Clan Wars are about to break out in Call of Duty: Ghosts -- metagame battlegrounds that add a layer of strategy and focused cooperation to the already frenzied competition of Call of Duty multiplayer. Before the first Clan War gets underway on Monday, November 25th, you might want to know how this war will play out and more importantly, exactly what you're fighting for. The spoils of war are potentially great...


The Origins of War
The idea for Call of Duty Clan Wars obviously has its origins in Call of Duty Elite's Clan Operations -- "the concept of having your Clan play together in some coordinated fashion," says John Linden, studio head of Beachhead. "A lot of people did it -- it was amazing watching the numbers -- but it had several flaws, even though it was a cool concept. It wasn't fully satisfying, it wasn't fully integrated to the game." Several people, including developers at Infinity Ward and Neversoft, shared ideas and collaborated with Beachhead on how to add something large, strategic, and team-based to the Call of Duty experience. "I talked to a lot of different guys," says Linden. "We wanted to revamp Clan Operations, and they had some ideas floating around. We went through a whole range of different concepts -- hex-based concepts, ladder-based concepts -- all over the place. But we really wanted to have these team strategy type elements. So we took it and ran with it, and worked with IW to make sure there were some really strong integration points."  While concepts were discussed long before, the first workable prototype for Clan Wars came together around February or March of this year. "Obviously, it doesn't look anything like that now," says Linden with a chuckle. "I think originally we started testing against Modern Warfare 3 data, and we saw that it was fun -- people would really get into it and start creating these rivalries." 

The team has been refining the concept ever since, taking special care not to intrude on the gameplay that 40 million people already love. "We wanted to make sure we took the right approach around the strategy element," explains Linden. "We didn't want to force it down people's throats; we didn't want to change the balance of the game; we didn't want to take people out of matches to think through the strategy element. We wanted to keep people playing." 


Modes Equal Nodes
Clan Wars is a metagame that takes place on top of the multiplayer game you're already playing. The various game multiplayer game modes in Call of Duty: Ghosts match up to a node on the Clan Wars map, which you can view from the free Call of Duty app (click here to download it or here to watch a quick video showing what the app offers). One Clan War node might be tied to your success in Hunted; another might be linked to Hardcore Kill Confirmed. As you and your Clan members play multiplayer matches in those modes, you'll be racking up points that will let you take control of the matching nodes. Controlling those nodes pays off in in-game bonuses and, if you're really good, unlockable items for your soldiers. Since Clan Wars is layered on top of what gamers are already playing, it's something that casual, social Call of Duty gamers as well as more dedicated, competitive players can all enjoy. 


In fact, your participation in Clan Wars, like your activity within a Call of Duty Clan itself, can be entirely passive. "It doesn't hinder you," confirms Linden. "Most likely, if you you're in a Clan of at least three people but you never get the mobile app and never really pay attention to Clan Wars, you're going to get bonuses in the game every now and then. But you're not going to win the overall War if you're not paying attention to it, or if you don't have a Clan leader directing the team. If you don't add that level of strategy, you're not going to win."  Every two weeks you'll get matched up with a new batch of seven other rival Clans. You might find yourself battling some familiar foes more than one week, but "there are a lot of Clans out there, so hopefully you'll see a lot of variety and mix it up." In this case, "a lot of Clans" means any Clan with at least three members in it -- they're eligible for Clan Wars and will be automatically enrolled when the system gets underway.


Fair Fights

Call of Duty players hate lopsided lobbies, and they will bail on a match if they feel it's hopeless. Beachhead is well aware of that, so Call of Duty Clan Wars are designed to be fair fights. "Your Clan will get ranked into one of four divisions," explains Linden. "We have a new matchmaking system, which takes into account the skill and size of your Clan at the beginning of the War. You don't want to get one group with 100 people where they all play 15 hours a day versus a group of 100 people with four active players playing two hours a day. You'd get crushed; it wouldn't be a good balance."

 


With eight teams and 10 locations in each Clan Wars, the math clearly works out in the players' favor; the trick will be how to control enough of those points over time to win the whole event."That's one of the game designs we really focused on this year," says Linden excitedly. "We wanted everybody to have a shot. I'm not a big fan of games where it's a two-week battle, and on the second day, I had something to do, and then suddenly, I don't want to play the next 12 days, because I can never catch up. So we tried to build a game that allows you to have a fair fight. And obviously, if you don't play as much, you will ultimately lose -- but it's the kind of thing where you can definitely take over territories and earn bonuses in the game, and fight over these different pieces."


All For One, XP For All
Those bonuses in the game are desirable and immediate, which make them strong motivators to players who like both a little direction and instant gratification in their multiplayer matches."We tried to have short-term goals and longer-term goals," reveals Linden. "Short-term goals are basically XP multipliers -- those are tied back to the nodes, which are tied back to the game modes. So say our Clan took over a spot that was tied to Blitz, because we hit the target amount of wins as a Clan first, and we might get a 25% XP bonus -- 1.25 times every XP point in multiplayer in that mode until we lose that node to another Clan. As soon as a Clan takes that away, you'll see it in the game. You can see it in the playlist, even -- you'll suddenly see which of your modes you're getting bonuses for in the game, and if you lose the node, you lose that bonus." What's more, rewards are global. "If I take over a Core TDM node of the Clan Wars map, the XP bonus applies to all Core TDM matches in the whole game," says Linden. That includes TDM matches that might show up in Moshpit playlists.

 

The data in the lower right shows your Clan's current Clan War bonuses


With 10 spots on the map and up to eight Clans battling in each Call of Duty Clan War, someone will always hold more than one point – which means bonus XP in multiple playlists. "There are more game types than we have locations, and you might even find some doubling-up sometimes; we've tested that at well," says Linden. "If you're playing TDM, maybe that affects two locations in different ways. We're experimenting and seeing how that plays out." Linden notes that many things are changeable;  that 25% boost offered as an example, for instance, is not set in stone. Along with varying the game types, the bonus rewards will also change with each Clan War. 


"If you're in Clan Wars and you take a node or a territory, you will get that bonus, and you'll see it in the game -- it will be very apparent," says Linden. "I think in the match summary in the end, it'll break out a line-item for your Clan Wars XP bonus. And that is real-honest-to-goodness individual Call of Duty multiplayer XP. There will be Clan XP as well at the end of the war, and there are also other rewards at the end of the war as well -- mostly items in the game."


The Prize Is Right
Those in-game items are the ultimate souvenirs of a Clan War. One of the prizes available for the first war include an exclusive Triad reticle. "You can see that if you're flipping through the reticles currently in the game," says Linden. "When your Clan wins its first War, you unlock that reticle. There's also a patch that is exclusive to this War; you'll get that if you're in the top three teams out of the eight. If you don't place in the top three, then unfortunately you won't get that patch; there will be a different patch for the next War. They're kind of fun, goofy patches -- there are yetis and skulls and pirates in there. I think they're going to be popular." And once those patches are gone, they're gone; there are no plans to reissue patches in future Clan Wars. "If you miss the War, you've lost that opportunity," confirms Linden. "We've tried to make it so that you don't want to miss the Wars." 


"There are four divisions, and some of the prizes are only for the top two divisions," continues Linden. "Some of them will be for everybody -- there will be things you can always earn no matter what division you're in -- but there will be some items we want to hold out for Clans who are very competitive. We want to make sure that the players who are really putting a lot of work into it, playing hard and playing as a team, get some benefit. 


Body Count

The first personal soldier gear awarded by Clan Wars is the red-accented Body Count armor, some pieces of which you can already see in the game's Create a Soldier customization menus. Different parts of this armor will be released as part of Clan Wars, so you can build up a full outfit over time if you win consistently. "We worked with IW on this, because really wanted to have something you could wear, fully coordinated," reveals Linden. "You earn it over time over different Wars, and you'll pick up different pieces. But the idea is that your entire Clan could wear it and look cool with it. It does stand out, it's a little loud, but we wanted it a little loud. If you are unlocking this stuff, you are the best, so it's taunting a little bit. Other items are in blacks and grays and greens and browns – but this is 'Hey, look at me, I'm in red!' It's for people to show off, 'I'm kicking ass and taking names.' And that's the feedback we got from Clans, too -- Clans want to be, like, 'look at us.' We want the first time you wear this stuff for people to contact you and say 'Where'd you get that stuff?'" 


If you win bonus things like armor pieces as part of Clan Wars, and you leave the Clan, do you take those spoils of war with you? "Man, that's been the design question for the last four months," Linden says with an exasperated laugh. "These are things we think about a lot – is it tied to the Clan? Is it tied to the Clan when I'm winning? Is it consecutive wins? We've gone through many different design choices. We've tried to keep it pretty simple: You win it, you keep it. If you leave your Clan, you still keep it. If you join a Clan and the Clan's already earned it, you don't get it – you have to earn it yourself with the Clan. Now, patches, you do lose. Personal soldier gear belongs to you, but the patches belong to the Clan."


No One Fights Alone, Even When They Fight Alone
Rewarding both individual achievement and team effort is a key goal for Beachhead – and to that end, it's important to note that Clan XP and Clan Wars points are different things. "Clan XP, you earn by playing together, but Clan Wars wins count individually," explains Linden. "If I win a match in a mode relevant to the current Clan War, I get a point for my Clan; if you play later, you get a point for your Clan. It's an individual contribution to your Clan. We don't have to be playing together to play Clan Wars, and we didn't want to penalize people who aren't online at the same time as their Clan. With every win, I can contribute." 


Obviously, the scope of Clan Wars makes player diversity a valuable commodity. "You want to make sure you have different people in your Clan who are good at different modes," reasons Linden. "There are some people who always want to play Domination, and that's fine, but you're not going to win the Clan War. But if you have a good mix of some people playing Dom and some playing Hardcore Kill Confirmed, some people playing Blitz and some Cranked, that's when you're going to increase the odds of actually winning a war."


Getting Ready To Rumble
The first Clan War will only last a week; after that, the schedule calls for two-week engagements. The shortened length of the inaugural war gives the developers time to quickly implement feedback before hitting the scheduled stride of two weeks for each rumble. Other details, such as the frequency of each Clan War, are evolving naturally. "We're still working on the length of time between them; we're trying to keep it as short as possible," says Linden. "There might be a little downtime, and we've had a lot of different feedback on that -- maybe we should wait a couple of days, maybe just 12 hours. So we'll probably test out a few different things on that and see where we end up." The current plan is to conclude the first Clan War on December 2, with the next starting sometime the following day. 

 

To start things off, this weekend will be what's being called a "placement weekend" – stats on your Clan and its multiplayer personality will be collected a few days in advance, so matchups can be sorted for Monday's start. (In other words, this weekend's a good time to rally up.) You can also expect some Clan Wars communications from HQ, too. "We'll do an announcement, and probably a push notification in the app," offers Linden. "We'll want to remind people to make sure they have at least three people in your Clan if they want to participate, and to make sure they have a badass emblem for their Clan, because that's what gets stamped on the nodes. When you take over a territory, your emblem gets stamped on the territory in the app. When you go in, you'll know who is winning the War because their emblem will be all over the place."

 

Monday's Forecast: War
Beachead's quixotic goal for Call of Duty Clan Wars, then, is every game designer's holy grail: Accessible simplicity for casual players with an underlying layer of satisfying complexity for dedicated players. "We really want to make sure that people get Clan Wars, that it's easy to comprehend quickly, but we're going to add more and more strategy as we go," Linden promises. "We're figuring all that out now, and a lot of it will come from feedback – we're watching this very closely to see, what do people want, where do they want it to go?" Beachhead is eager to get player feedback via the callofduty.com forums as well as Twitter via @BeachheadStudio.  For his part, Linden can't wait to see Beachhead's latest creation spring to life, and after so many months of Clan Wars and Call of Duty app development, he can't help but smile as he confirms the reality: "War begins Monday."

UPDATE 11/27: I've heard from several players who are confused about how nodes are won, lost, and regained -- I'm fielding perfectly understandable questions like "why aren't my wins counting?" and "why can't I take back this node?" I think this sample scenario may help clarify things:

  1. Clan A takes a node for 60 wins (congratulations!).
  2. Clans B through H no longer accrue wins for themselves; now, their victories chip away at the leader’s wins instead.
  3. Clan A can still add wins during this time if their wins come in faster than other Clans’ wins. This is tough, since the fight is now seven Clans against one Clan, but it's doable if Clan A is racking up a lot of wins when the other clans are slacking.
  4. Clan A receives the bonus XP until they are officially dethroned, even if they are holding on by one win.
  5. Clan A eventually gets dethroned, as their wins have now been reduced to zero. Clans B through H now pick up their win counters where they left off and continue to progress toward 60 wins.
  6. Clan H is the first to hit 60 wins and takes the node (congratulations!). Clans A through G start chipping away at Clan H's lead. The process repeats. (Clan A will not see their wins “count” at this point if they try to retake the node, because they are actually chipping away at Clan H’s tally. They aren’t moving up from zero wins, because they are helping Clan H go down from 60 wins.)

Basically: If you want to be the man, you've got to beat the man. And once the man is beaten, it's a seven-way race to the top. Defending a node is tough, but so is working your way back up from zero -- and this is where your clan's personal strategy comes into play.

UPDATE 11/29:
Here's a great article on the Call of Duty website that explains the core capture/loss mechanic a little more clearly.