Whether it’s new expansions for Destiny and World of Warcraft or new heroes for League of Legends and Overwatch, games that live and die by their online components have to make sure players stick around. That’s not an easy adjustment for a series like Call of Duty that has only ever needed to last until the next sequel to make. But with the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout mode beta, which opened on PlayStation 4 this week to acclaim, Treyarch seems to be taking some cues from some of the most popular online games’ playbooks.
The developer has started communicating with players on Reddit, telling them directly that the team is keeping an eye on potentially unstable parts of the beta. That includes so far the state of level-two and -three armor and the damage of the Vapr gun. Already, the developer has taken a look at the weapon balance of the game and made a few changes to it. For instance, the Koshka Sniper Rifle was allowing players to aim down the sights a little too quickly, so that’s slowing down.
By responding to which balance changes both the team and players find necessary, Treyarch has entered into a relationship with players. When the developer does choose to make a change, it’s a direct reaction to how people are actually playing the game. So if Treyarch nerfs a popular strategy or tweaks the game to lean into the dominant playstyle, Call of Duty players may already trust that the team is doing it in their interest.
That kind of trust from players is important, especially when the developers are asking them to keep playing a game months after release — or when trying to sell them cosmetic items.
Beyond serving as an assurance that small, frequent balance changes will prevent the meta from getting too stale, Treyarch’s early changes also seem like a good omen for the larger future of Blackout. In order to keep players consistently logging into Black Ops 4’s battle royale-like mode, certain things can’t stay the same. While adjusting which gun is best can make a difference for a while, at some point, the team has to go bigger. One would hope that anyone working on Blackout and eager to better the game over its lifespan would think about larger-scale updates as well.
Major changes are what help keep battle royale games fresh. Fortnite does this all the time is by adding new modes to the game. That’s something Treyarch is already experimenting with by adding Fast Collapse, a faster version of the standard Blackout mode, to the beta.
With the formula of taking well-established maps from the Black Ops series’ past entries and tweaking them for battle royale already in place, it’s easy to see how Treyarch could even revamp the game this way, subbing in new locations or even maps to the mode using a few more of the dozens released in the series’ history.
Whatever form the post-release content for Call of Duty’s Blackout mode takes, the most important part is that Treyarch keeps that support going on a longterm basis. And while there’s never a guarantee that a developer is going to keep up with the game at the speed players want, Treyarch’s early attentiveness toward the Blackout beta’s bugs and balance changes is about as good a sign as you can hope for.