Some less than pleasant rumors have swirled around Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 over the last few weeks, namely that it will lack the traditional single-player campaign due to a troubled development cycle. Judging by comments Activision Blizzard made during its most recent earnings call, however, the publisher may already be gearing up to spin that surprising omission as something positive.
In response to a question about how Black Ops 4 would differ from previous entries in the series, Activision Blizzard president and COO Coddy Johnson touched repeatedly on Treyarch’s ability to push first-person shooters forward with new ideas. “It’s an incredible developer with a deep understanding of the community and the first-person genre, but also a real proven track record of innovation, including Zombies and multiple multiplayer innovations that have really transformed the industry,” Johnson said. You’ll notice that his list of areas in which Treyarch has innovated doesn’t actually mention campaign, which the publisher has touted as one of the three main pillars of Call of Duty in prior years.
But the more telling remark might be what Johnson said immediately prior to this:
You know, as we speak, there’s millions of people playing in the Black Ops franchise right now. It kind of relates to the second advantage, which is what we see from those billions of hours of gameplay, where we get to see in depth in real time what really enagages our players. Black Ops 4 builds on all that, and on everything Treyarch has learned about what players love to play.
If you assume that Black Ops 4 is indeed killing off the traditional campaign, you don’t have to read too far between the lines to see the spin here. Activision and its stable of developers have access to tons of data on where players spend most of their time in the game, and they’re building Black Ops 4 around the areas people care about most. In other words, if Activision’s data shows that most people don’t spend that much time playing campaign, it’s perfectly justified in removing it to focus on areas where players do spend their time.
Of course, that the argument is obvious speaks nothing to its merits. It’s obvious that something as infinitely variable as multiplayer will get more total playtime than a relatively short, story-based experience. There’s no way of teasing out exactly how much or how many Call of Duty fans factor the enjoyment they get out of playing the campaign once into their decision to buy each year’s game, mainly because there’s never been a mainline Call of Duty game with no campaign.
As for the other portion of the rumors, that Black Ops 4 is aiming to include a battle royale mode, there’s some support for the idea in this earnings call as well. Activision touched repeatedly on the influence battle royale’s popularity has had on its plans for future games, and it also noted that popular games like Fortnite may serve as gateway for players who don’t usually play shooters. In discussing Black Ops 4, Johnson specifically noted that Treyarch is working to deliver “gameplay, features, and modes” that will please both existing players and “a significant number of new players that are coming into the shooter genre.”
And while I’ll fully acknowledge that this next point is total Alex Jones–level crazy talk, if you listen to the call for yourself, you can hear that Johnson really seems to place an added emphasis on the word “modes,” both in his response to this question and his earlier prepared remarks on Black Ops 4. It really feels like he’s trying to say something without saying it, and it’s reasonable to assume he’s hinting at a battle royale mode as a way to assure investors Activision doesn’t plan on letting Call of Duty miss out on gaming’s latest big fad.
Then again, any such emphasis might also be a way to signal that an existing mode, campaign, isn’t being cut. Maybe he’s trying to indicate the rumors are just that: rumors. That seems unlikely, given the depth of the reporting we’ve seen on this story, but there is at least one pro Call of Duty player who thinks the recent reports of troubled development are bunk.
We’re sure to find out a lot more during the Black Ops 4‘s global reveal event, which kicks off at 10 a.m. PT on May 17th.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launches on October 12th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.