Yesterday came the announcement of the new Call of Duty, the previously leaked “Modern Warfare” without any numbers attached to it, a kind of reboot of the original sub-series. It had a good trailer. It is going “back to basics.” It has Captain Price. Cool, I suppose.
But the real news was not about the meat of the game, but rather, specific Activision moves surrounding it. First, this will be the first Call of Duty not to have a season pass in ages, keeping the playerbase together more easily. Second, in the spirit of fully keeping the playerbase together, Modern Warfare will have true crossplay between Xbox One, PS4 and PC, no strings attached.
While slowly more and more games have been acquiring or launching with crossplay as of late, this is a seismic shift the industry has rarely seen, as it’s coming from the best-selling series of the year, every year. And it feels like a dam-breaking moment for the entire industry, which now seems poised to make crossplay standard across all new releases by the time this next console generation arrives.
Fortnite was the first major domino in many ways. But with Fortnite, you had a game that could also run on Switch and even mobile, and as such, keeping the entire community together seemed like more of a priority with so many splintered platforms. Epic leaned on Sony, the lone holdout with its console install-base lead, and eventually forced them to give up and join in after something that was more or less a shame campaign to get them to do so.
Call of Duty is straight up launching with crossplay, Sony included, and there is no mobile or Switch version here, only the “core” systems of Xbox, PS4 and PC, and whatever they threw at Sony to make this happen, clearly worked. It also creates the expectation that going forward, any major third party console release has no reason not to have full crossplay at launch as well.
Crossplay makes sense for many reasons. It will help out struggling, smaller PC communities who are now able to play with their console brethren (Fortnite-style “input matchmaking” will help avoid PC players stomping everyone, as is a common concern. You match with other players with your style of input, controller or M+K, and only go “out of your league” if you’re partied with a PC friend on console, which will get you into mainly PC games). For third party games it removes the problem of buying a system just because your friends all have it (that was Sony’s rationale against it, despite the nonsense excuses they gave publicly). And we are heading into an era where dividing up the industry into these tiny little boxes and communities does not make much sense. Soon, we’ll not only have mobile, console and PC, but we’ll also see the attempted rise of game streaming in earnest, which will put games on pretty much every device imaginable. Xbox alone is alreadyreleasing as many games as it can on PC and console at the same time, so crossplay is instantly standard for those titles. With this push from Microsoft, Nintendo going with the flow, and PC not actually being a real entity with thoughts or opinions, Sony does not have a choice but to follow, and follow they are, clearly.
The community circle I travel in the most is Destiny, and those fans are taking the Modern Warfare announcement as more or less a guarantee that at long last, crossplay will come to their game as well. Destiny players care less about crossplay, ie. playing with other platforms, but instead cross-progression, as console players would love to make progress on the PC version of the game, and at times, vice versa. But it’s all in the same boat. Previously, it was clear that Bungie wanted to make this happen too, but the obstacle in the way? Sony, as ever. But now Bungie and any other interested studio can point to Call of Duty and go “well you’re doing it with them, why not us?” And Sony won’t be able to trot out even the lamest of excuses that make sense at this point (the fact they were ever pretending to be concerned about the “player experience outside the PlayStation Network” should go down as one of the biggest bits of corporate BS in gaming history).
There will still be reasons to buy one console over another, or choose PC over console. Exclusives, power, comfort, and so on. But being forced into getting a system from peer pressure via your friends or global sales has never felt good, and this part of the industry dying feels like no great loss to anyone but apparently Sony. And even they have to see the light at this point. With this generation ending and a new one starting, there’s no guarantee that the PS5 maintains this 2 to 1 sales lead over Xbox, or that streaming services start posing a real threat to them, so the advantages of crossplay may actually help them down the road more than they realize.
As Call of Duty goes, so goes the industry. Mark my words.