The Call of Duty: WWII hype train is starting to get rolling. The Private Beta will be underway soon and after that, won’t be long until the game is out in full. November hits the gaming world before we notice it coming. More and more trailers and advertisements are hitting the usual spots as well. Specifically, Activision recently dropped a trailer highlighting Headquarters, a brand new “mode” of sorts for the Call of Duty series. And while it’s a neat idea on paper, I’m not sold on it bringing much in the way of value to the Call of Duty community.
I think the trailer hides the real problem I’m thinking about while highlighting the cool parts. Headquarters is a big, new social hub for folks playing Call of Duty: WWII. Players hang out in what is essentially a fancy lobby or hub and can access several “minigame” style experiences in lieu of the other, standard set of multiplayer modes. There’s competitive target practice challenges, one-on-one training skirmishes and other modes that pit players against each other in new, creative ways. That stuff is neat.
But is Call of Duty really something that needs a social hub? Does Call of Duty really have a Community, with a capital “C?” In Headquarters, players are expected to do other things in addition to playing these new game modes. There are tons of social features, from comparing customizations to watching esports streams together in-game and more. Hanging Out in Call of Duty is the thing that Headquarters seemingly aims to accomplish.
Now, I understand that Call of Duty is a hugely multiplayer game. People get together to play all the time. There’s a thriving competitive scene in the esports space, and people gather together with their friends and form things like clans to play together on the regular. But these are small groups that stick together in long-term situations, and the platforms for these groupings have already been in place in games for a long time.
It feels like Headquarters is trying to encourage the mass of Call of Duty “randos” comprising the typically unorganized online Call of Duty experience to hang out together. Frankly, that sounds like the absolute last thing I would want to do. The prospect of willfully spending time with groups of the people I randomly encounter in brief matchmaking sessions for extended periods of time sounds about as appealing as using a headset for online play in 2017 in the first place.
I can’t wait for the first time I drop into Headquarters to check it out. Depending on how communication between players works in this mode, I wonder how long it will take before I overhear teenagers shouting slurs at each other. I wonder what the over-under on problems with sexual harassment will be as a result of this mode. Perhaps there are things like in-game reporting tools in place to deal with this kind of stuff, or perhaps there are ways to enjoy the fun parts of Headquarters without being bombarded by hordes of the Walking Stupid. This is purely conjecture based on the concept in paper, as nobody has really gone in-depth or had access to the mode yet. It won’t be live in the Private Beta, for instance, and E3 demos were also sans-Headquarters.
Call of Duty: WWII looks and feels like a response to a lot of fast changes in video games from the past few years. Headquarters especially seems like a big experiment based on how much people latch onto games and communities thanks to things like streaming and growing competition. But the Call of Duty online experience doesn’t have the best reputation when you aren’t playing with your friends. We’ll see how it shakes out, but I consider myself a skeptic at this stage.