Happy Friday, dear people, and welcome to the third and final installment in our 3-part series on what Call of Duty has to do to stay dominant over the next few years in the first-person shooter market.
Here's the basic idea here; for the first time in years, analysts are starting to banter around the fact that Call of Duty may be on a decline. The numbers suggest that 2013 may not be a year of sales on the same level as previous iterations of the multi-billion dollar franchise. Everyone has known that the cash cow that is Call of Duty would dry up eventually, try as Activision might to squeeze every drop from those wasted teats.
Is it finally time to put Call of Duty out to pasture?
Odds are that, no, this franchise isn't going to suffer a devastating drop in sales or units shipped this year or anytime in the next few years, but why not hypothesize? It has to happen sometime, so we've been taking a look at what the folks at Activision and the Call of Duty studios need to do to ensure that their downfall doesn't arrive prematurely.
In the first column, I focused on innovation and how Call of Duty needs to shake the foundation a bit in order to keep people interested. The second area that I focused on is community created content. Both of these are areas pivotal to any modern first-person shooter if longevity, a superior user experience and quality games are the goal.
Today, I want to take a look at the third and final pillar that I believe Call of Duty should be rebuilt upon; Connectivity.
First and foremost, let us never again see a Call of Duty game ship without dedicated servers. Dedicated servers, on every single platform, without question, regardless of the expenses of running them.
Client-server connectivity is a joke in a competitive multiplayer game. I have said this for years; if you're serious about multiplayer in your game, use dedicated servers. Doubtless you've heard the term 'getting host' in Call of Duty, but maybe you've wondered what it means?
In a nutshell, here is how Call of Duty works on consoles (and on PC in some cases) at present:
Let's take Xbox Live as the example. On this platform, there are no full-time servers present, dedicated to doing nothing but hosting a game of Call of Duty. Instead, a matchmaking service is used in-game to connect players and choose one player to be the server, known commonly as the host. Ideally, this player is the one with the best connection but if you've played Call of Duty even once, you'll understand that this isn't always the case.
The problem here is that the host experiences zero latency or discrepancy in what they see on their display and what the actual game state represents. Simply put, when you see a player and get killed instantaneously, what really happened here is that on the hosts television or monitor, they had already seen you and reacted, before you even knew they were there.
In a game that is supposed to be skill-based, where does the skill come into play when connectivity is the highest authority?
Now, for contrast, let's look at how dedicated servers work. In Battlefield 3, across all platforms, players in a match are all connected to the same, unbiased and (ideally) neutrally located dedicated server. This server has one job in life and that is to provide a latency free experience for players in that region. Everyone is on an even footing, connection-wise, before the match ever begins.
This isn't even to touch on the community building that a dedicated server can foster. Case in point, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare: when I first started playing Chivalry, I quickly realized that Duel Mode was the game type for me. The problem was that it wasn't properly supported in the game yet.
Browsing the (dedicated) servers, I came across a duel-only server and joined it.
Within weeks, that was the only server that I played in Chivalry and I came to know those guys and looked forward to seeing who was online when I hopped on to play. A community was formed around this server and the common ground we all felt for duel mode.
This is fundamentally impossible without dedicated servers, because it's essentially a toss-up as to where matchmaking takes you and who ends up in your lobby. To be fair, you can access the friends list in-game and add them to your list but that sense of community simply doesn't exist in the same fashion without dedicated game servers.
To me, this is a must for Call of Duty. Without proper connectivity solutions, you can have all the innovation in the world and nobody is going to play your game. Right now, Call of Duty connectivity is acceptable, only because there is no other alternative if this is your series of choice.
It is not our belief that players should be forced to accept anything less than the absolute best, simply because the publisher or developers doesn't choose to invest the time, money and energy into providing something superior. In the interest of fairness, we do want to note that dedicated servers are usually the norm on Call of Duty on PC. There have been exceptions in the past, but typically speaking you can use dedicated servers on PC.
Tell me this; would you accept your full-price drink at a bar if it came filled only a third of the way up the glass? Chances are you would look the bartender in the eye and request the rest of your drink, arguing that since you paid full price you should get the full product.
Why don't we have that attitude when it comes to games?