Concerns over Call of Duty: Black Ops Multiplayer
Messing up the massively popular Call of Duty series with the upcoming release, Black Ops, is impossible. Really, all developer Treyarch has to do is stick to previous developer Infinity Ward's game plan (from Modern Warfare 2), add a few new multiplayer maps and weapons, and call it a day. Instead, they're introducing some new features and customization options that have the potential to significantly change the way fans play online multiplayer. Here are three things they're adding, why each one rocks, and what's potentially bad about them.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 1
1. COD points and wager matches
What's cool: Take the Call of Duty series' online mode, which is already mind-bogglingly addictive and successful, and add an element of digital crack. Players earn COD points from playing the multiplayer modes (i.e., 10 points per kill) which they can then use to unlock new weapons, character-customization options, contracts (think perks), etc. Furthermore, players can gamble their points in a wager match, where each contestant buys in at a certain price, and the top three players at the end split up the pot.
That's quite the incentive for losers to want to get better: Maybe one day they can be the champions stealing points from unfortunate "noobs." Even better, players who talk a lot of trash can now put their pretend money where their wireless-headset-adorned mouths are.
What's bad: Give people an opportunity to make bets, and you open the door for potential underground gambling rings to rise up around the game. Obviously, people could start them around other Call of Duties (or really, any competitive online title), but these wager matches streamline the process.
"That's really none of our responsibility," says Treyarch Community Manager Josh Olin. "We're out there to make an entertainment product, and that's all that we're focused on."
Fair enough, I suppose. But what are the chances of this game being quantifiably more addictive and providing more powerful psychological rewards -- via straight-up gambling -- to players than other shooters?
When asked if they were concerned that Black Ops would have the same addictive hallmarks as traditional gambling, minus the real-world money, Olin responded that he "hopes so" but then backtracked a little bit.
"I don't want to get people addicted to anything," he says, "but if people are playing Black Ops for hundreds of more hours now, and they're getting that much more life out of that product, that's what we set out to do. We want to entertain people, and unlike a movie, we can entertain people for months and months on end."
This then begs the question: Will Treyarch/Activision have to deal with lawsuits (like this one) where an addicted gamer sues the game maker because it left him unable to function in real life? Silly, but with purposely addictive elements added to the title, it seems increasingly less farfetched of a possibility.
2. Character customization
What's cool: Players can spend COD points to unlock face paint, weapons, reticles, and emblems for their characters. It's nice to be able stick out from the endless flood of players who frequent COD multiplayer and not look like every other boring generic soldier.
What's bad: With so much control over what your digital warrior looks like, where is the ethnicity-change option? Olin confirms that you cannot directly change the race or ethnicity of your character. So far, most avatars appear to be either white or Southeast Asian -- it changes depending on what class you choose. But what about blacks and Latinos? Didn't they fight in America's wars depicted in this game, too?
I don't mean to peg Black Ops for seeming to marginalize the contributions of people of color to the Vietnam War et al., especially since I was only able to check out parts of the multiplayer mode at a press event. But with so many character-customization options for added realism (and in many instances unrealism), why not let players change their skin tone or ethnicity? Out of the millions of people from all walks of life who play COD multiplayer, I'm sure many would appreciate the option to have their virtual servicemen better fit their identities.
Ollin defended that the game provides a variety of unlockable face paints, but I don't think that's the best way to change a Caucasian character into an African-American one.
3. Emblem editor for gun decals
What's cool: Give a bunch of amped-up young men some artistic tools to express themselves in a testosterone-filled game environment, and you can bet we'll see a cornucopia of penises. Community members can report any offensive icons that they see, so if people are OK with seeing dicks on everyone's firearms ("this is my rifle, this is my gun...."), they stay. Horses with pistols for hooves (see video) are cool and all, but what about a horse with -- well, you get the idea.
What's bad: Nothing, really...unless you're that phallus-obsessed kid from Superbad, and you get upset when someone censors your "art."
When Black Ops launches this November, you'll want to remember the old saying that "as Call of Duty goes, so goes the nation." Well, maybe not quite, but expect the lot of copycat shooters to generously borrow from Treyarch's battle strategy, because it's bound to be successful. Assuming that's the case, I hope that future developers tweak features like these in sensible ways that respects all players' best interests. If not, might I suggest they invest in some kind of first-person-shooters anonymous clinic?
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