Call of Duty, first released in 2003, has held true to its well-received, formulaic multiplayer mode for the past six years. It started in 2007 with Infinity Ward's massive hit, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and since then each successive release has witnessed only minor changes from its predecessors.
What if the next generation were to change that? Suppose Activision decided to reach out to the community for new, innovative ideas that would alter, or even dismantle, the moneymaking formula that it has clung to for so long? What would you ask for?
While many Call of Duty fans would love to see the game continue down its current path, there is a large share of gamers who think differently, and would love to see a next-generation Call of Duty that strays from monotony and tries something new. Those are the gamers I've been searching for over the past several days. I've scavenged the web and asked our community what they'd enjoy seeing in the series.
Some of the changes below may never see the light of day, despite their feasibility, but these are the changes that long-time Call of Duty fans are demanding. If the franchise wants to keep its bandwagon in the coming generation, it should:
1. Add Dedicated Servers
Any long-time Call of Duty fan knows that the franchise has struggled, especially near launch, with matchmaking issues. Despite continued efforts by fans to convince Activision and developers to implement dedicated servers, each game has released absent of any such feature, albeit with "new and improved" servers and matchmaking.
Unfortunately, the most recent installment--Black Ops II--launched with countless matchmaking errors that made the game unplayable for some. Often times, online matches wouldn't initiate because the server failed to realize a lobby was full, displaying the "Waiting for one more player..." notice indefinitely. Considering the gravity of any Call of Duty release (Black Ops II sold 7.5 million copies on launch day, an industry record), these brief periods of unplayability ignited widespread criticism.
How would dedicated servers solve this? For those who don't know, a dedicated server is much like adding an invisible, inactive player to a lobby that serves as the host. This means that instances of a user with poor connecting hosting a lobby, a host leaving the ground out of rage, and other such issues experienced frequently by Call of Duty fans would be eliminated. In their place would be more reliable servers and therefore the potential for an effective matchmaking system.
I'm inclined to agree with the portion of the community who claim that dedicated servers are not impractical for the series to adopt. Many popular FPS titles have already made the leap, most notably Call of Duty's main competitor Battlefield.
2. Make Call of Duty a Massively Multiplayer Online title (MMO)
Let's face it--console gamers have been given the shaft as far as MMOFPSs are concerned. Sony and Zipper Interactive's MAG generated a considerable amount of hype through a splendid advertising campaign, and even received generally positive reviews in early 2010, but the anticipation quickly turned to disappointment, and the hype quickly declined in light of November 2010's impending release of Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Gamers have a variety of theories on why MAG failed to retain a large, thriving community. Some claim that the idea for the game, while brimming with potential, ultimately failed because the environment failed to foster an MMO experience. While there might have been 256 players in a match, these gamers argue that it often didn't feel that way, especially given the disregard many players had toward any sort of strategy. Other players believe that MAG's rapid decline was spurred by the existence of the three game factions: SVER, Valor, and Raven. Because the three factions were placed in global competition with one another, players would often join the winning faction (SVER) to reap the rewards of victory. Consequently, match variety was sorely lacking.
Many of the issues that plagued MAG could easily be overcome by the Call of Duty franchise, however. To start, the expectations of a Call of Duty MMO would be vastly different from the expectations of a MAG MMO. MAG made a great many promises, depicting a game that was strategy-heavy and epic in scale. When the strategy element couldn't hold its ground, factions began to decay, and environments lacked any MMO spark, MAG quickly fell short on its promises. But Call of Duty gamers already know that the strategy element of their game is almost nonexistent outside of close-knit clans, and factions exist in a more peripheral fashion than in MAG.
Therefore, the Call of Duty franchise has the potential to become an MMO while preserving the core experience. The reintroduction of vehicles would be a good start, and Black Ops II seemed to test the waters with many controllable mobile gadgets. Still, the transition to MMO gameplay would be a large shift, and it's clear that Activision is very weary of doing anything that might upset some long-time fans. Ultimately, gamers will have to look elsewhere for a console MMOFPS, like to CCP's DUST 514.
3. A New and Improved Campaign
Ironically, Infinity Ward and Treyarch's adoption of a modern and futuristic setting is largely due to user demand. After all, every Call of Duty title leading up to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had been set during World War II, and this was also true of many other series. The FPS community was clearly fatigued, and so gamers soon saw Call of Duty visit modern times, 1970s Vietnam, and the not-so-distant future.
Unfortunately for developers, this type of demand that comes back every several years. The idea of a modern setting was enticing six years ago, but is quickly becoming stale. I gladly welcome Treyarch, who has only just hopped into the future with Black Ops II, to continue down its road for another release or so, but Infinity Ward has reached an expiration date on its modern-day setting.
There are several different directions that Infinity Ward could go--in fact, the studio could revert back to World War II. That time period has been given time to breathe, and it could be interesting to see the types of WWII experiences that could be created with next-gen technology. World War I could also offer some compelling gameplay.
Admittedly, the selection of a time period is difficult, as many conflicts in the past one hundred years have been covered, and anything past that may only appeal to a more historically inclined audience. But this doesn't mean there is no room for improvement. As community member DarkVincent07 pointed out, the changes to the campaign could be more gameplay-oriented: fewer scripted scenes, larger and more dynamic maps, and more vehicle usage. Users GunTeng and Venger suggested the adoption of more dynamic narratives, with multiple paths available for any given situation and notable consequences for players' decisions.
There's plenty of room for improvement in Call of Duty's single-player campaigns, and the changes could be warmly received. Black Ops II attempted to create a different campaign experience with the addition of side missions, and the campaign-playing portion of the Call of Duty community is usually more open to change than the entrenched multiplayer base.
The community has spoken. The likelihood of any substantial changes to the award-winning formulaic multiplayer that has prevailed over the last several years is low, but there is hope: It had been presumed that Infinity Ward's next installment in the series would be a continuation of their Modern Warfare sub-series, but recent rumors and speculation concerning Call of Duty: Ghosts implies that the developer is going to take a new path for their next title.
Steven Chaffin is a US Staff Writer for PlayStation Universe who has invested (too much) time into the Call of Duty franchise. While he currently frequents DICE's Battlefield more often, he's always looking for a good team to take on endless hoards of zombies in Treyarch's "Zombies". You can follow Steven on Twitter.