There are currently two huge battle royale titles slugging it out to be the most relevant game in the most popular genre in the world. And neither are owned by Activision, the largest video game publisher.
That would be EA’s Apex Legends squaring off against Epic’s Fortnite, Fortnite with the year-long head start as a global phenomenon, but Apex Legends putting up record breaking numbers in terms of how fast its amassing its playerbase.
Left out of this conversation is Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which arrived this past fall containing Blackout, its own spin on battle royale that seemed at the time like it should potentially be a formidable Fortnite challenger. And yet even with Black Ops 4 being the best-selling game of 2018, and a number of players still playing Blackout, it’s just not at the forefront of almost anyone’s mind these days. Looking on Twitch, Black Ops 4 is routinely no better the #30-40 of the most watched games as Fortnite and Apex duke it out for #1 and #2 most days.
The writing should really be on the wall at this point for Blackout, that a huge barrier to entry for the BR is that it remains attached to Black Ops 4itself, a $60 game now on sale for far less than that many places, and yet still more than “free,” something Fortnite and Apex Legends can both boast. And Blackout’s cost has not prevented Activision from going hard on its microtransactions anyway.
Blackout needs to be surgically removed from Black Ops 4 and go free-to-play if Activision wants to have a prayer of it regaining and retaining relevance in this space, not just up against Fortnite now, but also Apex, which is arguably a much more direct competitor thanks to its FPSgameplay and backing from EA.
I understand that Blackout probably needed to be bundled with multiplayer and zombies for the launch of Black Ops 4 because it didn’t have a story campaign, and otherwise, Activision would then be demanding $60 for two-thirds of what you normally get in a COD release. But that was a long time ago now, and even if Activision is still hoping for long-tail sales of the game (which COD usually gets) it does seem like the clock is ticking for Blackout to separate itself out and go free-to-play.
Part of this ties into Activision’s Call of Duty plans for this fall, as well. It’s become something of an open secret that Infinity Ward is probably going to be making Modern Warfare 4. Rumor also has it that we will see the return of a campaign, which will no doubt join multiplayer and zombies, of course. But in that case, where does that leave Blackout? It feels like Blackout needs to be a fixed object in the Call of Duty orbit going forward. Blackout should become and remain free, and a new Call of Duty release could bring anything from new weapons and characters to the mode, to theoretically an entirely new map for it like PUBG does.
But it has to be free. It’s clear from the mammoth success of Apex that even after a year of Fortnite, the battle royale genre is still going strong, which is more than could be said of say, the hero shooter genre, much to Overwatch’s dismay. So Activision still wants to be playing in this space, and while I don’t know if Blackout can ultimately compete with Apexeven if it is free because of how good Apex is, the first step in even being on the same playing field is transitioning the model and opening up the game to more players like this.
Logic would dictate that Blizzard may be concocting their own battle royale entry with one of their IPs (probably Overwatch) in the near future, but Blizzard has been in such turmoil lately and so far behind this BR curve that it’s anyone’s guess if that game exists and when or if it ever sees the light of day. So for now, Blackout is what Activision has to work with.
I would expect a F2P announcement for Blackout in the next couple weeks at the earliest, in the next couple months at the latest. This is really the only way forward, and it’s only a matter of time until Activision pulls that trigger.