A new player just entered the arena for battle royale games, and it just so happens to be one of the most popular game franchises in the world. With the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 on Oct. 12, the current ruler of the battle royale genre, Fortnite, now has a new enemy in sight.
The first-person shooter Call of Duty games are owned by Activision Blizzard, and the new “Blackout mode” in Black Ops 4 is the game’s first foray into battle royale, which is when players are dropped into an ever-shrinking map and must fight it out to be the last person standing. The other two player modes in Black Ops 4 are familiar to the franchise: A standard multiplayer option, and Zombies, which has three different storylines all featuring the undead. (Black Ops 4 has removed the hallmark single-player campaign mode in favor of a battle royale option.)
The new Blackout mode capitalizes on the success of battle royale as a whole, which, according to SuperData, a games research company, is the most popular genre that people enjoy watching. While there are other popular games in this category, such as PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG), Fortnite’s “explosive” power is largely responsible for its success. Fortnite accounted for 83% of the 700 million hours of battle royale content that people watched on streaming platforms between May 2017 and May 2018, SuperData’s research found.
Dan Bunting, co-studio head of Treyarch, the developers behind Call of Duty, told VentureBeat that the growing trend of live streaming games was more noteworthy than the battle royale genre itself. “Who would have thought 10 years ago that people would be watching other people play games, millions of people at a time?” Bunting said. “That was the phenomenon that was more significant.”
Black Ops 4 is the latest title in Call of Duty’s long and successful 15-year history, which could help sway gamers away from Fortnite. (Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode only launched in Sept. 2017.) A new title in the Call of Duty series has been released each year from 2003 (the first Black Ops game launched in 2010), and the franchise has generated more than $11 billion in sales since then. The series’s loyal fan base appears to stand firm year on year—in 2017, Call of Duty was North America’s top-selling console game for the ninth year in a row.
Black Ops 4 builds on both Call of Duty’s longstanding success, as well as the popularity of the Black Ops range of games itself. While most Call of Duty titles are set during World War II, and some, such as the Modern Warfare titles, are set in modern times, the Black Ops games take place during the Cold War. “We’re delivering with a very classic Call of Duty experience with a Black Ops Twist in a larger Battle Royale genre,” Bunting told the BBC.
That’s not to say that Fortnite doesn’t have its own competitive advantages, including the fact that it’s completely free (Black Ops costs $60), the game incorporates pop culture (like Marvel characters in its superhero-based fourth season), and celebrities are also outspoken fans. But Call of Duty remains a force to be reckoned with.
Fornite developers Epic Games are likely watchful of Call of Duty—on Oct. 11 the new “quadcrasher,” a vehicle designed to destroy other players’ constructions, was announced, just one day before the launch of Black Ops 4. This suggests that Fortnite will keep on introducing new features in an attempt to keep players hooked.
But as Jean-Luc Bouchard wrote for Quartz last year, Black Ops 4 could potentially go where battle royale games haven’t gone before: “[The Blackout mode] could successfully walk the line between PUBG‘s gritty, war-torn visuals and realistic military-inspired mechanics and Fortnite‘s broad, arcade-style appeal, while forgoing PUBG‘s steep difficulty curve for shooting and Fortnite‘s steep difficulty curve for building.”
Let the games begin.