Analysis: Player interest in Call of Duty’s campaigns is cratering

Last week, some fans were surprised and dismayed to hear that will be the first game in the series to not include a single-player campaign mode. Those fans might be less surprised if they looked at Achievement statistics, which show a steady and marked decrease in the popularity of the series’ campaign modes over the last decade.

Significantly fewer people are completing or even starting campaigns than in the past, suggesting that a more multiplayer-focused future for the series might be wise.

The data for this analysis comes from the series’ publicly viewableAchievement pages on Steam and Xbox Live, each of which lists the percentage of that game’s players who completed certain publisher-set landmarks (such as completing the campaign). These stats come from Valve and Microsoft themselves and provide the best public window into the actual play habits of tens of millions of players.

At first glance, the data shows a noisy but relatively steady decline in campaign completion rates over time. On Xbox platforms, that completion rate has come down from 37.7 percent for 2007’s (the start of the “modern era” for the series) to 22.4 percent for 2017’s (which, to be fair, some slower players may still be working on). On Steam, we’ve similarly gone from 52.3-percent campaign completion for 2009’s (the first game that has Steam Achievement data) to 38.2 percent for .

When you separate the games out by developer, though, you can see the downward trends even more clearly. On both platforms, going back to 2007, the single-player campaign for any game is almost always strictly less popular than the last game from that same developer.

This is especially true for Treyarch-developed games, which saw campaign-completion rates absolutely crater for 2015’s . Only nine percent of Steam players and about eight percent of Xbox players managed to finish that campaign, which is a pretty small chunk of audience to cater to with an expensive and difficult-to-produce narrative experience. With those kinds of stats staring the company in the face, it’s not too surprising that Treyarch decided to go a different direction for this year.

Indeed, Treyarch co-studio head Dan Bunting told Eurogamer that the company “see[s] more and more players spending more time with multiplayer and zombies, not just in the game, but out of the game, streaming and talking about it in forums… we’ve always wanted to celebrate our community, especially how you play the game with friends. The heart and soul of this game is how you play games with friends, and we wanted to do more with that than we’ve ever done before.”

These statistics help show just how much multiplayer has become the “heart and soul” of the series in particular and how little many players will miss the single-player campaign.

Don’t even start

Campaign completion could be somewhat misleading, of course—maybe fewer people are completing these single-player stories simply because the missions are getting more difficult. But the Achievement data also shows us how many players finished even the first mission in each release (save , which doesn’t have a distinct Achievement for each single-player mission). It’s safe to assume that players who didn’t get these Achievements are focusing on the games’ popular multiplayer modes instead.

The trend in this “first-mission” completion rate shows more and more players ignoring the single-player campaign entirely over time. In 2016, for instance, only about 40 percent of Xbox Live players even bothered to finish the first mission in , down from 65.8 percent for Infinity Ward’s nine years before.

Steam shows a similar dropoff to 40 percent of players finishing a single mission in ‘s campaign but a steadier 70 to 80 percent first-mission completion rate for other Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer releases over the years. On both platforms, though, Treyarch’s games show first-mission completion rates that are lower than those of contemporary developers. When it comes to , compared to other titles, more players seem content to not bother with the campaign at all.

isn’t alone among shooters in the decline of single-player story popularity, either. Spot checks of campaign-completion Achievements for , , and on Xbox Live all show the ratio of players finishing those stories declining a bit over time. For the most part, though, those declines have been less steep and less deep for competing series, suggesting fans might be uniquely prone to opt for multiplayer exclusively.

Of course, this kind of raw Achievement data can only tell us so much. Even though less than 10 percent of players completed the campaign, for instance, the uncompleted single-player mode may have been an important and memorable experience for many more players. On the flipside, even players who finished some or all of the campaign missions in a game might not really miss the mode all that much if it suddenly went away in the next release.

The evidence we have, though, is relatively clear. As time goes on, players are generally less interested in shooting through a single-player story and more interested in shooting other humans online. Keep that reality in mind as you consider Treyarch’s decision to shift limited development resources toward new multiplayer modes instead.

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