I had the rare pleasure of hitting the highest level in Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer a week ago. This is the earliest I have ever hit level 55 in a Call of Duty game. That tells you that I like it, and that this Call of Duty multiplayer has turned out to be better than past games.
I dubbed Black Ops III the “best shooter of 2015.” Yes, you can call me a fan boy. But sales have borne this out. Black Ops III was the best-selling game of the year in the U.S., according to market researcher NPD Group. And Activision said the 12-year-old series has now sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. That has generated revenues that are well in excess of $10 billion. Activision says about 40 million of us play Call of Duty every month. This means that no game is better at retention and engagement — the buzzwords of the business.
Now those are huge numbers. But when you think about the brand loyalty that Activision Blizzard has generated with this game series, I think it is important to look at this not only on the macro scale, but also on the micro scale. I’m happy to be part of this global army. I have played this game for longer than any other holiday title. But my stats show that I’m a medium-level hardcore player, surpassed by many other comrades in arms.
In fact, for the elite players of Call of Duty, I’m a little slow to reach the top level. I hit Prestige Level 1 about 62 days after Call of Duty: Black Ops III came out. The first player to hit this status did so a week after the game came out. Actually, it was a group of players of the Doom clan who took shifts and played multiplayer for 24 hours straight with a single account. I am, in fact, ranked at No. 3,440,250 on the Core game multiplayer leaderboard. That means that 3,440,249 players hit Prestige before I did. It raises the question. Why are we still playing?
The numbers don’t lie
My hat is off to Treyarch, the studio that made Black Ops III. I’m proud to have hit Prestige this early, and I’m back at level 8 on my way to Prestige Level 2. It means that the game is good, and that people designing games like this should pay attention. This is the pinnacle of engagement, and if your players play your game for 10 hours and then quit, then you’re game just isn’t really engaging in the grand scheme of things. If you subtract out about 14 days of travel, you figure that I’ve actually hit Prestige even earlier than usual, given the number of available days I’ve had to play.
I have played 286 matches. That translates to 1 day, 10 hours, and 56 minutes of my time that I have put into this game, not counting the time I played the single-player campaign. I have a kill-death ratio (the number of kills in multiplayer divided by the number of times I died) of 0.59. I know this because the game measure every single detail. I can do analytics on my analytics. I’ve had 142 headshots in the game, and my win-loss ratio is 1-to-1. In other words, it makes absolutely no difference to have me on your team.
In 2014, shortly after Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare came out, I had a 0.42 kill-death ratio. With Call of Duty: Ghosts in 2013, my kill death ratio was 0.37. Back in 2012, I documented my stats more meticulously. About six months after the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 came out, I hit Prestige. That time, it took me 154 days, and I was ranked at 5,573,021 at the time. In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which came out in November 2012, my kill-death ratio was 0.37. And in 2011, my kill-death ratio was 0.43 in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Now, of course, you may think I’m a freak for paying such close attention to my stats over multiple years. But at least 3.5 million other freaks out there are just like me. Happily or not, they’re all giving Activision Blizzard $60 or more every single year. The stats also tell you the degree of difficulty of some of the games. These aren’t all apples-to-apples because the game becomes much easier after you get about two-thirds of the way through multiplayer, when you have unlocked the best equipment and you have leveled up your best weapon. At that point, your kill-death ratio goes up.
I saw that happen this year. In mid-November, I had reached Level 14 and had a kill-death ratio of 0.42. After 23 hours of multiplayer, at Level 48, I had reached 0.53. In other words, my performance got better the higher I climbed up the multiplayer ladder. That’s because I had a better chance of outgunning the poor folks who were much lower in the rankings. As I noted in my tips for Black Ops III multiplayer, the lesson is that you have to be patient. When you get higher the ladder, you can laugh at the people below you.
Finding the sweet spot
I also found the right gun for me. The BRM light machine gun is a great weapon for campers, or those who stay in one spot. It’s a tough gun to use early on, when you don’t have a gunsight or a stabilizer. It shakes a lot, and it’s slow on the draw. But it packs a big punch and can really destroy enemies quickly. It’s best used when you want to camp in one spot and wait for the enemies to run by. It has good range, as good as a sniper rifle in most cases. But it’s a lot easier to wield than a slow-loading sniper rifle.
When you level up the BRM to the top level and get an ELO gunsight, it becomes deadly accurate. And when you fire, the bullets do a lot of damage. So you don’t have to be as accurate by hitting the enemy multiple times, even at great distances. I found that, as long as you add the right attachments, use the right perks, and find the best places to camp out, you’ll be able to do a lot of damage with this gun.
I stayed with the same Specialist, a female character named Battery, for the whole time. That’s because I liked her “War Machine” ability, which gives her a temporary grenade launcher that has devastating impact even if you aren’t that accurate with it. I found the maps where the LMG was great, such as Combine, Hunted, Infection, and Fringe. I sat tight in my spot, protected my backside with Trip Mine grenades, and played my game plan every single time. It paid off, and my kill-death ratio rose much higher than it otherwise would have been. These tactics carried me to Prestige.
What to do next?
When I reached Prestige, I had some brief angst about what to do next. When I pushed the button, I returned to Level 1. I was able to select one device that I could unlock, and so I unlocked the Trip Mine. Then I started playing with my leveled up LMG all over again.
But even after you could say that I “finished” multiplayer, I still have an endless number of things to do. And that’s another lesson for game designers. Make sure that your game never ends, and that players always have another challenge to reach. We need to have a reason to come back every day.
For me, I started leveling up some other weapons, particularly the ones I was terrible at using, like the Sheiva assault rifle and the sniper rifles. I could spend a lot of time doing that.
I also started customizing. I grabbed my favorite screen shot of blowing up someone with the War Machine grenade launcher. The game also has these Cryptokeys that you earn after every match. You can use this virtual currency in the store, dubbed the Black Market. In the Black Market, you can find Common Supply Drop or the Rare Supply Drop. You get three random items when you spend 30 Cryptokeys. Only one of them is rare. So I spent about 300 Cryptokeys, and I wound up with one Taunt that I could use for my Battery character.
Now, at the end of a match, if I end up as No. 1 in the game, I get to taunt the other players by saying, “What? There’s opposition?” I can also earn more stuff, like threatening gestures, boasts or “good game” messages. I could spend real money on these Cryptokeys, but I don’t see the fun in that. I will have to earn more of them so I can completely trick out my Battery character the way that I want.
Does the game have other things for me to do? Sure. I could trick out eight other characters. I could do a custom paint job for my weapon. I could level up all of the other weapons I have. I can reach higher in the multi-Prestige ladder. I can create highlight videos of my games and take more screenshots. I can watch other professional players on Twitch or YouTube to see how the real stars do it. It’s always useful to watch the pros to get tips on how to stay alive.
And I could play Zombies mode, the cooperative version of multiplayer, as well. Like I said, Activision knows that they can keep me coming back for a whole year — with map packs and other updates. I could spend time mastering those new maps and weapons. And then the next Call of Duty will be ready for me. This is how you create your game for the big leagues.