Very few media franchises in cinema, gaming, or music can claim to be as successful as Call of Duty has been over the last 15 years. Selling over 250 million copies and grossing over $15 billion is no small feat, and the machine keeps on rolling with the franchise's newest title: Black Ops 4 last night for numerous platforms.
With numerous game modes for players to dedicate hundreds of hours to, such as traditional multiplayer, the iconic Zombie slaughter-fest and, now, Blackout, Call of Duty’s attempt to capitalize on the “battle royale” game mode, the franchise shot to the top of Twitch’s viewing leaderboard. As successful as the franchise has been, constantly hitting atop the charts for most copies of a game sold each year, Call of Duty has never had the presence on Twitch that a game of that size should garner.
The viewership cycle CoD experiences is quite similar to other large AAA games that are released over the course of a year: an explosive release as the largest streamers on the platform all flock to play the hottest game out there, followed by a steady drop off over the course of the next few weeks, leaving just a core audience to soak up a game they truly love or an entertainer who has decided to make the game their own.
While that is okay for single-player story games with inevitable endings, that should never be the case for a multi-player game such as Call of Duty that features numerous game modes and sales figures that suggest a lot of people are playing the title. If Black Ops 4 has any intention of maintaining a top-tier presence on the largest streaming platform in the world, then Treyarch, the company who developed the newest title alongside Activision, the publisher, needs to make changes -- and some improvements are already in the works.
Catering to the PC-audience
Call of Duty, while selling their titles on the PC, has primarily been a console-focused shooter. The overwhelming majority of players purchase the titles on Playstation or Xbox, and that is where Treyarch's focus is as well. Content updates, the competitive scene, and the optimizing of the game has been catered to the console audience and platform.
While there is no shame in dedicating your resources to the platform players have historically chosen to dedicate their money, that platform is not always the recipe for success on Twitch. The majority of the top-viewed games on Twitch currently (Fortnite, Dota 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone, CSGO and PUBG, in addition to Call of Duty) have a large PC player base. Although a few of those titles offer their game on console, a great deal of those who are playing and streaming the game are on PC.
One may ask, "Who cares if a game caters to a Twitch audience?"
The correlation between a game being watched and played is a natural one. Fortnite is played by tens of millions of people per week and attracts millions of eyeballs when streamed. If a big streamer plays a game that can hold tens of thousands of viewers for them, viewers will want to play the game they are watching.
In a way, the viewership shows the health of a title. A top streamer will not want to continue to dedicate resources to a game that is not supported by the developer as they'd rather enjoy their playing experience. Appealing to individuals who can "advertise" your game to thousands on a daily basis carries a great deal of weight in today's day-in-age.
No longer should PC be the little brother when it comes to the attention of the developer. With the explosion of the battle royale genre taking place over the last year, CoD’s Blackout has the potential to shake up the scene.
Top streamers stream PC games, primarily due to their optimization and ease to stream, and Blackout fills a hole in a genre that, while immensely popular, is prone to fatigue. It has a window of opportunity to appeal to battle royale fans who are growing bored of the typical, like PUBG and Fortnite.
Call of Duty can offer an alternative and Twitch viewers will want to watch. It is up to Activision and Treyarch to ensure the long-term health of the PC platform if retaining players long-term through viewership is their goal.
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