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Modern Warfare 3 devs talk multiplayer gun balance and how the meta will shift "from season to season"

At the time of writing, SMGs are in trouble

Modern Warfare 3 screenshot of the Lachmann Shroud
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 developers Sledgehammer Games (umpteenth reminder: that's Modern Warfare 3 as in the 2023 game, not the 2011 FPS of the same name) have hosted a Reddit AMA in which they answered a bunch of questions about the evolution of the game's competitive meta. That's meta as in the overall balance of power between Modern Warfare 3 loadouts, playstyles and so forth based on a variety of factors such as map design, rather than the Alan Wake 2 kind of "meta", where characters talk about how they're just characters in a game and so on. I would dearly like to see some crossover between these types of "meta". I guess the Call of Duty that comes closest to fulfilling that idea is Black Ops 3, with its fourth-wall-breaking cyborg theatrics.

Anyway, the discussion is interesting because it touches on the fact that the evolution of an FPS competitive meta is an artful balance of prediction and reaction, imposing new directions on players at times, taking direction from them at others. The developers want the Modern Warfare 3 meta to change "from season to season" - the question, of course, is how to do this without alienating fans of certain weapons and strategies.

"Weapon balancing is one of the biggest things we are looking at on a daily basis," reads one of the developer responses. "Our goal is to have a meta shift from season to season to keep things fresh and interesting.

"That being said - we want as many weapons as possible to be viable to suit the variety of playstyles we have in our community. This is where we are looking closely at the data to target immediate tweaks for weapons that seem to be over or under-performing. We expect Season 1 to have higher-level tweaks with S1.5 to have some deeper changes."

In terms of the current meta, the developers note that Modern Warfare 3's SMGs are currently in a bad place. "In the beta, we saw that some SMGs were outperforming ARs at ranges that ARs should dominate, so we made some tweaks based on that," reads another post. "[Right now] we are seeing a lot of data that the first SMGs a player unlocks are underperforming. We have some buffs planned for those. We want to make sure that SMGs are dominant in the areas they should be: Close-range [time to kill], [aim down sights] speed, Sprint to Fire, and general mobility."

"The data we have shows the most used SMGs are underperforming and that isn't great. We are currently happy about where the Rival9 is in the meta and we are looking at all the other SMGs with this in mind."

Going by my not-very-expert understanding of Call of Duty gun balancing, SMGs are always a tricky one because they reward aggressive lone wolf play. Still, it sounds like Modern Warfare 3's shotguns are even more of a headache for Sledgehammer, which speaks to my vivid memories of the megathreads about such weapons in the Gears of War series.

"Shotgun management is something the team is looking into," reads a third AMA response. "The [time to kill] of this game does make balancing shotguns extra challenging, but it is important to us to make sure that we carve out a space for these weapon types for the people who enjoy playing with them."

They're also "actively investigating a reduction to the maximum damage of Frag Grenades," according to a fourth post. "These changes will decrease the damage taken by players both at the center and outer edges of the explosion." Where is my option to jump heroically on top of a grenade, Sledgehammer? I guess that's more of a "WW2 according to Steven Spielberg" thing.

I'm always fascinated by how balancing weapons in multiplayer shooters becomes a form of community curation. Overclock the SMGs and shotguns and you've got a game people jump into on a whim for some quickmatch carnage. Squishify those SMGs and shotgun stats, and perhaps there's more incentive to form a proper team, attracting a more sociable kind of player? I spoke a bit to Crytek about this stuff in a recent piece on the creation of Hunt: Showdown.

In our Ed's Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer review, he deemed it "a tiring nostalgia trip" and "yet another skippable entry" with a "heavy price tag". Ed didn't seem too fussed about the gun balancing but he did find the latest Call of Duty's levelling an absolute chore. Are you playing and if so, how are you finding it?

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

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Edwin Evans-Thirlwell avatar

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

News Editor

Clapped-out Soul Reaver enthusiast with dubious academic backstory who obsesses over dropped diary pages in horror games. Games journalist since 2008. From Yorkshire originally but sounds like he's from Rivendell.