The past two days have seen interesting reports coming from the direction of Call of Duty and Battlefield, arguably two of the industry’s largest and most venerable shooter franchises.
It seems that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may be ditching the single-player campaign entirely, despite it being a stalwart feature of the series’ annual releases for over a decade. Word broke out via a report from Polygon's Chris Plante, which was corroborated by Stephen Totilo at Kotaku. Instead, the game might be getting a battle royale mode, the last man standing mode that’s been taking gaming by storm for the past year, i.e. the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Activision isn’t the only studio that wants a piece of the battle royale action. VentureBeat’s Jeff Grubb reports that DICE is currently prototyping a battle royale mode for Battlefield V, the next installment in the Battlefield series. While both EA and Activision declined to comment on these reports, these rumors, if true, give indication that a battle royale gold rush is definitely on. Even if neither game implements such modes at launch, you can bet they’ll emerge as some kind of post-launch update.
To be honest, this seems like a bit of trend chasing, and popular wisdom holds that if you’re trying to play catch up with the hot new thing you’ve already lost. Still, battle royale modes represent an emerging shift in tastes with regards to what players want from multiplayer shooter experiences, and neither EA nor Activision wants to look like the publisher that’s ignoring it, whether as a market opportunity or as a look they must maintain for their stockholders.
That being said, it’s long odds against them being able to unseat PUBG, let alone Fortnite. EA will have to act very decisively if it has any hope of being competitive, and the publisher has struggled in the past to catch up with emerging genres. In 2014, EA cancelled its MOBA Dawngate when their metrics revealed that the it wouldn’t have the pull in the numbers they wanted. Activision has a much more conservative track record, but has a powerful marketing presence in their favor.
That being said, it’s only a matter of time before a publisher like EA, Activision or even Ubisoft lands a hit with battle royale. For now, few can tell which of them will land that hit, and which of them will generate a misfire.