Call of Duty: The MMO

By Alec Meer on March 5th, 2008 at 3:27 pm.

Nazis FTW, etc. It’s only been raised as the faintest of possibilities so far, but it’s a fairly tantalising prospect. More so than a straight COD5, at any rate.

“When you think about other properties that we own and control like Call of Duty, and what would be the natural evolution of a property like Call of Duty into a massively multiplayer environment…how do you monetize that?”

I’d imagine Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, for those corp-o-words were his, is thinking more along the lines of a Battlefield Heroes model than a WoW one – profit from character persistence rather than asking a sub for an online world per se. A money-tinged embiggening of the ranking and unlock system already seen in COD4 seems pretty logical. Speaking of BF Heroes, it’s possible such talk is as much part of the natural call, response and plagiarism cycles this industry so often moves in as it is the Blizzard merger flagging up the importance of massively multiplayer to Activision.

Still, we’re all looking for the malnourished spectre of Planetside to be reborn into some new and beautiful online FPS world – perhaps a big, respected name like COD is our best hope.

So, World War II or Modern Combat? I can probably guess what you’re going to say.

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26 Comments »

  1. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    Planetside 2? OOOhhh…*faints*.

  2. Alex says:

    Aah… nothing gets the ol’ gaming juices flowing like saying “how do you monetize that”..

  3. Tak says:

    @Alex: 100% agree

    Eh…more and more I’m off of subscription based gaming as a whole, so count me out. The pay-for-perk stuff is OK as the paying is entirely optional (aside from buying the game in some cases) but they have to be careful to keep paid for items being the powerful end-all be-all or else it becomes haves vs. have nots (or will-spends vs. will-nots, rather). Note this balance concern really doesn’t count in PVE games, but in PVP it will make the difference between a healthy player-base or a small insane base of ‘those guys’.

    And don’t f’n put adds in it unless it’s free as in speech and beer. :p The ‘Hauw we iz mayc muneez?’ bit means adds most likely. CoD4 impressed, especially the multiplayer, and was a nice surprise, but I still remain skeptical.

  4. Jay says:

    I don’t see this working to be honest

  5. Bob from Accounting says:

    Can we say World War II Online.

    http://www.playnet.com/scripts/wwiionline/be_info.jsp

  6. weegosan says:

    i know the graphics are mediochre at best and it can be confusing and random as hell, but theres something about wwiionline that i still find pretty breath-taking.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    Hot, hot monetization.

  8. Nick says:

    I actually clicked specifically on this article merely to register my displeasure at the word ‘monetize’, but I see you fine gentlemen beat me to it.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s odd. Weaponize is an awesome word, but monetarize is horrible. English, eh?

    KG

  10. weegosan says:

    burglurize, however, is an abomination.

  11. Kareem says:

    Bastardize?

  12. Okami says:

    At last, instanced Middle East! Let’s go raid Iraq, I’ve heard those civilans drop some phat lewt!

  13. spoodie says:

    How do we feel about “exercise”?

  14. Meat Circus says:

    Flashbangspamming for fun and profit. Mmmm.

  15. Alex says:

    Right. Now, how do we go about monetizing this fun and profit?

  16. Okami says:

    How do you monetize profit?

    That’s a tricky one..

  17. Phil says:

    Embezzlement?

  18. Stromko says:

    I think there is a definite gap in the market for either a WWII or modern combat MMO-FPS.

    Planetside lost a lot of visual appeal by doing away with recognizable hardware, everything was very clean, futuristic, and hard to relate to. The Call of Duty series on the other hand thrives on high-fidelity environments with recognizable, fun-handling guns.

    Trouble with WWII Online is it’s really more of a heavy sim with a steep learning curve in my (very limited) experience. There’s a lot a dead time, a lot of travel time, and once you get into a fight it’s over all too quickly.

    Planetside was very accessible and allowed you to jump right back into the fight. WWII Online had a painfully authentic feel that would logically encourage tactics and teamwork to maximize your time alive. One was set in what felt like a far and foreign future and required us to swallow its fiction, the other reminded you how much life must’ve sucked for your grandpappy.

    I know, ‘oh god not another WWII game’, but an MMO would need a long shelf life and the public perception of modern warfare could very well change within a few years time. WWII has been analyzed for decades and they could probably craft an environment that would feel authentic for decades to come.

    On the other hand, modern warfare has a lot niftier toys. So long as it isn’t an excuse to cheapen player lives as it was in BF2. I’ve been killed by entirely enough instant ‘n’ accurate artillery barrages and god-like aircraft to last me a lifetime.

  19. Dinger says:

    The problems with WWIIOnline are the problems with the genre.

    …well, they were compounded by serious development issues, chief among which was a dochistic approach to realism. Realism is nothing more than the degree to which, in a simulation, the human agents associate their circumstances, events and interactions with those available by reference to experience or historical understanding of the reality simulated.
    In other words, realism depends mostly upon the cognitive experience of the participants, and not on the mechanical innards of the simulation. Hence all WW2 memorabilia collectors will continue to debate just what effect that Italian 12.7 HE round should have on simulated stressed aluminum airframes.

    WW2OL, like many other programmer-driven simulations, sees realism otherwise: realism is where as many components as possible correspond as closely to possible as the surviving testing data indicates. So they broke the world up, and simulated the components to the highest detail they could.

    The result? You’d take a tank out, head on a country road, shifting through six gears, getting up to speed as you work the power curve of the engine. As you take the turns, the lovingly modelled suspension rocks with you, and quite believably. Clearly, this is not some “tank on rails” game. But, in part due to the limitations of the screen, you’d drift to one side and hit a wooden stake at the side of the road.
    Now, in a MMO simulation, you don’t have the bandwidth to transmit the state of every wooden stake in the game, so that object is indestructible.
    Your 12-ton light tank just hit a .5-meter high wooden stake at 30 MPH. The wooden stake is coded to be hard and indestructible. The suspension handles beautifully, simulating what would happen if your tank hit something like that. You turtle, and have to despawn.

    The game’s gotten better since the release, but the core problem was that. And then, when you get to organizing the matches, it’s really a pain in the ass. Why? Because war really isn’t fun, particularly if your infantry in WW2, where something like half of all casualties were caused by machine guns, and another quarter by artillery. Then there’s airstrikes.
    You can’t play games on a Pareto principle.

    That said, I’d love to see a MMO non-persistent tactical simulation.

  20. Tak says:

    Nice post Stromko.

    Some random thoughts, because I like to pretend people think I have good ones:

    Instancing all the battle-fields is one option. Travel times are down to load times, groups of random strangers can get shoved into a team so at least the numbers are even (possibly some behind the scenes skill balance based on ‘rank’ or k/d ratio or the likes?) All that does, though, is put you what we already have with multiplayer shooters, only with a common lobby-like area where you can (presumably) buy stuff, run around for missions, and chat without getting shot at. Frankly, I’ll skip the interactive lobby and keep a server list if it means saving 14 bucks a month.

    The big problem I see is that FPS games were free-multiplayer well before RPGs. RPG multiplayer up until the MMOs started trickling in was either non-existent or limited, certainly not well known and heavily used. Then the MMOs come along, people see dollar signs, and a bunch of suits say ‘do it again!’. Even at its largest, Planetside was never ‘big’ (that I know of, feel free to shove numbers in my face if you have them), because a sizable amount of people who played it said ‘The game is fun, but I don’t see any reason to pay for this when Quake is already paid for’.

    Also, presumably, in an RPG, having a live person behind the keyboard can lead to a more robust role-playing experience. There can be a huge benefit to having a world made up of people being heroic, dastardly, cowardly, brazen, etc. dynamically by their actions and speech compared to having a group of writers come up with dialogue for all 5000 NPCs in a game. Tele-DnD. The people factor works in the RPG’s benefit. In an FPS though (pure FPS, not future-RPG where bows and arrows are replaced with guns), the players are just bullet delivery mechanisms. The ‘world building’ side isn’t there. It’s already built, and you just blow it up/save it.

    Lastly with regards to paying money for an FPS online in general, what the hell is it for? An RPG can have huge amounts of assets and data to store: every item in the inventory, every item in the vault/house/whatever, every time someone completed a quest, etc. There is a lot of variable info in an RPG, and to keep the multiplayer aspect free from hackers, that has to be stored server-side. In an FPS in the traditional sense, the assets are much more static. Different variables are passed (bullet shot at this location from this location) just like in an RPG (sword slashed to this location from this location with this skill), but just like RPGs basic measures can (and do) keep that data from getting tampered with. VAC and PunkBuster in a roundabout way do the same thing as much larger programs on MMOs (that track altered exposed variables).

    Anyway, hope some of that made sense. Time to work, whee!

  21. RichPowers says:

    What benefits would a MMO CoD offer over regular multiplayer CoD?

    The greatest challenge with these FPSMMOs is creating a command structure that is honest, effective, and not overbearing. In other words, without leaders or intelligent AI-generated objectives, FPSMMOs simply become glorified games of Battlefield with a novel territorial conquest meta-game attached.

    I enjoyed Planetside because my outfit was run by ex-military guys with an A-Team-like penchant for over-the-top missions: tank convoys, dropship insertions, mass artillery bombardments. But how do you provide the experience of coordinated, combined arms operations to regular players? Unless you belonged to an organized outfit with Teamspeak, such maneuvers were largely impossible, thereby relegating you to the Planetside zerg that migrated from battle to battle. And the zerg experience was certainly NOT worth the monthly fee…

    So it all comes back to making teamwork accessible and meaningful for players who don’t belong to elite clans/outfits/squads.

  22. squerl says:

    @RichPowers

    I agree entirely. If an MMOFPS is to offer anything above a regular FPS, it’ll have to provide superior and meaningful battles. I recommend anyone look at what Webzen is doing with APB, an upcoming MMO with some really neat mission concepts. It’s basically cops vs gangs, and the game dynamically creates missions. For example, it might give the mission to a group of 4 players to meet up, rob a store and escape to a certain point, and once they started it would create a mission for a group of cop players to go and prevent that from happening. The APB setting doesn’t appeal to me, but I think if that concept of dynamically created missions between either random people/grouped people would spread itself into an MMOFPS it would be a huge success.

    Take that one step further and have it incorporate Warhammer Online’s “public quests” where anybody can help out if they’re in the area and I think you’d have an MMOFPS that wasn’t just a bunch of separate Battelfield games hooked up.

  23. Surgeon says:

    World War II? Pah!
    Modern Combat? Bah!

    Take it into the future and give it space and ground combat across multiple worlds in a persistent universe.
    Also give it RTS elements, fully integrate voice chat into the game mechanics and make it totally seamless with no loading screens.
    Character levelling based on being able to do more things not do things better.
    Oh, and a five year story arc which culminates in a spectacular ending which satisfies all players before turning the universe into some form of sandbox experience for a few years until they develop the next one.

    That’s all I ask.

    Kind of like Planetside, but on a massive scale with some variety and a purpose for fighting.

  24. Dinger says:

    Tak: I appreciate that you’ve put some thought into what you’ve posted, but factually, I have to say, you couldn’t be more wrong.

    The big problem I see is that FPS games were free-multiplayer well before RPGs. RPG multiplayer up until the MMOs started trickling in was either non-existent or limited, certainly not well known and heavily used. Then the MMOs come along, people see dollar signs, and a bunch of suits say ‘do it again!’. Even at its largest, Planetside was never ‘big’ (that I know of, feel free to shove numbers in my face if you have them), because a sizable amount of people who played it said ‘The game is fun, but I don’t see any reason to pay for this when Quake is already paid for’.

    First, “MMO” stands for “Massively Multiplayer Online “. The distinction was developed after the fact, and, if you had to push it, refers to multiplayer games built on the server-client model where the server uses enterprise-grade network connections to support far more players online than a consumer-grade network (or a basic LAN) could.
    Okay, the definition isn’t good. But finding a proper definition is hard work.
    In any case, for-pay MP games have been around a long time. The oldest one still around to call itself “massively multiplayer” when the term arose was probably Airwar: hundreds of people in a WWII-dogfight simulation that was originally developed in the late ’80s. That’s combat with a first-person perspective, although not, admittedly a FPS (latency, latency).

    Second, the basic genres of multiplayer games existed a long time ago. PLATO had MP flightsims (airfight) and RPGs (Moria) in the 1970s.

    Yes, FPSs are late to the game. That’s clear too from the system requirements. A flightsim can be an abstraction and still work (sorta); a fantasy game is nothing without your imagination. But a FPS needs to be firmly rooted in (some sort of) reality.

    Third, even without that, long before Ultima made the bucks, there were tons of MUDs on the internet. The market was there.

    But, be kind to the new girl: Adversarial MP games gain a lot from multiplayer. Computer AI in games still won’t pass the Turing Test. Shooting up a bunch of targets is dull compared to knowing that there’s someone breathing on the other end, who likely is as clever as you are. I mean, the biggest challenge in FPS AI is making it seem like the AI units are playing by the same rules the player is. So FPS have a lot to gain by involving humans; just as everything else.
    A story is much more interesting when you don’t know how it’s going to end.

  25. Tak says:

    Thanks for the reply! I didn’t make a lot of sense typing at work, and you are right to call me out on it.

    A few re-points? counter-counter-points? Something to that effect :p

    – You’re right about ‘MMO’. I should have said ‘modern MMORPG’. What I was trying to get at is that RPG multiplayer had not been, to my knowledge, available in the form that it is today.

    - Lots of MMO games (technically speaking) have been around, but the people farming them for cash was fairly small. Personally I draw a distinction between something like EQII or WoW and, say, Diablo or even something text based. MMO as what it used to be and MMO as it is used to day, type of thinking. I should have made that more obvious, and apologize.

    - I absolutely agree that any adversarial game benefits from a real person being in control instead of AI. What I was trying to get at is how much *more* an RPG can benefit from that person than an FPS from a world-building and longevity/persistence standpoint. In an FPS, the players are providing the competition on a level that AI cannot match. In an RPG, the players are providing the ‘fluff’ (assuming, of course, anyone actually role plays anymore). The MMORPG player fills out the world in ways that are not necessary in an FPS (MMO or otherwise)

    I still stand by that there is a ton of data that needs to be stored server side in an MMORPG. An MMOFPS (speaking only in the terms of an FPS as it’s commonly considered today) really doesn’t have much that would need to be ‘secured’ like an MMORPG. Is it possible to create that? Yes. Does the FPS, ideally a skill-based competition, benefit from that? In my opinion, no.

    Seriously this site rocks hard. Always learning of some game title or views that I hadn’t heard before. I <3 me some RPS.

  26. Ghiest says:

    Death of mapping if it was, the whole ranked thing not being allowed for custom maps is already killing the point of third party modders and mappers like my self. If they go the whole hog and put persistence into the mix, as suggested like the BF:Heroes then you can count out any sort of third party support and would have to rely on the company to supply updates, which enevtiably you would end up paying for.

    I loved Planetside, but I still don’t think there is a big enough market for persistent characters in a fps game, unless they went that step further than Tabula rasa went and more consumer friendly than WW2 online. Somewhere in the middle I think would be good, but I don’t know how popular.

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