Last week, Activision and Infinity Ward said that the majority of post-release DLC content for the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would launch at the same time for all platforms. Sony’s PS4, however, was to receive an unspecified “exciting Day 1 advantage.” Sony gamers, as it happens, will actually receive a Day 1 to Day 364 advantage — and Xbox and PC gamers aren’t very happy about it.
The game’s Spec Ops Survival mode will be reserved for PS4 players until October 2020. Spec Ops missions are a feature that has appeared in previous CoD titles before being removed in the more recent editions of the game. Spec Ops missions are short, scripted missions that can be played co-op or solo. All players will have access to these. What’s specific to the PS4 is the Survival mode within the Spec Ops mode. Presumably, these missions challenge players to hold objectives for a period of time against overwhelming odds or greatly increased difficulty. Available weapons may be different, with different types of enemies or challenges for players to complete. The Call of Duty wiki notes that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3’s Survival Mode played more like an arcade game than the main title, with increased player accuracy, less accuracy loss when shot, and enemies that could withstand higher amounts of damage.
The video below notes that there’s exclusive content reserved for the PS4 at both the beginning and end of the trailer.
Gamers, unsurprisingly, are unhappy about this. Redditor that0neguy22 summarized the community response neatly when he wrote: “A new cod game will be releasing when this is out on Xbox and Pc wtf.” Others have speculated that this was the cost of multiplayer support. The response from Infinity Ward’s narrative director, Taylor Kurosaki, indicates that this decision wasn’t something anyone at IF was pushing for:
It’s all good. We have tried our best to have an open dialogue with our players from day one. We understand letting that trust down. These are complicated decisions that are above our pay grade. Please know we want what’s best for all our players.
— Taylor Kurosaki (@taylorkurosaki) September 24, 2019
Kurosaki pushed back against the idea that this difference “ruined” the game in a later tweet, noting “I’d rather have everyone playing 99% of the content at the same time than 100% of the content sometime later.” There’s an obvious logic to this. If you wanted to play a co-op game with a friend on a different platform, would you rather play 20 missions together (out of say, a possible 30 to 50) or zero missions together?
According to Polygon, “Since 2015, Sony has enjoyed a timed-exclusive, first crack at Call of Duty post-launch downloadable content, picking up that deal after Microsoft offered similar exclusivity for the five years prior.” Based on that read on the situation, Sony is just enforcing a previous agreement regarding timing for CoD exclusives. At the same time, IF is clearly indicating that this wasn’t a decision they wanted.
Sony obviously wants players locked into the PS4 ecosystem. Players, in other contexts, want exclusives too. I’ve seen readers argue that the lack of exclusive content for any given console is a bad thing because it gives players less reason to buy into any given platform. Console manufacturers love exclusives for the way they help shift systems, and Sony has been loathe to share its ecosystem throughout the entirety of the PS4’s lifespan — largely because it’s been the dominant winner in console sales.
But this controversy over Call of Duty raises questions about what the right way to do that is, and what the lockout periods should be. A one-year lockout for a game mode, even a minor one, is an exceptional length of time. This is particularly true in yearly franchises. Xbox and PC players who move from one iteration of a title to the next won’t see this material after PS4 players — they’ll just be less likely to see it at all. This, in turn, raises the question of how features should be priced and whether it’s fair to charge the same price for a game that contains fewer features. And while it’s absolutely true that Spec Ops Survival Mode is one aspect of the game — and not even a major mode unto itself — people don’t like paying for game material they don’t get to play. Shipping on-disc DLC was controversial in part because gamers felt that they should have the right to all material shipped on the Blu-ray disc, rather than seeing it gated behind an optional purchase.
With gamers pushing for cross-play across more titles and console manufacturers looking for ways to maintain exclusivity, it’ll be interesting to see if we see more games taking this approach. Is it better for players to share 99 percent of a title than it is to share nothing? Logically, sharing 99 percent is the better outcome, but human beings aren’t always logical. Just how fair this deal turns out to be is going to depend a great deal on how much fun that last 1 percent is. If it’s a throwaway mode, people probably won’t care much. If it turns out to be the best part of Modern Warfare, people may care a lot, even if it represents a relatively small slice of the overall title.