The people responsible for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 want you to know that the PC version is important to them, and that is why they talked about the near-future military shooter at length on the Activision blog today.
The publisher has its reasons for taking Black Ops 4 on the PC seriously, of course. This is the first game in the franchise — and only the second Activision game — to launch on Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher. This is part of a growing synergistic relationship between the two arms of the massive Activision Blizzard company. This move should help the publisher better market its games to its existing customers on PC who are already playing World of Warcraft, Overwatch, or Destiny. Oh, and by selling through its own launcher, Activision won’t have to pay Valve 30 percent of every transaction.
But to transition away from Valve’s dominant Steam PC gaming distribution service, Activision Blizzard and developer Treyarch will have to prove that they are putting out a solid product for the mouse-and-keyboard crowd. That’s why the publisher has key figures from the studio and from Beenox, the developer handling the PC version, to make that argument.
“This is a PC game that is being built with the PC in mind,” Beenox lead technical programmer Philippe Troie said. “From the controls, to the graphics options, to the gameplay, I want the PC community to feel that this is for them in every way.”
Call of Duty started as a breakout PC hit with the original in 2003. But it turned into a generation-defining megahit on the console with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. Since then, the PC audience has struggled to get the attention of the Call of Duty teams. Consoles are still the biggest market for raw game sales, but PC is growing fast due in large part to emerging markets and fast-growing established nations like China, Brazil, and Russia.
Activision Blizzard is also shifting focus to games-as-a-platform, where it can sell cosmetics (which change your character and gear’s appearances) and other items in games for years. It has done this successfully with Overwatch, and that’s a business model that PC players are accustomed to thanks to years of League of Legends and other free-to-play games. For console players, the digital marketplace concept is also growing, but many people prefer to go to the store to purchase everything for their systems as opposed to using a credit card in an online shop.
So what specifically is Treyarch and Beenox doing to convince PC gamers that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on PC is something they’ll love? Well, it comes down to playing to the strengths of the platform.
“There is a very deep level of customization possibilities, and all-around flexibility of the game,” said Troie. “We want it to adapt to the end user’s hardware; for instance if someone wants to play on a competitive rig with low latency, high frame rate, reactive motion, and a high DPI mouse, they can do that. On the other hand, if the user wants a very cinematic graphic experience with high visual fidelity, they can also tweak knobs to adjust the graphics options to their liking.”
The studios are also treating Black Ops 4 PC as a separate entity when it comes to how weapons work. This is to adapt for users who play with keyboard and mouse instead of a gamepad.
“For example, we’re expecting to see some balance differences between console and PC for things like shotguns and snipers because of the accuracy of the mouse and keyboard,” Treyarch PC producer Jonathan Moses said. “So, the designers at Beenox will take a slightly different approach to adjusting those numbers than on the console version. But that will all be done with both sets of designers talking with each other. We work out together if this is an overall change being made to a system that will go across both console and PC, or if we are targeting a specific, PC-only change.”
I enjoyed the Black Ops 4 beta on PC, and I guess I’m glad that they obviously want the latest Call of Duty to work well on that platform. But also can’t help but feel like a lot of what the publisher and its studios are saying is the most obvious marketing fluff possible. It’s weird when a PC game isn’t balanced differently than console or if it doesn’t have visual-fidelity settings.
So the talk is fine, but it won’t matter at all unless the game delivers on the promises.