Yesterday, rumors began circulating that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 wouldn’t have a single player campaign, due to a hold-up behind the scenes, and it was planning to fill the gap with a battle royale mode, co-op missions, players enjoying Zombies on their lonesome, and, of course, multiplayer. Surely that’s enough game for anybody, right? Perhaps. But it’s not a slam dunk, and if it does turn out to be true, it may lock out a group of fans.
One can argue that the single-player experience is changing. There’s no lack of great single-player games, of course, but the boundary of what “single player” is is expanding. Destiny, Activision’s other big FPS franchise, can be played on its own, but it’s part of a persistent online world that sees other players zipping by and flitting in and out of conflicts, with Ubisoft’s The Division working the same way.
Grand Theft Auto V started as a deep single-player adventure, but its online multiplayer is what made it an even bigger financial behemoth. Far Cry 5 is heavily geared for you to have a buddy along and will fill it in with an AI companion if you can’t find one. And, of course, multiplayer games are enormously popular, as the Call of Duty franchise can attest.
But the flip side of this is that quite a few major games that were multiplayer-only at first quickly walked that back. Titanfall did without single-player, and fan objections were so loud, they came back with one of the best single-player shooters of the year in Titanfall 2. Star Wars: Battlefront returned as multiplayer only and quickly added a single-player mode to its sequel. And we’ve seen persistent-world and multiplayer-only games like No Man’s Sky and Evolve arrive and just as quickly fade.
Multiplayer-only games have a fundamental problem in that they have a higher barrier to access. It’s not just that you need to spend a few hundred dollars on a game system or high-end PC, and then another $60 on a game, which already limits your audience. You also need to buy PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold. Granted, those services come with plenty of extras, but while Sony and Microsoft both jealously guard their numbers, it’s clear that the majority of gamers don’t subscribe to these services.
So for any franchise or would-be franchise, it becomes a question of numbers. Are there enough gamers who can afford to play your game in the first place, and who actually want to pay the $60 to play it? In the case of Call of Duty, the answer is almost certainly yes. Multiplayer is the main draw for many fans, after all. But at the same time, some gamers are almost certainly going to be left out if the rumors are true. It may not affect the bottom line, but it will likely leave some feeling left out of the fun.