding a sort of free-play mode.  Remove all the barriers at the edge of the maps, all the "don't leave your squad behind" type death barriers, time limits (unless you planted a bomb or something), and then include options for customizing the enemy, the equipment available, your loadout, etc.  Perhaps a little over the top but I would love to have multiplayer game modes playable on singleplayer maps with AI and perhaps the ability to play co-op with a partner.  As many options as possible would be best.
  3. In Black Ops 2 you could customize your loadout and again, I don't see why you can't include that in every game from here on out.  Another element included in CoD4 that I would like to see again is the cheats you get after finding the intel.  It could be another free-play mode option.
  4. A great addition would be the multiplayer progression system applied to all of the singleplayer and co-op portions of the game.  If I were in charge I would have one progression for online multiplayer and another for the whole rest of the game including combat training.
I understand you have to make the game accessible to more casual players, and the many details and even minutiae that appeal to someone like me could hurt the satisfaction of customers who are not as into it.  All I can ask is that you consider some options.

Just in case you have another few minutes to spare on my ideas here is a post on how to make multiplayer more dynamic and fun than any other multiplayer game out there, and here is the post I wrote to Infinity Ward a little over a year ago.

Thanks for reading.
- Matt

How to make Call of Duty multiplayer the most dynamic and innovative multiplayer game ever

First, credit where credit is due: Treyarch was at least 50% of the way there as far as the general idea goes.  In Black Ops 2 the option was there to share your custom game mode recipe online, and to "like" other players' custom modes and sort by popularity.

Now remember back in 2012, MW3's year.  When the game mode Infected was introduced in the public playlist there was a real resurgence in the popularity of the game.  Modern Warfare 3 had its problems, one of which was its similarity to MW2 and players responded by dropping out more quickly.  However Infected was a completely different type of game mode and its introduction helped the game's popularity immensely.  Then the same thing happened to a lesser degree when Dropzone was added.  And there was a week or so late in the game's year when 18 player free-for-all matches were glitched in or hacked into the game and the same thing happened for me personally that week because the massive chaos involved in 18 person FFA was new and exciting.  It made the game fresh again.  The way to keep the game fresh all year long (or even better for two or three years) is to constantly update the playlists.  

Now I think someone who combines these two ideas can make their multiplayer game more interesting and dynamic than any game out there.  Outsource your game mode creation.  In order for this to work you have to put a zillion options into private match so that players can create modes that are not simply a rehash of existing modes.

Some basic ideas for options to include:

  1.  Every game mode from every past Call of Duty should be included in private match to give as many starting points as possible
  2. Rounds in every mode
  3. Limited lives in every mode
  4. Time limits
  5. Score limits
  6. How points are awarded for every mode (like in BO2 you could customize Kill Confirmed to give points for kills and for tags denied as well as tags confirmed)
  7. Limiting loadout options, opening up loadout options (like BO2 having the ability to play with up to 17 points)
  8. Customizing maps like the number and placement of flags, bomb sites and bombs
  9. Customizing maps by creating simple barriers to block off areas
And there are a million other options needed to really make it work, too many to list.  And create an interface so that players can easily look through other custom recipes and let players share and "like" other people's recipes.  Some ideas would be a title for the recipe, the mode used as a starting point, and a brief byline/description all view-able from the menu system, and then selecting one recipe lets the viewer see the details of the recipe.

When the game is new, November and December, the standard modes are great.  Everyone is getting used to the maps, the weapons, etc.  In January start a community playlist.  Then at least once a month (even better would be every two weeks) the development studio can take the top voted recipes, test them out to make sure they work well, and put one or two into the community playlist.  Switch out the old ones with the new ones each month, and if one mode is particularly popular leave it in the playlist.  And when the game's main year is almost up in October put in crazier and crazier custom games like the 18 player free-for-all.  

The DLC season for Call of Duty is getting old.  I bet if you watch the player-count closely you'll see very little change with DLC releases.  I believe if you update playlists with new and interesting game modes you will see smaller drop-offs in playercount and from that an increase in DLC sales and possibly even game sales.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Call of Duty: Online (update)

I found some videos of the campaign of CoD: Online.  The video quality is very good, however the guy talks a lot (which is fine for a youtube channel of course, but if you're more interested in the game than the guy it's not the greatest).

These missions are set in 2013 which is when Operation Kingfish happens, however it's unclear whether these missions actually link into the Modern Warfare story or not.

The initial training mission is CoD4's FNG.  You drive in with Captain Price, do the target practice from the main game, then you do grenade training, both throwing and using the underbarrel attachment, and then you do an obstacle course.  And you do not run the cargo ship course (though it appears that does get unlocked later on).

Mission 1 is MW2's campaign level Takedown, except it's set on the multiplayer map Favela.  They added barriers around the map so that you can't go where you want, and have to follow the target.

Mission 2 is set on the multiplayer map Crash.  The map has been modified so that it kind of sort of matches the style of the Brazilian maps from MW2.  Your helo crashes and you are captured by militia, Ghost frees you and you gather some intel.  Then you have to blow up your helicopter and escape to the top of the tall building for extraction.

Mission 3 is on MW2's multiplayer map Estate (still set in Brazil though).  The beginning is basically the first section of Contingency from MW2, then you have to catch a guy named Vasquez, and you're supposed to bring him in alive but someone snipes him from across a lake.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Call of Duty Microtransactions

   When micro dlc was introduced I was okay with it, but after listening to some other people about it I think it was a bad move for the brand overall. Releasing a lot of micro dlc weakens customer loyalty at the margin and at this point they need to be building it back up.

   It's no secret that sales are down significantly from last year even though there aren't fewer 360s and PS3s out there. Of course a lot of that is due to the console transition, but when people switch over to a new console you have to compete with other games on a higher level. Better graphics is only a piece of that. They could be offering "free" micro dlc (or something else) as a way to reward the people who bought the game and as a way to build brand loyalty during the transition. Supporting your game with patches and fixes is the base level, it's expected. They ought to be doing something on top of that.

   Why is everyone wondering if Titanfall is a cod killer? It's not because titanfall is something great. It's mostly because in the last two years cod has used up all the customer loyalty they built from 2007 to 2010. They don't owe players anything, but letting customers pay extra for micro dlc is a poor way to keep your base happy through the transition while other brand new (and pretty awesome looking) IPs come out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ghosts Sales Levels and Speculation on CoD's Future

When Ghosts launched the initial numbers reported by VGChartz* they were surprisingly low.  I figured Ghosts would move about the same number of copies as MW2 did on what I'm going to call last-gen hardware (360, PS3), and an additional small amount on current-gen.  The numbers that came in initially had it doing significantly less, but that has turned around.  The holiday sales numbers were about equal to MW2's, something I did not expect, and it sold quite a bit better than I thought it would on the new hardware. 

With nine weeks of sales Ghosts has sold a total of 18.3 million copies while MW2 had 17.8 million sold in the same amount of time.  I imagine that Ghosts will do substantially less business during 2014 than MW2 did during 2010, and it'll probably top out between 20 and 21 million copies while MW2 is working its way up to 25 million having sold 501,000 last year. 

(For comparison Black Ops 2 sold 20.6 million copies in the first nine weeks.)

Call of Duty 11 this year will have an even bigger challenge than CoD10, especially if the rumors are true that Sledgehammer Games is taking the helm on their own.  It will still be a cross-platform game, the console transition will still be under heavy load, going an extra year without Treyarch's Zombies mode will be trying for many stalwart CoD players, and even die-hard Call of Duty fans have a healthy amount of skepticism toward a new studio taking on such a large endeavor. 

2015 is the year when I think we could see some seriously big changes in the game.  It doesn't make sense to introduce a new engine until they're ready to release on next-gen only which I can't see happening this year.  It remains the case that there are over 150 million 360's and PS3's plugged in and waiting for a game to play, and by November 4th there will at most be 30 million XB1s and PS4s plugged in ready to play.

For me CoD loses it's sheen just a little every year, but I still see myself getting the new one for at least two more years.  We'll see how it goes.


* Many people say that VGChartz is useless but I disagree.  They may not report accurate numbers, but they collect data for each game the same way which means if they are off it's by a similar amount for everything.  That makes them somewhat reliable in determining the relative levels of sales across all games.