by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 22nd January, 2020
Activision released Call of Duty Mobile in October 2019 and the game is already one of the biggest mobile titles around. Find out why CoD Mobile reached the top of the mobile market in just three months.
Call of Duty games were among the top sellers ever since the original Call of Duty game came out way back in 2003. Each new title reached new sales milestones and once the franchise switched to yearly sequels, the profit simply exploded.
Activision reaped massive money from CoD games since they were, and still are, a premier FPS multiplayer experience. Say what you will about them but for fans of multiplayer there aren't many better choices than Call of Duty titles.
While they dominate the PC and console markets, CoD games barely touched the lucrative mobile games market. We've got a few smaller titles over the years, such as CoD: Zombies and CoD: Heroes, but for all these years Activision failed to launch a mobile title capable of garnering a massive audience.
And since the mobile games market makes more money than console and PC markets combined, it's really strange Activision failed to offer a massive mobile hit until now.
But in October 2019 the company launched Call of Duty: Mobile and the game exploded in popularity in just a few months. CoD Mobile managed to earn almost $120 million in just 3 months after its release and reached almost 150 million downloads in the first month, both awe-inspiring numbers.
Call of Duty finally has a huge mobile title and the franchise reached immense popularity on the mobile games market in just a few months. How did Activision score this big with the game? How they finally released a massive mobile hit after years of failed experiments? First of all, the company needed was the right partner.
The most important part of the successful CoD: Mobile story happened when Activision joined forces with Tencent, a Chinese giant that knows how to create successful mobile games. The company owns two of the top ten biggest mobile titles in 2019. Not only that but Tencent also owns Riot Games, developers of League of Legends, placed fourth among top ten free-to-play titles in 2019.
They also have a massive stake in Epic Games, developers, and publishers of Fortnite as well as owning the publishing rights for PUBG in China.
Further, Tencent also owns a couple of massively popular games on the Chinese market, most of which are free-to-play. In other words, the company knows how to produce massively popular f2p games for mobile devices. Its subdivision, TiMi Studios, developed Honour of Kings, one of the highest-earning f2p titles in the world (the game earned $1.6 billion just in 2019). And they simply nailed it with Call of Duty: Mobile.
The game is free-to-play and fully available to anyone with an internet connection and a decent smartphone. The second thing is really important because Call of Duty Mobile is superbly optimized and can run on a variety of devices, from budget phones to flagships that cost over $1,000.
Next, the game had a worldwide release, contrary to other massive games such as Pokemon GO, which were available in select territories for a long time before opening up in all countries.
Partnering with Tencent also meant that Call of Duty: Mobile will have day one presence on the Chinese mobile market, which is really important in case you want your mobile game to become super popular.
While its contribution to the worldwide premium games market is negligible, the Asian market is dominating when it comes to free-to-play games available on mobile devices and PCs. And China makes a huge chunk of those earnings. In other words, by partnering with the biggest player in the world when it comes to f2p mobile games, Activision practically secured a strong opening for Call of Duty Mobile. But the game needed much more than a capable publisher to dominate the market.
Another huge advantage of Call of Duty: Mobile over other mobile versions of big AAA PC and console hits is that the game looks and plays like a full-fledged Call of Duty title. The controls are simple and accessible and they work surprisingly well.
There's no need to hook up your phone to a controller in order to enjoy the game in its fullest, unlike with most other mobile shooters. But despite touch-based controls, the game still plays like a console CoD, and it feels amazing.
Weapons have a noticeable kick to them; there's a clear difference between assault rifles, snipers, SMGs, and pistols. Combined with excellent controls the game offers experience better than every other mobile shooter around.
Another staple feature in CoD titles for many years is a huge number of customizations, and CoD: Mobile does not disappoint here. Firstly, you have an immense number of weapons.
There are almost thirty different weapons to pick from. Assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs, rocket and grenade launchers, even flamethrowers. Each weapon has its own levels unlocked by getting kills with the weapon and each level brings a new part that upgrades weapon stats.
The game also offers a variety of perks that unlock either by leveling up or by acquiring specific weapons. There are also signature killstreak rewards such as UAV, assault chopper, or the good old missile strike. Some killstreaks require some time to get used to (for instance, it can happen that you forgot to aim the missile the first couple of times) but after a while touchscreen controls start to feel natural.
And once you enter a match, you'll experience the signature Call of Duty gameplay consisting of high-octane gunplay, high mobility, and immediate return to the battlefield after getting killed in battle. Vehicle controls are intuitive and better than on the PC, where keyboard and mouse combo aren't as suited to controlling ATVs and helicopters as a touchscreen.
The game even supports simple voice chat that doesn't require any additional equipment. Your phone's speakers and microphone are enough to chat with other players, making the experience even closer to the one available of the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
When it comes to visuals, Call of Duty: Mobile looks amazing for a mobile game. If your device can support a very high-quality option you are treated with PS3 and Xbox 360 level of graphics. Just a few other mobile games can reach the level of CoD: Mobile. The game looks stunning, with highly detailed player models, sharp textures, and lots of details on each map. Since this is a mobile title, maps are smaller and don't offer as many routes as their console counterparts but CoD veterans will recognize them from previous games.
But the game won't show its best parts until you unlock the Battle Royale mode. The huge map is unlike anything we've seen on a mobile device (well, maybe PUBG mobile can come close); it's very large and supports a huge number of players. The visuals are superb and we would really like to see the game getting Ground War mode from Modern Warfare. That would really test the limits of mobile gaming.
Sure, the game will feel a bit strange for the first couple of matches, especially if you're aren't an avid mobile gamer. Controls could feel jaggy and not really precise if you never player a mobile shooter before, and the pace might be too fast even for Call of Duty veterans.
But after a day or two, once you get used to playing a Call of Duty on a touchscreen, everything will come into place and the game will start to feel like another Call of Duty title. Not like a mobile version of a CoD game but like a full-fledged Call of Duty that happens to play on a mobile device.
The only thing that's missing is a single player campaign. The quality of gameplay and the overall presentation is a huge reason why the game simply exploded in popularity and why many players become regulars.
Call of Duty: Mobile comes with a variety of game modes that keep the game fresh and allow players to switch between modes regularly. You have the classic team deathmatch along with other famous game modes such as Domination, Search and Destroy, and Free for All.
Frontline is a mobile-only mode that comes with quick matches (they last for about five minutes) suited for playing on the go and simple maps with one open area in the middle where most gunfights take place.
Further, there are Zombies, offering an amazing co-op experience. They come with lots of maps and play much like on consoles and PC. Once you get bored of competitive play simply invite a few friends and kill some zombies. Each map is well designed and perfectly suited for mobile gameplay.
There's also Battle Royale mode that is the apex of Call of Duty: Mobile experience. A huge map with lots of areas to explore, the ability to wield any weapon and any piece of equipment, and a huge number of players in each match make Battle Royale the best experience of its kind on a mobile device. Of the top of it all, you can play time-limited game modes that rotate on a weekly and monthly basis, which is another plus.
And since this is a f2p mobile title, there's a ton of stuff to unlock. First of all, you have 150 levels to unlock, each awarding loot crates, weapons, different pieces of equipment, and other items. Weapons are unlocked by leveling up but you can buy cosmetic skins for real money that also unlock a weapon for which skin is made for. Then you have the inevitable Battle Pass that offers hundreds of different awards during each season. You can also unlock different pieces of clothing and customize your character to infinity and beyond.
Finally, the game gets regular content drops. These drops arrive weekly, with larger content updates arriving with each new season. These include new weapons and character skins, new characters, new maps, and other new items such as XP cards and such.
The regular flow of new cosmetic items (and believe us, many skins look awesome) combined with Battle Passes allows players to always have something new to unlock. There's no better reason to keep playing than to unlock new and shiny bling for your character and weapons and new maps always keep the game fresh and interesting to play.
One of the best things about Call of Duty: Mobile is the fact the game can be played on PC, with full keyboard and mouse support. All you have to do is to download the official Android emulator made by Tencent called GameLoop, download the game and voila, you can play on your PC.
First of all, the support for mouse and keyboard controls is spot on. The game doesn't feel like some janky mobile port that doesn't respond well to mouse movement and aiming. Quite the contrary, mouse controls are stable, accurate, and work like on every other PC shooter.
This makes the experience near perfect and allows players to be much better in multiplayer than when playing on their mobile devices. Even though touchscreen controls are among the best we've seen in a mobile game, mouse and keyboard combo is much better.
By playing on PC you have faster aim, more precise movement, and the ability to perform rapid 180 degree turns that aren't possible on smartphones.
Yes, this gives you an advantage over mobile players but hey, Tencent and Activision officially support Call of Duty: Mobile on PC so it's not like you're cheating. After all, PC players always match with other PC players, with mobile players only getting into matches if invited by their friends playing on PC.
Further, the game works flawlessly on any mid-tier PC. You get solid visuals that are nothing special on a large monitor, but not that bad. On par with games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, older CoD and Battlefield titles, Ring of Elysium, and Insurgency.
But better than the quality of visuals is performance. Fluid 60 fps combined with superb controls make CoD: Mobile a more than solid experience on PC.
But since the game is free-to-play it managed to attract many players who wanted to play Call of Duty on PC but weren't ready to shell out $60 for CoD: Modern Warfare. And despite the plethora of microtransactions, having a free Call of Duty title on PC that works and plays great is surely another way for Activision to increase the player count of their latest mobile title.
This especially stands true for the Asian market, which prefers free-to-play titles over those that require upfront purchases and for markets in countries where shelling out $60 for a video game is just too much, which is the case in many developing markets.
Since this is a f2p mobile game and since even main CoD titles feature lots of microtransactions, expect to see lots of those in CoD: Mobile.
There are 2 currencies but only one can be used for buying rare skins and Battle Pass. Now, while premium skins cost a considerable amount of money (skins are ranging from about $5 to $30, which is simply too much) you can get the same weapons as rewards in daily crates and for leveling up. Their premium skin counterparts don't come with improved stats; they're the same, just look better.
This is a positive since it allows players to get their hold on quality weapons without shelling out cash. A bigger problem is the fact that you can buy XP cards for leveling up weapons for money.
This allows players to quickly unlock weapon add-ons, which gives you a competitive advantage. On the other hand, leveling up weapons is relatively fast and unlocked add-ons (like scopes and silencers) can be used on other weapons once unlocked. That way you can unlock gear for your first weapon and then use it on future weapon unlocks, allowing you to stay competitive without spending cash.
The Battle pass costs about $10 and it comes with 100 levels, each level offering a couple of rewards. There are hundreds of cool rewards in each premium Battle Pass.
You get premium skins, currency, XP cards, loot chests, clothing items, and other stuff and objectively speaking, premium Battle Pass is worth the price. There's also free Battle Pass tier that isn't nearly as rewarding, but that's expected. Overall, Call of Duty: Mobile is packed with ways to spend money but they aren't ruining the experience.
You can be competitive without shelling out cash, at least until you reach the highest tiers in ranked matches, where players sport the best weapons and gear and have unlocked all the best weapon add-ons. On the other side, if you want to have the coolest skins and if you want your character to look different (there are a couple of prebuilt skins that are plain looking) you'll have to spend some cash.
Generally speaking, the situation with monetization is much better in CoD: Mobile than in many other mobile multiplayer shooters. In-app purchases can give you a small edge in combat, but after a while, you will get good weapons by leveling up or opening daily crates.
Sure, they won't look as cool as the ones sold in the store or found in premium loot boxes, but they do the job when you're facing enemies in multiplayer. Also, you will unlock the most important weapon add-ons in the first week of playing the game, so no need to spend money on those. And remember that Battle Royale allows any weapon to be equipped, so there can be no competitive advantage in that mode.
To be honest, we didn't expect this. We thought the game will put a paywall as soon as we climbed a couple of ranks in multiplayer but that isn't the case. The only noticeable advantage for those who're ready to pay for weapons are perks that come with certain weapons, but those cannot make that much of a difference.
We are only hoping that future Battle Passes won't include premium weapons with improved stats that ruined Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII. So, if you want to dive into Call of Duty: Mobile, check if the current Battle Pass (the new season that brings a new Battle Pass should already started by now) contains exclusive OP weapons with increased stats. If that's the case you should think twice before downloading the game.
Call of Duty: Mobile proved to be an excellent mobile multiplayer shooter. The best touchscreen controls we ever saw, excellent visuals, lots of content, tons of stuff to unlock, and amazing gameplay make it probably the best shooter you can play on your smartphone right now. And this is why the game become a smashing hit among mobile gamers from around the world in just a couple of months after its release.
The constant flow of new content along with the regular arrival of new Battle Passes (Season 3 should be on the way before we publish this article) that bring new skins and maps will ensure that player base stays loyal to the game. Activision finally nailed it and came up with a blockbuster mobile title. We are sure that in the coming months and years Call of Duty: Mobile will rise to become one of the biggest mobile games in the world, introducing tens of millions of players to the biggest FPS franchise at the moment.