Activision’s marketing strategy for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 doesn't seem to be going according to plan. What should be a weekend of the Call of Duty community celebrating and following along with the CWL Anaheim tournament, is instead a weekend where players took to social media - and influencers to YouTube - to start a movement against the Black Ops 4's DLC plans.
And the reason? Activision and Treyarch are still requiring players to purchase a DLC season pass to access additional zombie and multiplayer maps for Black Ops 4 post-launch, and will not be selling this DLC separately. Where Ubisoft and Electronic Arts have opted to embrace post-launch content plans that keep the community rolling together, Activision is bringing back a version of its traditional season pass which effectively doubles the price of the base game if you hope to play it long-term. And the devs told me directly that their whole plan with going all-multiplayer in 2018 with the franchise was to keep the community playing the game long-term. But they are charging players for that instead of encouraging them and rewarding them for playing.
This all began Jun 11, 2018 - last week during E3 2018 - where Call of Duty surprisingly had barely anything to show (we still don't know what its Blackout battle royale mode looks like) at the expo. They quietly unveiled the different pre-order bundle editions for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and confirmed with them that they will have a DLC season pass called the "Black Ops Pass." A few things stuck out with this announcement, the biggest being that the DLC map packs included in the season pass will not be sold separately. The second, is that fact that Call of Duty is still asking players to pay for maps, effectively splintering its fan base, when EA, Activision, and even Bethesda now (with their upcoming Fallout 76) are not charging for this sort of content in an effort to keep their players playing, and keep them together.
- Battlefield V will not have a premium pass or paid expansions.
- Star Wars: Battlefront II didn't have a season pass.
- Fallout 76 DLC will be free thanks to cosmetic microtransactions.
Given that the various pre-order editions of Black Ops 4 also include "Call of Duty Points" that means the game will also feature real money microtransactions, so we're in a place where since the season pass currently cannot be purchased separately (but will be sold at a later time), anyone investing in the multiplayer-only game (reminder: Black Ops 4 does not feature a story campaign) must effectively pay a premium to experience the full game and still be subject to microtransactions.
But that's not all in the land of stupid DLC limitations. Right now, Activision is promoting the Back in Black Maps pack which features classic maps from Black Ops and Black Ops 2 which is - you guessed it - only available on PlayStation 4. Talk about splintering the community... we're multiple levels deep into this now. But it's worse than that. Players can only get this map pack in Black Ops 3 on PS4 if they pre-order Black Ops 4 only on PS4 and only digitally.
But back to the bigger problem of the steep and out-of-date paywall structure. This is a strange and seemingly backwards plan in the current climate of the industry, especially in an era when Call of Duty is increasingly overshadowed by other action games and shooters on the market. And especially when their chief competitor this fall in Battlefield V seems to be offering so much more, without the premiums. And a vocal group of the player base seems to think so too, creating the #SayNOtoBlackOpsPass hashtag which has taken over social media, Reddit, and YouTube. If you look at some of the latest official announcements from the Call of Duty and PlayStation channels on Twitter, the comments are flooded with this movement.
The hashtag and controversy even topped the gaming subreddit over the weekend. The other story, about the Back in Black maps exclusivity, topped the Xbox One subreddit.
Season passes are a thing of the past, much like online passes Electronic Arts tried to roll out last generation. EA is working to make amends for record-breaking bad publicity thanks to their microtransactions and loot boxes, and a back-to-back win of Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" a few years prior, and Activision is making that easy for them.
And as a reminder, this means Call of Duty's first ever battle royale game will be behind a massive paywall too while PUBG is $30 and when Fortnite - the current king of the genre - is free. Even Battlefield V's battle royale mode will be added free (alongside ALL of its maps and modes) as part of their free "Tides of War" live service. We learned from Drift0r's video above (one of many COD influencers making videos about the controversy) that Activision is promising more free content in Black Ops 4 than any previous game, but it's still less than everyone else.
Don't be surprised to see a change in DLC plans for Black Ops 4 from Activision since this is now the question they must address every time to speak to media. Otherwise, the bad buzz will continue and will turn players away from Black Ops 4 when they need positive buzz and player retention.