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Fixing the Call of Duty Franchise in Five Simple Steps

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Call of Duty. Those three words either get you excited or draw your hatred out. Without a doubt, Call of Duty is the biggest first person shooter game in the history of video games. Like it or not, Call of Duty is bigger then Halo, bigger then Battlefield, bigger then Medal of Honor. Call of Duty has become the go to game for first person shooter fans, and the sales prove it.

Ever since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, gamers have flocked year after year to the newest Call of Duty game. You were always guaranteed a smooth game-play engine, with better than average graphics and an addicting online multiplayer.

Two development houses have been handling the Call of Duty franchise for Activision since Call of Duty 2 launched in 2005. Infinity Ward and Treyarch would take turns each year releasing their new game. In a way, the COD franchise has been like EA’s Madden or FIFA, there’s always a new game with a few differences but typically, it’s the same game year after year.

That hasn’t stopped Call of Duty from being successful, take a look at these stats:

As of November 11, 2011, the Call of Duty series has sold over 100 million copies.
As of March 31, 2012 there are 40 million monthly active players across all of the Call of Duty titles.
Call of Duty: Elite has 10 million users of the online service.
Over 1.6 billion hours of online game play have been logged on Modern Warfare 3 since its 2011 release.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) grossed $310 million in one day.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) grossed $360 million in one day.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011) grossed $400 million in one day
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012) grossed over $500 million in one day.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013) shipped over $1 billion worth of units to retail in one day.

I’m sure you noticed that there are no sales figures for Call of Duty: Ghosts. While Activision, publisher of the game, is touting how much it shipped to retailers, they’ve yet to release any hard sales figures. During an investor call, they even commented on the figures saying they were less than expected, due to the next generation of consoles launching. This would make sense if they hadn’t launched the game on both current and last gen, leaving out a portion of the fan-base.

Instead, Activision released Call of Duty across every system they could, from the Xbox 360 to the PS4. Heck even the Wii U, the system that no one even admits exists, got a port of Call of Duty: Ghosts. Blaming a console launch for your game not selling like usual is far-fetched in the eyes of this writer. I’d say if you had to blame something, or someone, blame the developers. I mean, they are making the games, so they’re responsible.

Each year, with each new game, hopes are brought up for fans, and in some cases those hopes are realized, and in other cases, well more and more players are turning away from the franchise. Ghost’s lack of sales numbers proves that. So, what is Activision going to do to get back their golden goose and egg? Are they going to take a year or two off from releasing the games, as many fans and haters have called for? Are they going to go back to the drawing board and revamp the franchise? Are they going to turn to the fans to see what they want, take their opinions and use them in some way?

Jesus no, why would they do any of that? Activision’s answer to the Call of Duty sales slump, which we should remind you has only been for one game, is to hire MORE people to make the games.

That’s right, a third development house is now working on the Call of Duty franchise. News came out a few weeks ago during the Activision investors call that Sledgehammer Games will not only be working on the Call of Duty franchise, but will handle this years Call of Duty release. You’ll remember Sledgehammer Games as the gents who stepped in and finished Modern Warfare 3 when their top names left the company to form Respawn Entertainment.

Originally, 2014 was slated to be Treyarch’s year for Call of Duty, and we may have well gotten Black Ops 3. Now however, that’s off the table. Black Ops 3 will have to wait until 2015, with Infinity Ward getting their next game out in 2016, and Sledgehammer again in 2017.

I’ve been a long time fan of Call of Duty, and yes I’ve played them year in and year out. I’ve sat in the cold for midnight launches and lost upwards of ten hours a day playing the games. I’ve put in months, close to years at this point, in the multiplayer. There are several things I love about the series, and of course, several things I hate. So I’m well versed in the series and can think of a few things that would change the game up and give us something new.

Rather then just take my ideas and write them down, I spent the last month reading message boards, comment sections on COD articles, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and even 4chan, just to see what everyone wants. What is the general consensus from fans about what should change, what should be introduced, and what should stay the same? I’ve taken all of the ideas, whittled them down to five, and fleshed them out.

Bare in mind that some of the ideas, while I do agree with, I just couldn’t accept because the complaints are not exactly game-breaking. No, I don’t like quickscopping, but that’s more of a personal complaint rather than one that would help the franchise overall. Although I’ll be honest, I’d pay double for a game without sniper rifles at all.

So, let’s get to it. Here are the Top Five Ways to fix Call of Duty:

5. Skill Based Matchmaking (online) - The majority of Call of Duty games, when played online, have not used any type of skill matchmaking. Typically you’re paired up with people around you to allow for a good connection. Call of Duty: Ghosts has tried to implement skill based matchmaking, but it’s not quite accurate.

Far too often, you’ll find yourself as a level thirty, playing against people who have prestiged three or four times. These people have an advantage over you, no matter how good you are, because they’ve had time to learn the maps and weapons and perks. Yes, you can hold your own depending on your skill, but you’ll struggle the entire time.

Halo is a series that’s used skilled matchmaking, and the game is better for it. I’ve never played a game of Halo with people more than five levels higher than myself. The playing field is always level, and I can honestly say I’ve never raged quit a Halo game due to other players stomping me to pieces.

Call of Duty needs to follow this path. Keep the playing field level, and players will stick with the game and keep coming back for more. Want people to prestige? They will with a good skill based system in place. Many people don’t prestige because they lose all the weapons and perks and have higher based players going against them, so why risk it? Of course the fun in prestiging is showing you have the ability to do it all over again.

With skill based matchmaking, more people would be playing and the playing field would be leveled for everyone.

4. Downloadable weapons (online/offline) - With each Call of Duty game, we get new weapons, and old weapons that get a new look or slight revamp. This is great, as it allows each game to stand on its own in terms of weapons and be different. For example, the Famas in Modern Warfare 2 was a three round burst assault rifle, but in Black Ops the Famas was fully automatic with a slightly different look.

The problem is, with people prestiging so many times (be it ten, fifteen, or twenty), the weapons start to become…well, old. It gets boring after a while using the same weapons over and over again. Downloadable weapons would help curb this issue, and keep current players playing and bring others back.

The Call of Duty series first dabbled with downloadable weapons with Black Ops 2 in 2012. They had one SMG, the Peacekeeper, that came bundled with some new maps. Call of Duty: Ghosts just recently released two guns for download, and both of them have sold pretty good.

So why can’t we make this a regular occurrence?

There’s no reason why new weapons can’t be introduced through DLC, none. Other shooter games have had new weapons join the field, meanwhile COD continues to ignore the feature, and even when it did start falling in line with other games, they’ve barely scratched the surface on introducing new weapons. Instead we get DLC skins for our guns, effectively making the challenges to get gun skins useless since we can just buy other ones.

I say, once every two months release a new weapon. You could give us a weapon from each class every two months. Start with an assault rifle and work your way down to side arm. Price them at about five bucks a pop and you’ll clean up.

3. Dedicated Servers (online) - This is a huge one across the message boards and comment sections. Huge. Over the years, Call of Duty players have struggled with connection problems thanks to the host of the match either dropping out or losing connection. This in turn means the match has to end and everyone loses out on the game they were playing. Thankfully Treyarch and Infinity Ward worked on this issue and sort of fixed it with host migration, should the host drop out of the game.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough. There are still many, many times where games are lost, along with valuable XP and frustrated gamers are left to do everything all over again. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not asking for the XP we’re losing to be given to use automatically, instead we’re asking for dedicated servers to help the problem.

The PC community has dedicated servers, and while it has not completely fixed the problem, it’s a giant step in the right direction. We get it, connection issues are going to happen, there’s no sure-fire way to stop them all. Dedicated servers however, would help big time. The problem with the way the game works now is that it relies on user connections to run the games, so if someone has a crap connection or quits out of rage or whatever, the game can and most likely will be lost.

The amount of money Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch have made via Call of Duty is staggering. Dedicated servers should not only be obvious, it’s something they could easily do for gamers around the world.

2. Scale down the campaign (offline) - The campaign of Call of Duty, once the bread and butter of the franchise, is now little more than an afterthought. Fans used to get excited about the single player, hell both Treyarch and Infinity Ward used to put a lot of stock in the single player. Remember how great Call of Duty 4′s single player was? Crawling through the grass as a sniper with tanks around you and trying to not be spotted ranks up there as one of the best levels in video game history.

Call of Duty: World at War took us back to World War 2, and managed to make it interesting again in the face of so many WW2 shooters, getting Jack Bauer himself to provide a voice, and Black Ops had Ice Cube behind the mic. Black Ops allowed you to play as President Kennedy, Nixon, or Fidel Castro and kill zombies! These single player portions were just as memorable as the multiplayer, and often times you’d find yourself having to decide what to play first and finish first.

So what happened? As the games continued to roll out, the story, the settings, the wars became bigger and bigger, and reached a level of ridiculousness that’s just off the charts. Years ago fans joked about Call of Duty in space, and sure as shit Ghosts took us into space. It actually dipped into Halo territory. Story lines became passe, with plot twists seen a mile away. Set pieces became so big and so normal, that it’s easy not to care about what’s going on around you. The earlier games had characters you cared about, and moments you’d never forget, like mowing down people in an AC-130.

The next game(s) need to scale down the story lines. Instead of having a global conflict, which has become the norm, bring it back down to a local conflict. Why do we need to have a full-scale war going on for a Call of Duty game? Why can’t we have a story that keeps us in one place, dealing with a threat that is local yet just a lethal? Could be dealing with terrorist hiding in some large city, or you could have a group that isn’t linked to a foreign country being the bad guys.

My personal suggestion is having a group of soldiers, who operate off the radar, being sent into Mexico to rescue some top ranking military general’s daughter or wife. You always hear horror stories about Mexico being the kidnapping capital of the world. Hell, you could have soldiers going up against the cartel, whose influence in Mexico is huge. These ideas can give you plenty of action, plenty of set pieces, and plenty of story depth that you don’t need to have some global scale conflict.

Another suggestion is to have one main character that the player would control. Call of Duty games over the years have taken the player through a number of characters, and early on it was easy to keep up with everything and care about who you were playing as. These days, things flip so much it’s hard to keep track who you are and what you’re fighting for. Scale down the scope of the story, scale down the characters, and make the player care more.

1. Introduce RPG Elements (online/offline) - This idea comes directly from games like Fallout and Skyrim, where using certain weapons or items constantly makes you better at using them overall. This in turn gives you a reason to care about your character, rather than him/her being just a body to get shot in.

There is a catch however, to make sure people aren’t abusing the system and making super soldiers, you can only choose three of nine skills. Should you want to use the other skills, you’ll have to use a new character. Each skill has five levels (with the fifth level being the max), with the skills increasing by twenty percent with each level (Level 1 = 20%, Level 2 = 40%, so on).

Here are nine examples of skills that can be leveled up and the effects of leveling them up:

  • Sleight of Hand – The more you reload, the faster your reload time becomes. You are a master at reloading, and your speed reflects this. With each Level, starting at Level One, you get 20% faster at reloading. Reaching Level Five (1000 reloads) means you can reload five times faster than the average player, akin to having Sleight of Hand Pro.
  • Lightweight - You’re constantly on the move, never camping, and always flanking. Because of this, you can move much faster than normal people. You’re a lean moving map knowing machine. Level up this perk to Level Five, and you’ll have the equivalent to Leightweight Pro, and move five times faster than the average player.
  • Stalker - You don’t hip fire, you prefer to line up your targets with your iron sights, Red Dot, or Scope before squeezing off a few rounds. Moving like this becomes second nature to you, and after 5KM (1KM for each level), you’re able to move at normal speed when aiming down the sights.
  • Steady Aim – You rarely aim down the sights, constantly using an SMG or Shotgun to clear rooms. Of course, you need to be close for hip fire to work, and as long as you get in close, your aim will be sure. Level up this skill by connecting with your hip fire up to Level Five, and your steady aim will be 100% better than the standard player.
  • Marathon – You don’t just move around the map, you move around the map. Constantly running and gunning, always holding down that stick to sprint. Because of all this running, you’ve become great at it. Level up this perk by running five miles (1 mile per level), and you’ll have unlimited sprint.
  • Danger Close - You love the BOOM, and use grenades, rocket launchers, C4 and other explosives constantly. Because of this, you’ve gotten quite good at placing your explosives correctly for the maximum effect. Level up this skill by landing explosive kills (fifty kills per level) and your explosives damage will increase (20% per level). This skill has a bonus as well, because you know explosives, you also know how to get away from them. Explosive damage is lessened by half once you’ve maxed out this skill.
  • Commando – You run, but you don’t gun, no you prefer to get your kills up close and personal with your knife. Because you use your knife a lot, you’ve gotten quite good at lunging at your enemy and burying your blade deep in their pie hole. Level up this skill with successive knife attacks (100 per level), and your stab becomes faster and more deadly than the standard player. A bonus is giving with maxing out this perk, you’ll take no falling damage at Level Five.
  • Scout - You’re a sniper, and you’ve gotten used to holding your breath and getting that one sweet shot that everyone else wants. Over time, you’ve become a master at holding your breath and squeezing that trigger. Max out this skill with succesful one shot, one kill deaths, and not only will you be able to hold your breath much longer than normal, but you’ll have zero sway with your cross hairs when scooped in. Note: Auto-aim is disabled when using Sniper Rifles.
  • Quickdraw – You’re not a gunslinger, but you could have been in a past life. You like to draw and draw early, aiming down your sights is second nature and partner, you do it faster than anyone else! Max out this skill, and you’ll not only ready up your gun instantly after sprinting, you’ll aim down your sights faster than anyone else.

Now that we know another development house is in charge of the franchise, there’s a hope that things will change, that innovation will come to the series, that some new blood will help out. Fans are going to get their hopes up again, and with any luck, Sledgehammer Games will come through this November.

However, what happens if it’s more of the same? Has the Call of Duty bubble burst? Ghosts has seen a decline in sales, will fans return for the next game? What about the other titles out on the market by then, like Titanfall and Destiny? Can Call of Duty make a comeback, or is it all done for? We’ll find out in November.

Stay frosty.

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