Call of Duty OL is “dead”, perhaps more meaningful than it is “alive”
Not long ago, “Call of Duty 19: Modern Warfare 2” was officially released. It’s not unusual for console manufacturers to release their annual products every year, but in the context of the industry this year, Call of Duty 19 seems extra special.
First of all, Call of Duty 19 is the first Call of Duty series launched after Microsoft announced its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and now, Sony and Microsoft are bickering over whether Call of Duty will be exclusive in the future in the European antitrust review, and the excellent performance of this work breaking one billion dollars sales in ten days is undoubtedly adding another fire to this fight.
Secondly, for Chinese gamers, the Call of Duty series has finally ended its long career as a “lock-in” on Steam, which is an unmissable user for both Microsoft and Sony.
As I mentioned in the article “Global Talent Rally, Tencent, NetEase, and MihaYu are seeking further cooperation with Xbox and Sony, and the future of the console game market is full of Chinese manufacturers.
It can be said that the “Call of Duty” series is a concentrated projection of the new trends of the global game industry at present, mergers and acquisitions, exclusive vs all-platform, subscription systems…… and of course “Call of Duty: Handheld”, a vivid case of end to hand an introduction to go out again.
And there is a particularly unique presence in the Call of Duty family – Call of Duty Online. While the other brothers stand in the spotlight, it has ushered in the fate of discontinued service last year.
From Buyout to F2P
Just before the release of Call of Duty 19, Enrico D’Angelo, former VP of Activision’s publishing division and current VP of Roblox products, posted an article on Deconstructor of Fun called “Call of Duty: Online is dead. Long live Call of Duty: Online! The article was published on Deconstructor of Fun.
In the article, he reviewed the history of Call of Duty OL from inception to development to operation, described the difficulties encountered by the development team and the solutions, as well as the impact of Call of Duty OL on the Call of Duty series.
The reason why we are reviewing Call of Duty OL at this point is that it is a typical case of moving from the buyout system to F2P, from one-time output to long-term operation, and successful brands entering the Chinese market from overseas markets.
Now, with overseas console manufacturers moving towards mobile and domestic manufacturers starting to counterattack the console side, the former is trying to do exactly what Call of Duty OL has done. For the latter, it is a completely opposite logic, but we can also deduce some experience and doorway from it.
Whether it’s end-to-end or hand-to-end, importing or going out, Chinese manufacturers will play a key role in it. Therefore, the case of “Call of Duty OL” is very meaningful to the current game industry.
If we look at it from today’s perspective, what the Call of Duty series had to do to enter the Chinese market was just some localization operation and distribution work, and it seemed a bit superfluous to go through the trouble of making a game for the Chinese market alone.
At that time, PC gamers were the absolute main force in the Chinese game market, and even many gamers did not have enough performance devices and mostly chose to play games in Internet cafes, and the console market was small and there were no formal channels to sell them. At the same time, due to consumption habits and piracy problems, there was almost no way out for buyout games at that time.
Therefore, if Activision wanted to successfully promote the COD series in China, it had to launch a F2P version of Call of Duty. At the same time, the design of the new economic system also made the production team need to change the previous development and operation model in the Call of Duty OL project.
Interestingly, at the beginning of Call of Duty OL’s development, you will hardly find a successful 3D free-to-play FPS game in the European and American markets. Therefore, the biggest “rival” of Call of Duty OL happened to be Cross Fire and Tencent’s Counter-Strike, which are also distributed by Tencent.
As for why Tencent launched three similar shooting games in a row, Xu Guang, the general manager of Tencent’s shooting game product department at the time, said, “The positioning and user groups of these products are very different, CF is a more mainstream game, and Counter-Strike is more of an entertaining game. And the positioning of Call of Duty OL is to be the most professional and do the most novel gameplay.”
Overall, the two main challenges “Call of Duty OL” encountered in the initial stage are the change of fee model and how to make differentiation from other products of the same type.
Similarly, in the future, the first thing that domestic manufacturers should consider when pushing their successful handheld games to overseas PC or even console markets is the change of charging model.
In the aforementioned article, I gave an example of NetEase’s plan to transplant “Operation Wilderness”, “Fifth Personality” and other products that are more successful in the Japanese market to the PS5 platform in the future. Of course, tactical games like “Operation Wilderness” already have a more mature business model.
Although overseas players have gradually accepted some pay-to-win games in the field of handheld games, their consumption habits are still dominated by buyout systems and internal purchases without attribute bonuses on PC and consoles.
However, the current game market is more globalized and diversified than ten years ago, and cross-platform is not uncommon. Therefore, at the early stage of entering the console platform, I believe that handheld game makers are more inclined to make a brand name and acquire users, and their strategic purpose is more than the profit purpose.
Especially in the current situation of tightening the policy of version number, the manufacturers cut costs, and some teams have difficulty in establishing projects, some game teams have no new projects to do, so they will look for more ways out in channels and platforms, and help overseas manufacturers to do end transfer or port their projects to other platforms.
Like some typical domestic pay-to-win games such as MMORPG type, after several years of long-term operation has very sufficient content and gameplay reserves, in the overseas host platform port can be considered to adopt the buyout system + appearance fee system, so as to form a win-win situation in terms of brand and revenue.
New platform, new market, new ideas
Developing a new game for a new regional market is another task, which requires a fundamental change in development and design thinking.
Call of Duty OL has been in development since 2010, but up until the end of 2013, Call of Duty OL was designed to be pretty much just a pay-to-play game with some paid content added to the previous COD framework.
And during the beta testing at the time, the production team found that players didn’t like Call of Duty OL’s PVE mode. Perhaps due to the influence of CS and CF, Chinese gamers still prefer PVP with rich modes of play.
While it is true that COD is a PVP experience, it is essential to have a single player campaign as a buy-to-play game. When it comes to F2P, the game needs to attract players faster because the barrier of entry is low enough that the long and complicated PVE mode is difficult to be accepted by the masses.
So, Call of Duty OL eventually chose to present PVE content as newbie missions and allow players to use all characters, weapons, accessories and passive skills in any mode (the previous COD series had separate PVE and PVP modes), and this had a huge impact on the design of the COD series later on.
The other side of the coin is that running a F2P game puts demands on the production team’s capacity, which needs to periodically launch campaign content and marketing like any other game in order to keep the game hot and retain users.
In the process of moving to F2P, Call of Duty OL still adhered to the principle of no pay-to-win design, and rejected design ideas such as rental props and high-priced weapons. However, in the Chinese game market at that time, it was difficult to stimulate some players’ desire to pay for the paid content without substantial attributes, which might be one of the reasons why Call of Duty OL fell behind in terms of revenue.
At the same time, in the process of localization, the production team also found that more exaggerated and gorgeous decorative effects could more effectively attract Chinese players to pay, although this is against the principle of hardcore competition of COD series, but this is indeed an effective means to increase the length of play and payment of players.
Enrico says that, in retrospect, Call of Duty was not well suited to the Chinese market at the time. Whether it was the visuals, the plot, or the gameplay, Call of Duty didn’t quite fit the aesthetics of Chinese players and the rhythm of the game they were familiar with.
“Generally speaking, the closer a product’s culture is to the market, the better its chances of success, but on the other hand, if a product needs to be heavily altered to be successful in a given market, that means it’s perhaps not a good fit for that market at all,” Enrico said.
While Call of Duty OL was not an unprecedented success in China, it made Activision realize that Chinese gamers want to be part of the global community for the COD series and want to experience what other gamers are playing overseas. It also inspired the importance of targeting the global market to build products in the present.
I interviewed the product team of a major manufacturer at the beginning of this year, and the production team told me at the time that their product was still mainly domestic and supported both ends, but the mobile users were still the most mainstream. And after waiting for more than half a year for the version number and still no news, now they have started to test for overseas markets, which is bound to make some changes to the original product.
For the head of the manufacturers, only for a single market, a single platform of the project idea has begun to be difficult to adapt to the changing forms of the market. To come up with a strong enough product, the project needs to be more global and all-platform consideration.
For example, what are the main markets I’m targeting? What kind of payment design can make most of the target users accept it? How to balance the gameplay design of PC and mobile? Is the content output one-time or continuous? Will sticking to the style design of the game greatly affect its acceptance in the mainstream market? Is it possible to adopt different payment designs on different platforms ……
In the face of new platforms and new markets, we must be bold to propose new ideas and break the established framework in order to stand out in the strong global game market.
Different products looking for different positioning
The title of this article is called “Call of Duty OL is dead, Call of Duty OL lives forever! The reason for this title is that although Call of Duty OL did not become a phenomenon, many of its ideas, designs, and frameworks have deeply influenced the development of subsequent Call of Duty titles.
The game’s platforming, tactical competition mode, dynamic lobby and winner’s circle, bridge the gap between modes, season design, and so on. It is also important to note that the Call of Duty Online development experience has heavily influenced Call of Duty Mobile.
It is important to know that Call of Duty Online was not officially tested until 2015, while in the same year, Crossfire: Kings of Guns had already started a large-scale test for players and was officially launched in early 2016.
Because of its experience in making handheld games, Activision thought Tencent would be an excellent choice to make Call of Duty Handheld, and both Tamiami and Photon were interested in Call of Duty Handheld and developed two highly finished prototypes in less than a month.
It is worth mentioning that Tamiami chose to make a multiplayer mode demo, while Photon chose a single-player campaign. Combined with the experience of Call of Duty OL, Activision finally chose Tamiami to produce Call of Duty Handheld.
Also because of Call of Duty OL, Activision and Tamiami decided to make Call of Duty Handheld in the same framework as Call of Duty OL, without the single-player campaign, focusing entirely on PVP mode, and without tying Call of Duty Handheld to any sub-series of COD.
This choice allows the production team to be free from the constraints of creating customized content for players in different countries and regions, and can even be used to promote the launch of the COD franchise. TMI even went so far as to directly port the tactical competitive mode of Crossfire: Gunfight Kings to Call of Duty Handheld.
The result is obvious, according to the “call of duty OL” operation idea design “call of duty hand game” although failed to win in the domestic market “crossfire: gun battle king” performance, in the field overseas has achieved great success. And Call of Duty Mobile also assumes a similar role as a platform in the whole series, more players will be exposed to the whole series through Call of Duty Mobile and become its fans.
This likewise gives us the idea to build a series of products, sometimes when designing cross-platform games, it is not always necessary to ensure that the content of the game is exactly equivalent. For example, handheld games offer a lighter, more casual experience, while relatively deep content gameplay can be designed for a console or PC.
The work is divided between different platforms, with mobile expanding the breadth of users and console and PC showing the depth of gameplay. Within the same IP, it is not necessary to adopt different gameplay categories for each product but making differences in content is sometimes a very cost-effective solution.