Blackout’s Long-Term Future Is a Problem for Activision

The decision to focus purely on multiplayer in Call of Duty Black Ops 4 seems to have paid off for Activision. Not only is the first-person shooter putting up major sales numbers that total over half a billion, but the reception from fans has been very positive. One of the biggest drawing points has been its battle royale mode, Blackout, which was lauded in our review for “nailing the scale, intensity, and satisfaction that the best games in the genre boast.”

While Blackout is undoubtedly a success so far for Treyarch, its long-term future is a murky one. Up until this point Call of Duty has adhered to a very successful formula where they deliver a new game each year, and that’s unlikely to change considering how much money there is to be made by a new $60 entry. So, what happens to Call of Duty‘s battle royale mode come next year?

There Are Many Options

black ops 4 blackout free to play

The answer is currently unknown, but I see a couple different options that Activision can go with. The first would be to slowly stop supporting the mode with updates and replace it with another battle royale offering in 2019. That seems like a tremendous amount of work to do on a yearly basis, but it’s the philosophy that Call of Duty has built itself on. They replace everything full-scale each year, and then players fork over their $60 in return.

What seems less likely is that the current Blackout mode would return in next year’s game. Despite complaints that the series doesn’t change enough from game to game, veteran Call of Duty players know how each of the three developers put slightly different touches on how Call of Duty looks and operates. It simply wouldn’t make sense to have one game mode have a different feel to it than the rest of the game.

What Activision could do is double-down on the current battle royale mode and have Treyarch constantly support the mode with updates and fresh content until its popularity wanes. This seems like the most logical move, but it’s not one without some drawbacks. Activision might be wary about giving long support to one of its yearly titles as it may dissuade users from buying that year’s game. It also takes away resources that could be used on Treyarch’s next Call of Duty title in 2021.

Not a single option is the cut and dry right move here since the situation is quite complicated. One thing that is clear is that Activision’s competitors in the battle royale space will only have to worry about adding to their current products rather than figuring out how to get their fans to buy a new one every year. Fortnite has done an excellent job of keeping things fresh by adding new wrinkles every season, and PUBG has added new maps and modes over time. This long-term support builds player loyalty, and it is only natural that gamers would want to play the battle royale that they are most invested in. If they have to start from scratch each year with Call of Duty then why would they bother?

Is Blackout Free-to-Play the Answer?

black ops 4 blackout free to play

A potential solution is to bust Black Ops 4‘s battle royale mode into a standalone free-to-play title in the future. If the plan is to compete with Fortnite‘s huge market share, this is really the only way to gain such a massive audience. It’s a risky move, and one that would undoubtedly upset some of the players that already purchased the game (although surely they could be pacified by being given some in-game extras for being a veteran player), but it’s a serious option.

It’d also mark Activision-Blizzard’s first major free-to-play move on consoles. The publisher has had success in that realm with Hearthstone and Candy Crush in the past, but they’ve never done the same on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. This could serve as a test for the publisher, and open up a potentially highly profitable line of revenue for the company.

As far as risk goes, if Call of Duty invests too much on one title (or in this case a game mode), they risk losing the very customers that have made their yearly release schedule such a success. Why would they purchase another shooter if the battle royale mode they mostly play is already available and still getting updated?

There is no clear answer for what the future of Blackout holds, but that’s exactly why it’s such an interesting situation. No matter what Activision does, some fans will be disappointed and others will cheer. It’s putting the mega-publisher in a situation where they can try to create a phenomenon or continue with the status quo. Either way, the fallout will wind up being quite the scene and I can’t wait to see it all unfold in 2019.