Microtransactions and FPS Games – The New Normal

Black Ops 3Now that I’ve finally gotten Black Ops III, I’ve now played all of what I consider the big four competitive FPS games in the modern market: Call of Duty, Halo 5, Battlefield: Hardline, and Destiny. There’s plenty to say about each game, how each game’s gunplay feels, the maps in each game, the story content, the post-launch content – so on and so forth. But what I’ve been thinking about most lately is the addition of microtransactions to each game.

Three of those four games – the odd man out being Battlefield – focus the microtransactions around cosmetic additions. Destiny uses Silver as a secondary currency, and Black Ops III uses COD Points to fill the same role. The difference really is that COD Points are earnable in game, while Silver is solely bought with real money. Halo 5 is similar to Black Ops III in that the in-game currency can be earned by playing the game. Where they really break away from each other is the purpose they all have. The Black Market in Call of Duty provides you with a random set of cosmetic items – that’s it. You can actually get duplicates, which can be burned for more cryptokeys to buy more supply drops. But anything you get out of those supply drops is purely cosmetic. Nothing in them has any actual bearing on the matches you’ll play. In Halo, the REQ packs you buy earn you the power weapons, vehicles, power-ups and such that you use in Warzone matches, as well as providing the cosmetic items to make your Spartan unique. In Destiny though, your only options are cosmetic emotes – you spend real money to be able to do the Carlton. Again, no real bearing on gameplay – but does help make your Guardian your own. When SRL was live, you could get those horns and sparrows, but those also don’t really have a direct impact on gameplay – just transit. With Battlefield, the microtransactions are the boosts which unlock all the items for a class or vehicle class.

Halo 5 Warzone

With four pretty different takes on microtransactions and post-launch DLC, I have been trying to figure out which I think has the most staying power. I think they’re all kind of based around the MOBA style for buying skins – which has proven to be pretty darn successful so far. In terms of how I see them moving in shooters, I think that the Halo/Call of Duty model will probably continue on. If games keep those real-money transactions based around cosmetic gear, they’ll definitely get sales, but they need to have some way to earn the in-game money actually in-game. It’s something that I think just about every major shooter will have to look at moving forward – I honestly think that traditional Map Packs might be on the way out if something like this can prove to be viable. I think that’s something to keep an eye on as this year moves on closer to the big launches later on.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops III First Thoughts

Black Ops 3Over the holiday season, I picked up Call of Duty: Black Ops III while it was on sale. I’ve spent the last week or so playing a bunch of multiplayer, and starting to work through the Veteran campaign. Now that I’m a few missions in, and I’m around level 30 in MP, I thought I’d offer up a few thoughts about how I think Treyarch’s latest entry in the venerable franchise.

From a campaign standpoint, I went in with really tempered expectations. Black Ops II really didn’t stand out to me – the diverging storyline just didn’t really stick with me. So far though, I am definitely enjoying this one a bunch more. Sure, it’s got the usual Call of Duty tropes. The player character gets seriously injured (in first person) as a story-telling device; there’s huge set-pieces in just about every level; and there’s the sudden but inevitable betrayal. It’s simple-minded, old-school action movie fair; but that’s what I expect from Call of Duty, and they always deliver with it. It’s not groundbreaking storytelling, but it is definitely a fun time. If nothing else, it’s a good way to learn about the new mechanics in the game and apply that to multiplayer.

Black Ops 3 Ruin

Which is really where the longevity for a Call of Duty game lies. Sure, Treyarch has always done really well with their Zombies mode, but you kinda need other players to run through that, and my friends have sort of moved away from Call of Duty. So for me, multiplayer is where I live. I really came around to Treyarch’s take on multiplayer with Black Ops II. The gun-play felt really solid, I really liked the slower time-to-kill, and it was the first Call of Duty game that I thought Hardcore modes were actually a lot of fun, instead of a struggle. So far with Black Ops III, it feels very much like a continuation of the previous game. The gun-play feels a lot like it did in the last game, the time-to-kill is similar and so far, the meta feels pretty damn solid. There really hasn’t been a gun that I’ve either used, or seen in every game, where I go: I need to have that gun, with those attachments to have a chance in any firefight. There are a couple different weapons – in each weapon class – where I think I could actually perform well. That’s always the first thing I do when I play a Call of Duty game. Find the guns that are useful across the board – or find the overly strong ones. In this case, there’s no Honey Badger to dominate the meta, so I find myself picking my loadout more based around the map and game flow.

The next thing I start focusing on is the map design. Treyarch went back to FPS 101 for the maps in Black Ops III. Each map is based around a three lane design, and then the setting dictates the details and how those lanes interconnect. A lot of the details focus around the new wall running and thruster jump system, as well as the ability to swim now. That opens up new routes to flank around defense points, as well as just moving around to maneuver around behind enemies. That refocus on basic, simple map design is exactly what Treyarch needed. Black Ops II had some good maps – those happened to be based around three lane set – Hijacked, Yemen, Nuketown 2025 all stand out in my memory. There’s a reason that Nuketown has become the Black Ops franchise map – its simple design puts all of the wins and losses on gameplay, less on spawns and map quirks. The same extends to Hijacked – which will be making a return in the upcoming DLC pack. With Black Ops III, there are a couple strong maps – Combine, Evac, Aquarium, Havoc – all of those maps feel really balanced for just about any mode.

If this all sounds like I’m really enjoying Black Ops III, that’s pretty much true. This is, to me, the strongest Call of Duty across the board, since Black Ops IIGhosts had a decent campaign, an awesome co-op experience with Extinction that was just destroyed by a horrible multiplayer weapon meta and some questionable DLC maps. Advanced Warfare did a good job of starting a new sub-franchise, but also just didn’t really stand out to me. It’s got some nice pieces to it – I especially love the virtual firing range and is something I would like to see in the whole series moving forward. This one though has felt much more complete to me. Maybe because this is the first game that has, for all intents and purpose, left behind the last console generation. I fully expect that whatever game we get this year to continue that trend, which is honestly a full year later than it should have happened. Call of Duty has always offered up a multiplayer experience that is pretty different from a lot of what is out there. With the current lineup, I think Black Ops III does a good job of filling that role. It doesn’t try to be Halo, Destiny or Battlefield. It’s Call of Duty, and unabashedly so.