Rolling out Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 early for patches was a great idea — and it should happen more often

Last week, something occurred in the AAA gaming space that you don’t see every day.

Players who pre-order their games digitally across Xbox, PC and PS4 are often extended the luxury of preloading games. Preloading is the process of downloading a game prior to its street date. You can’t play a pre-loaded game right away, the client is locked until the clock strikes midnight on launch day. But when it does, the game is fully loaded on your system and ready to go.

Pre-loading became a thing around the time that average file sizes for AAA game downloads started rapidly and regularly climbing above the 30GB mark. This trend hasn’t slowed down — next week’s blockbuster Red Dead Redemption 2 will weigh in at a monstrous 105GB, a real ask for Australians still wrestling with ADSL2+ connections.

For the most part, people who buy physical copies avoid this kind of thing. Everything they need to install is on the disc, so the most they ever have to deal with is a Day One patch. This is what was remarkable about Activision’s decision to release Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 early via retail partners JB Hi-Fi and EB Games a day prior to the stated launch date.

Their reasoning for this move was simple and wise on the whole: Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a multiplayer game. It eschews the traditional single player campaign of previous titles in favour of an entirely multiplayer product. Any player that picked up their physical copy on the way home from work wouldn’t be able to play any part of the game until that update downloaded. A move like this squares everything away so that when players get home on launch day, they can jump in without having to wait around.

This is a great idea, and I expect to see more publishers taking this kind of thing into consideration in future. It was handled well, punters to got have a little offline preview of the couch co-op and split-screen modes ahead of launch and, most importantly, everyone got to join the servers the moment they came online. As AAA launches for online titles go, you can’t have asked for a smoother experience.