That’s not based on any industry leaks or insider info, it’s just an assumption that’s about as safe to make as “the sun will rise tomorrow.” It’s also a thought that was hanging over my head like a raincloud while I played the PC beta of the Blackout battle royale mode this past weekend.
I seriously enjoyed Blackout, far more than I expected to. It’s one of the most refined battle royales I’ve played, rooted squarely in Call of Duty’s FPS core instead of the survival games Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds finds its lineage in. You can check out our more detailed impressions from the beta here, and while I had a ton of fun during it, I have my doubts about whether or not being ‘fun’ will be enough.
Since this is Call of Duty’s first attempt at battle royale, we don’t really know what the future holds for it. How frequently will updates arrive? How significant will the changes they bring be? But the biggest question for me: what happens to Blackout this time next year?
Call of Duty fans are accustomed to the annual cycle of a new game, but that’s not how battle royales have traditionally worked. Games like PUBG and Fortnite grew over years thanks to updates and iteration on their cheaper (or, you know, free) price tags — though, admittedly, they’ve both had the luxury of Early Access to do that, a label Call of Duty would almost certainly never use. But if Activision is trying to pull over that battle royale audience for good, forcing them to buy a brand new $60 game every year won’t be the way to do it.
In an interview with Game Informer, developer Treyarch recently promised that Blackout will have “constant updates,” even saying “there will be so many updates you’ll get bored” of them all. But we’ve seen in the past what ‘constant updates’ generally means for a AAA game, and it’s nowhere near what Fortnite is currently doing.
Fortnite has set the bar for what post-launch support can be. They’ve turned simple updates into massive community events and tournaments, weekly challenges, bi-weekly content drops, and huge map reworks. I appreciate that Treyarch seems to understand how important this is to the single-map battle royale experience, but that doesn’t mean they’ve proved they can execute at the same pace.
What they have proved is that they can make a Call of Duty game. A game that is supported and updated well, but essentially replaced a year later. For the people already buying Call of Duty every year, getting a new Blackout equivalent along with it isn’t really adding any cost — but if that is, in fact, the model they go with, it won’t convince Fornite fans to jump ship no matter how fun it is.
To be fair, I have all these same questions about Battlefield 5’s Firestorm mode too, which we’ve still yet to see gameplay for. It could be even more robust and polished than Blackout, but the same point stands: what happens to it in 2019 when Battlefield 6 rolls around?
Since we don’t yet have the answer to that question for either game, my hope for now is that the updates are as plentiful as Treyarch claims they will be — and I don’t just mean rebalances and new cosmetic characters. I mean new weapons arriving, new vehicles cycling in or out, and significant map changes that keep players on their toes.
Fortnite sprinted past Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds in popularity partly because it was fun (and also, again, because it’s free), but it’s maintained its position as one of the biggest games in the world because of how much it changes. I hope Treyarch takes that lesson as seriously as they say they are, and I hope we don’t find o
Tom Marks is Tech’s PC Editor and pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.