Since it launched in March of this year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's Battle Royale mode, Warzone, has enthralled millions of players. By blending Modern Warfare's unique pacing with a Battle Royale's tantalising randomness it has managed to secure a place in many player's BR rotations.
We got the opportunity to chat to Joe Cecot, Co-Design Director, Multiplayer and Amos Hodge, Associate Creative Director, from Infinity Ward, about the present and future of Warzone.
By hitting up a supply drop, players can bring their favourite gear into each match...
One thing that makes Warzone completely different is the addition of loadouts. By hitting up a supply drop, players can bring their favourite gear into each match. In my case, that's the Shield+Kali Sticks combo.
Still, loadouts are a point of contention for a lot of players — and among members of the Warzone team, as it turns out.
"[Loadouts were] contentious during development," reveals Joe Cecot, Co-Design Director, Multiplayer at Infinity Ward. "We had people who didn't want them in the game, people who did, and we knew we wanted people evaluating that kind of sense of progression. We wanted to introduce a BR that had a meaningful progression, [with players] unlocking guns and content and other things and yeah I think it's actually in a good place [for that purpose]. If you don't want to engage with that you don't have to, if you do want that direct path you can go for it and I think it has added longevity and strategy and planning to our Battle Royale."
Balancing loadouts is an economic question — the challenge for Infinity Ward is in finding the right price point to make sure Loadouts enter the game at the appropriate time. Back in March, some rare genius on IGN pitched raising the price of a loadout to around $18,000 — I still think he might be right. But the team at Infinity Ward have access to the statistics, and they feel it's in a good place at the moment.
"We try to keep drop crates out of the game until the first couple circles [have closed]," explains Amos Hodge, Associate Creative Director at Infinity Ward. We like people to drop in, get some loot, get some weapons, play with what they find. Have that chance for a random element before the crates get in. We definitely had a problem early on in the game. [Loadouts were] too cheap and money was too prevalent and people were just getting crates right away and blowing past the whole progression curve.
"It's an economy balancing question and what we're constantly doing is looking at stats. So we track stats of how much money people have collectively and individually and we track what they're spending it on. So we have made changes to the loadout drop and we recently reduced the price for buying [teammates] back by like 500 bucks I believe. So we're constantly doing that. I would say it's more of a continual adjustment as we get stats and we'll adjust. I think the amount of money players have is good, but we also feel it's a good way to shift up the meta.
"Sometimes it makes more sense to tune the money in the world and not the money in the shop too, because people learn the price of things and you don't want to increase the frustration or friction of 'oh I had enough money but I can't go get that thing because they upped the price'. So adjusting money in the world is a nice way to do that.
"You see that we do that for game types already. Solos will have more money in it than other modes for that reason — because early on we talked about just changing the pricing for crates, but it's nice to know a buyback is $4000 no matter what mode I play on. We didn't really want to lose that so we adjust the money and contract amounts per squad size instead."
Balancing in general is always a challenge — and it doesn't help when there's a perfect storm of bugs creating the likes of the FR 5.56 Under-barrel Shotgun cannon, which has been obliterating players in Warzone since it was discovered. And while that particular bug has been fixed — and it was a bug — the challenge to balance a game like Warzone never truly ends.
With the weapons part of it's stats, right, and looking at the performance of weapons," Cecot explains. "Part of it's looking at the community and looking at what people are using. And part of it is playing the game ourselves. The underbarrel shotgun, right, is definitely a bug, it was a series of unfortunate events that led to the end result, and we didn't catch it in time. It had actually been in there for a while before someone figured it out, and we immediately jumped on a fix.
"I think it's one of the interesting things about balancing the weapons in Warzone versus Modern Warfare is that engagement ranges are one factor, they're really really long [in Warzone]. And then you have armour, so players have more health. Instead of 100 health they have 250 health essentially. So for Warzone we try to keep things as consistent as possible, so there's a little bit of like normalisation of damage, making sure that the damage is a bit more consistent. But it is still a case by case basis, so it's been interesting."
"I think it's good for the game, to constantly be shifting the meta," Hodge adds. "Even if we got to a good place where everyone was happy I wouldn't want to stay there for too long because everyone would get bored. So we're constantly looking at stats and figuring out how to either buff or nerf guns and shift people around, you know? A small tweak to an SMG could completely change how the game plays because everyone would be running SMGs instead of ARs, or a small small tweaks to a shotgun could change everyone's loadout. So we're constantly looking at what classes — not just the weapons but the weapon classes people are using — and trying to shift the meta every so often so the game doesn't get stale and boring. No one wants to play the same game for five or six years right?"
One of the big additions to the game recently has been the train. A moving platform that carves a path around the map, it's been getting a lot of attention from both players and the devs. And it's fixed to get even more attention down the road.
"We have lots of ideas around [the train]," Cecot says. "We wanted to get it in there in Season Five and have it be a fun thing to interact with, where you have a lot of movie moments of vehicles chasing trains, people fighting over the train, [that sort of thing]. We actually have a problem, where sometimes in our core playtesting players are not engaging with what we're trying to test and they're just playing on the train.
"We have a bunch of ideas around how to use the train for different game modes, but we don't have any specifics right now. The note came up, definitely, of it starting in the same place and that's something we'd like to address in the future."
"The train was actually really fun to put in, and it's really fun to play with, and we're working on lots of ideas to update the train in general," Hodge continues. "Everyone has so many ideas on how to make the train better, so many mechanics and game modes. We're definitely talking about all that stuff, reading Reddit and seeing suggestions and everyone's just excited about it. Not only the train but we've been excited to get more interactive elements in the map like that, to make the map feel more alive."
The map is definitely a character unto itself in Warzone, and the team is constantly working on evolving it. The bunkers littered around the map were just the beginning — and as Warzone has grown, so too has Infinity Ward's understanding of how they can use those areas to grab player attention.
"We try and put rewards in there, I guess to motivate players [to visit the bunkers] once it spreads via word-of-mouth," Cecot tells us. "Like we have that secret contraband contract that's in there and we have rewards in various bunkers. We put a lot of effort into the stadium this time, in making sure that… for that one we decided, you know, we've done these bunkers and they were a 'you've done it once forget it' kind of thing and we wanted the stadium to be [different]. So go here to get good loot, do this simple challenge to get things that actually might help you win. That was one of the motivations there, to shift our focus onto an event that you could keep doing because it is advantageous for you.
"And those bunkers are all a big part of the Augmented Reality Game leading into the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reveal. The C all of Duty community collaborated and came together to unveil this teaser, and the major launch will kick off next week."
What does this mean for Warzone? The team weren't revealing details yet, but Joe Cecot did tell us more about the future for the game.
"With the recent reveal of Black Ops Cold War, there's definitely opportunities to merge that content in and keep pushing Warzone forward with that franchise and Modern Warfare in mind," Cecot says enthusiastically. "I'm really excited. I think with that stuff we're still... we're working through that, we're solidifying that and we don't have specifics on that [yet]. But I think that is gonna breathe more life into Warzone, I think it's exciting.
"[In the more immediate future] I'm excited for Kingslayer to drop. That's a kind of rapid-fire multi-team deathmatch experience, where we flag the people who have the most kills [in a game]. So the top teams; their elite kill leader has a flag on their back and if you kill them you instantly get a kill streak that you can use, and it's these rapid-fire-moving circle-around-the-map bring-your-loadout-in kind of fist-fight matches that are over rather quickly, and I don't know that I have ever really played a game that's multi-team deathmatch at this pace and scale, so I think that's going to be pretty cool."
It seems like Warzone is here to stay. It'll be super interesting to see how Cold War melds with what we know of Warzone, and what all of it means for the future of the Call of Duty franchise. We don't have all the answers yet, but we know we'll have them soon.
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