Exclusive: Call of Duty devs reveal how far in advance they plan seasonal content
Just how far in advance do Call of Duty developers plan ahead? With the pivot to a seasonal model and new content always right around the corner, we spoke with two key figures at Infinity Ward to learn how the team stays on top of it all.
Back in CoD’s formative years, when a new game hit store shelves every holiday period, that was mostly it. The full package, content complete, all on the disc. Then came the era of downloadable content, a period in which Activision’s FPS juggernaut largely dominated virtual marketplaces with its regular cadence of map packs.
Nowadays, however, the typical multiplayer game is all but expected to have a more efficient method of delivery. New cosmetic items, new maps for a litany of game modes, new playlists, balance changes, even new experiences on the whole are deployed with each passing season. It’s safe to say there’s always plenty in the oven. As Infinity Ward’s Multiplayer Design Director Geoff Smith put it, “Once the game comes out, we’re still at it for another year.”
So how exactly do CoD developers meet the demand? How far out is this seasonal content nailed down? Are initial plans always set in stone or can dev teams pivot if they see a new opportunity arise? Here’s what we found out in our recent interview.
“I think [in] the final ship year, we already have our plan for post-launch,” Smith told us. While some quirks may still need to be ironed out along the way, at the very least, a rough roadmap is in place before that year’s CoD title even launches.
“Maybe those maps haven’t been started, but at least we’ve earmarked what they could or should be. There’s always kind of a rough plan. Different things happen, different situations come up, and those plans can change. But we’ve been trying to get better at pre-planning the post-launch stuff.”
As mentioned above, the release date for a new CoD title in the modern era is in many ways just the starting point. With a full year of support still left to attend to, a great deal of work remains long after fans get their hands on the premium release. Naturally, it’s a “tough” balance, Smith admitted, but one the team at Infinity Ward has been trying to improve at to “make [their] lives a bit easier in the post-launch period.
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One such area of improvement is simply having map ideas laid out well in advance, Co-Design Director of Multiplayer Joseph Cecot added. Given the tight turnaround on some of this seasonal content, “nothing feels worse than not getting to test a map before it goes to art,” he explained.
“Not having the time to really feel it out and find issues. Then you’re stuck either asking forgiveness from art because you’re trying to move things and change things that are locked. Or you’re having to live with it and solve it in other ways. That doesn’t feel good. So the more we can be ready to feed into the art pipeline, the better.”
To some degree, devs argue they have to “read the tea leaves” in order to predict what’s going to land best and at what time. In that sense, Smith gave an example of map diversity in Modern Warfare 2, saying the team “probably missed on some nature maps. Something in the woods. We have a lot of urban stuff. Maybe as a counter-point, we could do more nature stuff.”
It’s all a balancing act but one certainly not left up in the air until the last minute. Quite the opposite as we now know, and during the conversation, the devs even teased what fans can expect from the final batch of Modern Warfare 2 maps later this year.