The Zombies game mode within the popular Call of Duty video game franchise has created a massive community of fans and players who not only play and connect with the developers, but with each other as they try to discover every aspect of each piece of content released for the game.
In two versions of the game, they are even able to create their own content that can be played and shared online with other players. This ability to co-create and remix is the focus of this episode, as it leads to the game being more valuable to all parties, from the game publisher that owns the franchise to the player who plays alone.
But you don’t need to be a fan of Call of Duty: Zombies or even video games in general to take community learnings from this conversation.
MrRoflWaffles is a YouTuber and streamer that has grown his channel to over 1.7 million subscribers and 400 million views. His audience comes to his channel to partake in all things Call of Duty: Zombies –– whether it’s the latest news from Activision or deep dives on Easter eggs. In talking with Patrick, MrRoflWaffles explains how mod tools, which allow you to create new content for the game, and Easter eggs keep Zombies fresh, interesting, and challenging to both expert players and folks that are new to the game.
He also shares his “hungry player theory” –– a theory that even as game studios release more content for their games, players are always hungry for more. And while it’s not possible for game studios to constantly release new content, mod tools put the power of game creation directly in the hands of the community.
What tools and tailored experiences can you offer to your community members?
MrRoflWaffles and Patrick discuss:
- Extending the play life of your game and your community by giving your members tools to create
- The importance of communicating through game dev challenges
- How mod tools can alleviate pressure from game studios and developers
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How mod tools have created an endless Zombies experience (10:52): “I’m very close with a number of developers that have made [Zombies] maps or contributed to making maps over the years. Some of the things they have been able to create are so unbelievably unique. It means that a player today can think they know the bounds of what’s possible in Zombies and then they can dip into the customs community a bit and their minds will be totally blown because it doesn’t even feel like [Call of Duty] anymore.” –@MrRoflWaffles
A game with custom content never gets stale (16:33): “As a [content] creator, [the mods community] fills a gap in a really powerful way that just makes my life easier because things are more dynamic and more fresh. They don’t get so stale so quickly with [the ability to create] customs.” –@MrRoflWaffles
Custom content provides breathing room for game studios and a creative outlet for community members (19:32): “Games take a long time to develop and updates take time to develop. The devs cannot keep pace with the appetite of the people playing the games these days. They just cannot do it. Having an extra pool of [custom content] to dip into at any time is incredible from a creator perspective and from a fan perspective, too.” –@MrRoflWaffles
Custom maps provides an experience for every level of Zombie player (26:17): “Treyarch is making [the official Call of Duty: Zombies] maps for everyone. Whereas the custom map maker, they can decide [to] target the top 1% of players, the most hardcore Easter egg experience possible, and then deliver, [which means] that community is spoken to and has the experience they want. Or, they could make them with no Easter eggs if they see fit. Then the more casual fans can jump in as well.” –@MrRoflWaffles
“Hungry player theory” and gamers’ needs for more content (30:13): “[Explaining the hungry player theory]: I think people just get hungrier and hungrier and each new map satisfies them less and less and less. Even though in the exact moment of its release, it’s great, you end up with something that then just makes people want more and more and more and more and it spirals out of control a little bit.” –@MrRoflWaffles
Open communication is imperative for any community (36:11): “[As a game developer], making sure that you stay involved in the conversation and bring the community with you as you fix [bugs and problems], and you’re honest about things when they don’t go so well is, in my opinion, a really big asset for any team that is trying to make a game or build any kind of community with any kind of product.” –@MrRoflWaffles
MrRoflWaffles, Milo, is a YouTuber and streamer based out of London, UK. He started his current YouTube channel in 2009, while in secondary school, and today has over 1.7 million subscribers and over 400 million lifetime views. MrRoflWaffles is very interested in the wider workings of the creator economy, game development, digital culture, and the intersection of all of the above.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- MrRoflWaffles on Twitter
- MrRoflWaffles on YouTube
- MrRoflWaffles YouTube playlist explaining the Zombies storyline
- Treyarch, the creators of the Zombies game mode
- NoahJ456 on YouTube
- This Zombies Mode Was Designed to Fail…
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thanks for listening. Our guest today is Milo, better known as MrRoflWaffles, a YouTuber with more than 1.7 million subscribers, focusing on the zombies content in the popular Call of Duty video game franchise. Within this community, there is a powerful example of how creator tools co-creation and remix and can extend the life of your community and products. Even if you’re not a gamer, I encourage you to translate what we talk about today to the focus of your community. It should give you something to think about.
As always, thank you to our Patreon supporters, including Jules Standen, Maggie McGary, and Heather Champ for supporting the show. If you’d like to join them, you can find out more at communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Milo, better known as MrRoflWaffles, is a YouTuber and streamer based out of London. He started his current YouTube channel in 2009 while still in secondary school and has since amassed 1.7 million subscribers and over 400 million lifetime views. Milo also has a bachelor of science and physics from the University of Bristol. Since graduating in 2018, he has worked full-time as a digital creator. Milo is interested in the wider workings of the creator economy, game development, digital culture, and the intersection of all of the above. Milo, welcome to the show.
[00:03:44] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
[00:03:45] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. As we’ll find as we’re talking, listeners probably don’t know this, but I play a lot of Call of Duty: Zombies. I don’t get to talk about Call of Duty: Zombies a lot. We’re not going to do a lot of that, like the game and the story of the game, but it’ll be interesting to blend those two interests, but to that end, for the listeners, I want to table set a little bit. First of all, Milo, playing Call of Duty: Zombies, or more specifically creating content around Call of Duty: Zombies, it’s your career. This is what you do full-time to support yourself, right?
[00:01:59] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, that is correct, and it’s been a long one as well, much longer than I expected it to be, that’s for sure.
[00:02:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Just getting into that a little bit, you’ve been playing Call of Duty: Zombies since pretty much the start of the game mode, Call of Duty: World at War was introduced, came out in ’08, and that was the first Call of Duty: Zombies game that you played?
[00:02:14] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes. I didn’t actually have a console at the release of World at War. I wasn’t allowed at the time. It was just a little bit after World at War came out. Once it ticked over to 2009, maybe to launch, it’s that- just for a sec– I always think it’s a funny story. I remember getting a phone call from a friend, one of my best friends at the time, and he phoned me up and said, “Hey, Milo, can you come over? Because I found this thing in World at War and I’m freaking out,” and I didn’t really know what he was going on about, but basically at the time, the zombies mode, you could only tick into it, you could only get into it if you completed the campaign. You completed the campaign and they would roll into zombies and you would just be put into that experience and he was terrified. I went over to basically check out what was going on and the rest is history really.
[00:03:03] Patrick O’Keefe: That is funny. I can see that screen now. The gray screen; you’re on the ground.
[00:03:10] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: The zombie runs towards you and it’s just like, “Oh my God, what’s going on?”
[00:03:14] Patrick O’Keefe: From your bio, it sounds like you dove in full time after you graduated in 2018 to your YouTube channel into this being what consumed most of your time.
[00:03:24] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: I had been doing it essentially full-time through my degree as well. I basically, while doing the degree, treated YouTube like a full-time job, but then also obviously did the work that I needed to do to do the degree, which was pretty intense. I chose probably the worst degree I could have done if I already had other things going on because there’s so many contact hours with a physics degree. I was treating it like a full-time job route, but then went properly full-time once that wrapped up and have been doing it full-time since.
[00:03:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Awesome. When Milo and I say Zombies in this episode, we’re going to say it a lot, I’m going to use that for shorthand, when we say Zombies, we’re referring to Call of Duty: Zombies. As I mentioned, I’ve been playing Zombies also since World at War. I buy Call of Duty just to play the Zombies mode with my brothers. I haven’t even touched campaigns in years. After I moved across the country a few years ago, playing Zombies is really one of the main things that I do with my brothers when we spend time together. I literally last night played with my brother, Sean.
One of the things that Zombies is known for is Easter eggs. These are story-based elements within the series that push you to complete a series, are often complex, often hard to decipher steps in order to finish the Easter egg and advance the story, and think of it as just an accomplishment within the game. More often than not, when you’re working on those Easter eggs, you need help, and Milo’s videos have helped, I think it’s fair to say, gosh, millions of gamers to complete their Easter eggs. Sure enough, I’ve bumped into his videos numerous times over the past decade.
When you go searching for that knowledge, that Call of Duty: Zombies knowledge, you’re most likely going to find him in a YouTube video and there are some really interesting lessons that we can learn as online community builders from Call of Duty: Zombies and how the developers of the game have approached the community and players and how the community has responded. There’s not many as qualified as Milo to dig into that topic with us.
One more thing I want to say before we get into the conversation, which is that this latest Zombies game is interesting if we’re learning a bit about Call of Duty: Zombies today because, according to the Wikipedia page for Call of Duty, there have been 18 mainline Call of Duty releases since 2003, basically one per year. For most of these years, for most of my life, you buy a game each year, you buy the extra downloadable content or DLC which normally comes in four installments and they release a new game next year. The process repeats over and over again, $100 in the bag for Activision. Last year of Call of Duty was brought into the free-to-play arena with Warzone by Activision, which I barely touched because there were limited Zombies.
Normally, you buy the new version of the game each year, and it’s not that you totally ignore the games of the past, but they have their content, it’s released over a year or so. Then the new content ends. You can always go back and revisit that old content, but nothing new will be there. There are two particular Call of Duty releases that have bucked that trend when it comes to Zombies and achieved what I see as increased longevity and loyalty leading to more sales of those titles, and those are the aforementioned World at War from 2008 and Call of Duty: Black Ops III from 2015. Both of these titles had something that no other Call of Duty releases with Zombies had –– mod tools. Milo, can you tell us about what the mod tools allow the community to do?
[00:06:24] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes. That was a lot of stuff that you just ran through and I’d also be really interested in talking in a sec. We can go back to the Easter eggs thing because I think it interweaves with this really nicely.
[00:06:34] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
[00:06:34] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: The mod tools offering that started in World at War, as far as I recall, was basically a very small handful of devs that were looking into this as a potential thing that they could do bundling up some of the tools that they used in studio and just releasing them into the community as an experiment to see what would happen almost. They worked on that almost like a weekend project for a very long time in the studio, and then finally managed to get clearance and everything that they needed to get out of the door.
Initially, it was a bit slow to be picked up. Then from essentially the summer probably onwards, the customs community has become its own really vibrant arm of the wider Zombies community and innovates in a way that is just fascinating to me, not only because I make content on customs, I have direct firsthand experience of how the maps themselves have evolved over the years, but also because there have been custom app developers that now work at Treyarch, they’ve been hired. It’s an obvious pipeline for them to get people walking with our tools, get people working in Radiant, which is one of the things they use to build these maps, and then to just onboard them and bring them into the company.
There’s a really interesting, very positive feedback loop there. There’s also obviously the amount of hours of enjoyment that people have been able to extract from a game as old as World at War. Even to this day, there are people that are still tinkering with those tools, even though the Black Ops III tools are out, but maybe then if we focus for a second on the Black Ops III tools, what they did is they essentially took everything that was possible in World at War, amplified it a massive amount, but then also capitalized on the fact that at the time, Black Ops III was basically the community’s favorite Zombies game ever.
In many ways, by a lot of people, seen as the golden age of Zombies, the golden year of Zombies where everything that happened that year was really incredible. If you’re a Zombies fan, you look back on it very fondly. To basically extract the DNA of that and extract that nostalgic feeling of “Man, I love this, the system is amazing and everything works together flawlessly,” to then allow it to just keep going through the years has been a gift that I’m so glad Treyarch gave us. It’s been phenomenal.
[00:08:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a pause here to talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
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The players are the customers. The players are the community. I think the idea that it’s a talent pipeline is really interesting. I almost feel like that’s an accidental ROI for them and for the devs. When you create that, you’re like, oh, but actually when you give people tools to create, as you know, they build careers. That’s something that’s happened there. The players are the customers, are the community members, and talking about this a little bit at the end, but what is the player experience and how does it differ from, say, the games that have mod tools versus the ones that do not?
[00:09:42] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: I think it’s actually really interesting because what the continuous evolution of customs has done is, it’s meant– we’ve had mainline Call of Duty releases coming out since Black Ops III, have had all of their features essentially recreated by the community and put back into Black Ops III mod tools. This year, for instance, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the Zombies mode in this game is a bit of a fresh take compared to some of the things that we’ve seen previously. There are a lot of new systems that haven’t been implemented in Zombies before.
As soon as the game came out, people started building those systems in Black Ops III mod tools like instantly. Now, you can play Black Ops III custom maps that play like Cold War Zombies maps, which is incredible seeing as the game has not even been out that long, but it’s almost like we’re already getting an equivalent level of detailed maps, but just from the community and built in this old game system.
There’s those offerings. Alongside those, you also have things that are completely new experiences that you don’t get in any Zombies game. The breadth of experience that is available in Black Ops III is insane. I’m very close with a number of developers that have made maps or contributed to making maps over the years. Some of the things that they have been able to create are so unbelievably unique, and it means that a player today can think they know the bounds of what’s possible in Zombies and then they can dip into that customs community a bit and their minds will be totally blown because it doesn’t even feel like CoD anymore. It’s really fascinating.
[00:11:16] Patrick O’Keefe: The interesting thing about this current game, and we’ll talk about this a little bit later is the first take that you referenced, many would argue, I think you’ve argued for videos on your YouTube channel that it’s a more accessible experience to gamers and to people who maybe didn’t play the first four set, don’t know what that is.
[00:11:32] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Absolutely.
[00:11:33] Patrick O’Keefe: They’re getting into the game for the first time. When those people get into this game and they consume that content, they’re digging into what exists elsewhere. I would be shocked if Black Ops III sales on Steam, which are full price, as my brother tells me, it rarely goes on sale, it’s 60 bucks to buy Black Ops III on Steam, I would be shocked if those licenses, those titles haven’t gone up in sales, as people are going back and discovering that, “Hey, this big community exists that’s creating maps daily, weekly, new content constantly coming out,” as they wait for new stuff in Cold War. They’ve created this fresh take, it’s driving these new customers back to buy a game that they haven’t touched as devs for five-plus years.
[00:12:11] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Right. I think on that as well, there’s a part of the community that has established herself and manifested that I am continuously surprised to some extent at least that it exists, but it makes total sense. It’s an arm of the community and a brunch of the community that doesn’t actually touch the mod tools. They don’t touch any of the creative devices that are available and they don’t actually touch the custom maps either.
They purely watch the content and they purely get a kick out of just watching someone like myself, a creator play through these maps and having my mind blown and vicariously getting their minds blown through my experience of whatever I might be playing at the time, but they might not even own Black Ops III on PC, or they might not even have a PC, like they might be a console player. Obviously, at that point, the mod tools aren’t available to them. That is also a really vibrant part of the community that has emerged over the years, that it’s been awesome to see find its own voice in some ways. I think that it’s something that, at the beginning of it all, I expected everyone to be watching custom maps and then also to be playing them. It’s split into two separate factions in some senses. I think that’s a really interesting circumstance that has come from all of this as well.
[00:13:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. It’s funny you mentioned that because in the lead-up to the Cold War, I’m getting excited for Zombies, looking at what’s coming out. I watched a ton of custom Zombies map YouTube videos, some of yours, some of NoahJ456, and-
[00:13:35] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes.
[00:13:35] Patrick O’Keefe: -videos you are in with NoahJ456 I think in some cases. The amount of different maps is fascinating. The amount of content that’s there, the different themes people play on, IP that they couldn’t license, but they put into maps anyway because they’re free. There’s so many fun things that are happening. I definitely drained here or there 5-10 minutes at a time before bed in these moments, hours and hours into consuming that content. That leads into something I wanted to talk about to you as a content creator, as someone who creates a lot of excitement and conversation around the franchise, what does the existence of custom maps mean for your content?
[00:14:10] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: It’s been an interesting one over the years. I think that what I have always had a problem with, and maybe this is looking at the wider scope of the question, a problem I’ve always had over the years is that I have been largely a one-man band from when I started my channel. I have editors and stuff that I work with now, but for the most part, it’s me. I am the real core of the channel, which I guess makes sense.
The limitation of that is that, at any given time, I can only really be properly focusing on one major thing. When there’s a big Zombies year, like this year, there’s a lot of people that are really liking Cold War, there’s Outbreak that has surprised everyone. There’s all these things going on. It’s very difficult for me in these moments to be as focused on customs that I might be, for example, during Modern Warfare, which was the Call of Duty prior to this one because, in that game, there was a survival offering, which was pointed towards Zombies fans but didn’t really check the boxes for people. There wasn’t really that much interest in it.
In a year like that, it makes perfect sense for me to really go diving headfirst back into customs content, but right now, slightly less so. However, there are always weeks where things a little less busy. One of the first things that I go to as a creator, and what a lot of my friends, my peers, people like NoahJ will go to as well is we’ll say, okay, the immediately obvious transient content, like stuff that is time-based on releases or news or things like that happening in this current game, that always is going to take priority I think. I don’t think I would ever post customs over the stuff that was happening in the minute to minute of the current year.
In any gap in that, customs flourishes in a way that nothing else can. I can’t really go back to something like, let’s say, Black Ops I, for instance. If I was to go back to Black Ops I and replay some of those maps, sure, that’s always possible. Also, I’ve done that for many years that at this point, I’ve rinsed that content for everything it can be rinsed for. Now, it’s a much more attractive offering from a creator point of view to basically say, “Hey, I can do something new, have a really good time having this experience.” That is essentially like going back to playing an old Black Ops I map, except it’s a different paint, it’s something fresh so that I can feel like I’m playing Zombies with my friends still and that experience never ends.”
I’m not having to redo the exact same- walk through the same corridors and explore the same streets or what have you. As a creator, it fills a gap there in a really powerful way that just makes my life easier because things are more dynamic and more fresh. They don’t get so stale so quickly with customs.
[00:16:46] Patrick O’Keefe: That makes a ton of sense. It fills the lulls. There have been certainly lulls in Zombies over the years. As I was reading through the titles, I was talking to my brothers the last time, I was like, “Did we bother with World War 2 Zombies?” I was like–
[00:16:56] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: You probably didn’t.
[00:16:57] Patrick O’Keefe: My brother was like, “Yes, I think we stopped after the second one because I had to go watch videos.” I was like, “Wait, yes, I do remember this.” We just didn’t care. There was a lull, there was a period where it felt a little stale. Just as a content creator, there have even been years where they skipped Zombies, or they did the alien one, that we enjoyed, but that alien, I forget what the name of it was. It was fun, but there are those lulls.
We’re having this conversation in a week where maybe in this outbreak rush of content and in the Cold War content, that there’s regular content coming out. This is a quiet week before a new map comes out for Outbreak. Next week, you’ll be making content about that map, and you’ll be busy and doing other things. There are these lulls and release schedules in this custom content. I don’t know if this is fair to say, but there’s constant pressure on devs to release new content, to release new games. What’s the next game going to be? Why am I going to want to buy it again? I want to say that it feels like maybe this can take that pressure off a little bit for some people to give them something extra to do, to watch while they wait to see what the next mainland content is.
[00:17:57] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, I think that’s definitely fair to say. I would have no doubt about that. If you look to certain other communities that don’t have the breadth of long-term mod options that you have in Call of Duty, the first thing that comes to mind, a friend of mine, who’s a Halo content creator, Halo is pretty- Forge, incredible, don’t get me wrong, industry topping experience, really, really amazing what they did with Forge. If you look at Halo nowadays, as people are waiting for Halo Infinite, those creators that don’t have things like customs the Zombies has, and I say this in good faith, they really haven’t scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of finding things to talk about and do and play and things like that on a day to day basis because, like you say, gamers have this voracious appetite for content these days.
They’re always demanding more and more and more from the devs. Also, the same goes for content creators where I can’t just not make a video for a month because nothing’s going on. I still need to do stuff, I need to pay the bills. The Zombies offering with mod tools has basically meant that there is the official content and the official stuff that comes out from Treyarch and from the other studios that work on their own Zombies experiences through Activision, that’s all great and I love that stuff and prioritize it in a given year, but there’s always this abundance of other stuff that the community has generated entirely itself that, like you say, it doesn’t rely on the devs time, it doesn’t rely on them constantly updating things and means the ecosystem of being a creator and being a fan of Zombies, it’s able to be less gappy and less like at certain times, suddenly, there is just nothing going on.
The reality of the situation is that games take a long time to develop, and updates take time to develop and things like that. The devs cannot keep pace with the appetite of the people playing the games these days, they just cannot do it. Having an extra pool of stuff to dip into at any time is incredible from a creator perspective and I think from a fan perspective too.
[00:19:53] Patrick O’Keefe: The Halo description you gave reminds me of people who make videos around the MCU, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s like there is this lull and what they have to do is go back and read the comics or come up with theories of where this could go. You’ve got to pontificate so much more to keep content flowing in those areas.
For listeners, I know we’re talking a lot about gaming stuff and World War 2 Zombies and all these things, but really what I want you to think about is something Milo just said, which is like Activision or whoever the developer is on this particular edition of Call of Duty, there’s a lull where they’re not putting out anything new. They’re not generating new products or new revenue or whatever.
In that time, because of the community, people are more satisfied. They’re still talking about the game and people who rely on the game and want to play it, or as Milo does, create content around it and it’s his career, they have things to talk about simply because they created tools to co-create, to remix, and without anything else, those tools haven’t been touched officially in six years. Yet, people are still making things right now.
I want to give you just an example of how this drives revenue. I’m a console gamer. I’ve almost always played Call of Duty on PlayStation. I had played World at War on my brother’s PlayStation 3. He actually got me into it. Then I think I first bought- I did buy all the World at War: Zombies content in 2011 when it was remastered as an add-on to 2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops.
I’ve already bought all the content. I played the maps and I can play them whenever I want. I’m not a PC gamer. Yet, five years later in September of 2015, I checked the receipt in my email. I bought a PC copy of Call of Duty: World at War, a seven-year-old game. Why did I do that? It’s because me and my brothers got into all these custom maps that were available for World at War and that was made possible by these mod tools, but they were only available on PC and I needed to buy that game to play them. Not only that, but my brothers Sean and Trent bought them too. We bought three copies of this five, seven-year-old game. That’s not an uncommon story among brothers, friends to all buy this older game, to play these maps.
If the mod tools didn’t exist, those purchases don’t happen. One of my brothers already has the PC copy for Black Ops III for the same reason. I’m sure the other tool will eventually do the same. Black Ops III is already five and a half years old now. As I mentioned, from what I can see, the last official update to the mod tools was made as an overall patch at the end of 2016. Yet, because of the existence of those tools with no further updates being made to the game or additional money needing to be spent by Activision or anyone else who publishes the game, the game continues to sell additional copies to people looking to satisfy their hunger for a new Zombies experience.
[00:22:21] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, I think that whole thing of the people looking to satisfy that hunger, it’s not unique to Zombies. It can extend to nearly any game community if it’s tapped into in the right way. One example that may be good to give is, with a game like Skyrim or The Witcher, let’s go with The Witcher because I think Skyrim is an obvious one, but with something like The Witcher, the story you get in that game is immense. It’s massive, The Witcher. Speaking specifically to The Witcher 3, it’s an incredible game. I strongly believe that, but without mods, it’s not something that I would ever personally, speaking purely for myself, I would never possibly go back to it because it’s a massive time sink to get through the game. I’m a busy man and I just don’t have the time to put into something like that and play for another a hundred hours or something to get through.
With mods, there’s so much more potential for me to dip in and play just for a bit, doing a thing that I think is almost like a one-off cool experience that I might get through a mod. Maybe that will inspire me to play further and keep going if I’m like, “Oh, actually, I’m really enjoying this,” but it’s a window back into the game that otherwise I feel like I would never even really consider it.
You look at YouTube right now and you look at things like The Witcher modding community, there are still people bringing stuff out. There are still creators that are making lists of the best mod tools in 2021. There is a community there where there simply would not be if mods were not possible because it would not be part of the digital conversation, I think in anything close to the same way, without that ability for people to tell their own stories and to create their own things. I think that’s really important. Without it, you miss a lot of the possible long tail of a game’s life cycle.
With Easter eggs, you briefly described that and I’ll elaborate a little bit just in case listeners are not necessarily familiar. The Easter eggs in the game are kind of like raids in World of Warcraft in some senses or Destiny raids, things like that, where it’s a much larger scale objective than the micro things that you might be doing in a given round of Zombies or a given moment in Zombies just to survive. It’s a much broader thing that you might be working on and takes a couple of hours to do and is really difficult. They don’t hold your hand through it. They don’t explain how that works. There’s always a race to figure it out and it’s its own beast within the Zombies community.
Part of the reason I wanted to bring it back into the context of customs is the people have made fully fledged Zombies maps that are completely feature-rich, then also on top of all of that, have massive Easter eggs that are incredibly complex and really, really beautifully constructed. That means that – you think of a mod, you think of a custom map and you think someone has created that physical space that you can run around in, but I think a lot of people assume that it stops there. You’re just playing Zombies in a different setting, but it really is, and I cannot stress this enough, a totally transformed experience when someone really puts time into making one of these Easter eggs in their custom map.
I with another creator maybe or on my own can play through and essentially be told a story of some kind that makes the content so much more interesting and then also motivates other people to jump in and play it because they’re like, “That’s a really hard Easter egg. I want to see if I can do it.” Easter eggs as a function of Zombies, I know that the word “Easter egg” in gaming means different things to different communities, but in the context of Zombies, those Easter egg quests, those main quests, they are so powerful in the doors they unlock in the community. The customs community have run with them to such an extent that some maps are basically built entirely for the purpose of the Easter egg.
It means that the content is amazing and the player experience is amazing because the map creator can take it further than Treyarch ever could because you’ve got to remember as well, Treyarch are making these maps for everyone. Whereas the custom map maker, they can decide that they could only target the top 1% of players, the most hardcore Easter egg experience possible, and then deliver that and that community is spoken to and has the experience that they want. Or, they could obviously make them out with no Easter egg if they see fit. Then the more casual fans can jump in as well.
It’s essentially just something I wanted to hammer home. While the maps themselves are- yes, you will generally get a map that is a new space of some kind that you can explore and play it as if it was a new Zombies map released from Treyarch themselves. It also often will have all of this extra under-the-hood depth that you might not even see on first glance. Means that the community has so many more ways to interact with the map, and I mean, they’re beautiful. I’m a big fan of Easter eggs. I don’t know if you can tell, but as a creator, I explain all these Easter eggs on YouTube for the mainline maps. I do guides on all of this stuff so that people can get into those.
The Easter egg community is a massive part of the Zombies community and the fact that those existing custom maps as well, it means there’s even more overlap and more ideas going back and forth, it’s really a phenomenal part of what makes custom so special I think.
[00:27:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Very cool. Mod tools were the impetus for me wanting to talk to you, Milo. There are a couple of other top-of-mind Zombies community conversations that are relevant. You proposed the “hungry player theory”. Tell me about that.
[00:27:41] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: You saw that. I really strongly believe this and I suspect that there is a proper name for it and I’m just too ignorant to know what it is. My feeling is as follows. I think that when the first maps released, 2008, 2009 in World at War, people digested those maps pretty slowly because, at the time, they were completely untrodden ground. Nobody knew what could be achieved in the Zombies mode. For example, the first DLC map introduced perks for the first time. Obviously, at that point, people were blown away simply by the perk system, which has been in every single map since pretty much.
In the early days, people consumed stuff very slowly, and over the years, as is natural I think in anything, where there are 30-plus iterations of maps that have been released, you end up with a phenomenon happening where with every map that comes out in future, I feel like people digest it a little bit faster because they’ve seen most of the things before and maybe they’ve seen most of the things before multiple times at that point. They’re like, “Okay, this is same-y, what’s new here?”
The things that are new in a given map diminish over time in size because there’s only so much that they can add onto this already crazy complicated experience. We fast forward from all the way back in World at War through to today. Every map that comes out has an infinitely shorter lifecycle than those from the past because people are so used to that underlying foundational content that they just get bored faster.
I think that this is a trend that in many ways has been fed into by Epic with Fortnite. I think that they did something really incredible with the development of that game where the cadence of their updates and the tempo of the updates was so fast that their community adjusted to having something new every week, sometimes every couple of days. Obviously, on the dev side, there is a huge amount of crunching that is going on in order to facilitate that and a huge amount of work that is going on behind the scenes, but it is not something that you can do in every single studio. It’s not something that you can do indefinitely either.
I think that with Zombies, and this is something that does definitely apply to other games, you are going to basically run into this problem where the fan always expects more content. The fan always expects that content to come out faster and things like that. There is a point where you just cannot keep up, like you just can’t do it. That’s the longer explanation maybe of my “hungry player theory” where I think people just get hungrier and hungrier and each new map satisfies them less and less and less. Even though in the exact moment of its release, it’s great, you end up with something that then just makes people want more and more and more and more and it spirals out of control a little bit.
[00:30:29] Patrick O’Keefe: I mean, the first map, Nacht Der Untoten, it’s funny because we played that map to death. There were many evenings spent holed up in the door that we didn’t open downstairs, went a long way up the stairs, down the stairs, kept the door shut, and there was the box and it didn’t move yet for those into Zombies. We held out there as long as we could, and that was the game. There was nowhere else to go. It wasn’t like- you could do a little bit of training, you could run around a little bit, but it was a pretty tight space. We actually went back and did that not long ago. We were like, “This is fun to do once.” Good memories, good times.
In a recent video that you released, I think your most recent video as you record and title “THIS ZOMBIES MODE WAS DESIGNED TO FAIL…” which we’ll link to in the show notes, you talked about how the sentiment you were hearing from many of your subscribers in the community is that “things are a bit stale right now”, and that there are weeks where nothing new is added to, which is amazing as a long-term Zombies player because we laugh at weeks. We pretty much received five doses of content spread out per year, quarterly, the release content and the four downloadable content packs, one per quarter forever.
In this new one, we’ve received- I’m having so much fun with Zombies now, we’ve received more new stuff as a whole, in my opinion, between maps, game modes, play challenge, variations, the leveling system, all sorts of things than we’ve ever had before in this very tight window. It’s free so far beyond the initial purchase, but it’s almost like we’ve received what we’re hoping for, and yet hungry player theory, many of us just aren’t satiated. We’ve had it, we went through it, it was a lot of fun, and now it’s like, “What’s next?”
[00:31:56] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: It’s so interesting to me. I’ll look at my Twitter mentions, there’s a real common one where I see this where I’ll see Treyarch tweet something out like, “Hey, we’re releasing a patch today,” or something. “Here are the patch notes.” People in the comments instantly, “Game’s dead. No Zombies updates since last week.” I’m like, “Bro, it’s been a week, man.” That’s crazy, but honestly, I don’t blame those people for having that perspective because I think that it’s a wider problem than just the individuals here.
It’s the changing narrative in games, I think, that’s been changing for a couple of years where people just expect things faster and faster and faster. One of the ways that that can help be satisfied is mod tools, absolutely, but it’s something that is going to be reckoned with as the years go on and people are going to have to figure out how to adjust their expectations I suppose because ultimately, as much as a fan, it would be nice to get even more Zombies maps this year and all sorts of things like that that people might want, that’s not also necessarily the right decision for the game and it might not even be possible at all just in terms of development. It’s a fascinating one, I think.
[00:32:57] Patrick O’Keefe: We need a map a day, 365 maps.
[00:32:59] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, please. That would be delightful. Thank you very much. Also, just another thing about this is I think the beginning of changing that narrative starts with a change in focus for community management. You’ve got obviously Treyarch themselves as a studio and they are an umbrellaed part of Activision who are the publishers, so Treyarch have their community management and they interact with the community in a certain way.
I think that in many ways, some of the things that I’ve seen happening, for example, recently with Valorant, they’ve had a really interesting take on things with their launch where they were being super open about what was going on with the game, what they were working on, what problems they were trying to solve and just generally communicating as much as they could about all of the challenges that they were facing in design.
We’d even say things like, “Okay, we’ve heard you guys. Something is not working in a map right now. Or maybe there’s a certain head glitch that people think is OP,” or whatever. They would talk about why it’s difficult to solve that problem, or they would explain to people more info about the problems they were having. For example, when Valorant came out, a lot of people were confused about some of the peeking technology that they had in there. They were getting confused about certain angles, peeking positions in the maps, and just generally having a bit of a tough time with how it’ll work.
They came out and said, “Don’t worry. Totally understand the fact you’re having some issues, but we can try and interject here, and not necessarily change the content even, but just add to the conversation and make it feel like those players are not going weeks without hearing from the developers, without hearing about a press release or a patch or what have you,” and I think that that is vital. Not all studios do it. In my opinion, over the years, the studios that don’t do it are going to disappear because of the amount of value added by having a structure in place so that your players feel like they’re being talked to, as adults as well, not just talking down to them, like, “Oh, you don’t know anything about game development, we’re going to hide all that from you.” No, I think gamers need that in order to feel like their input into that game’s ecosystem is being honored and listened to and respected in a lot of ways.
Talking about building communities, the communities built on those foundations, I think, ultimately will become the strongest, and the games themselves, almost separate to the community, just the game itself as a product, as a business venture will by far do significantly better than any that don’t because, without that, let’s say, for example, during Black Ops 4, maybe some context I can give there is when Black Ops 4 released, the Zombies mode had a huge number of issues with stability. It was crashing all of the time, lots of blue screens on PS4, and just generally people having an imperfect experience. The thing that really soured a lot of that conversation was that there wasn’t a conversation. Treyarch weren’t commenting on a lot of things. They mentioned that they were doing stability fixes, and were very brief about one or two aspects of it, but they never came out and said, “Hey, guys, we acknowledge that this isn’t working right now. Here’s what we’re doing to make it better.”
That never happened. The community felt like they were being ignored, and it kind of went up in flames in many ways, and pushing completely back against those kind of scenarios, and making sure that you stay involved in the conversation and you bring the community with you as you fix those problems, and you’re honest about things when they don’t go so well, is, in my opinion, a really big asset for any team that is trying to make a game or build any kind of community with any kind of product or thing that it’s revolving around. I think it’s really important.
[00:36:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Makes a lot of sense. I think that the last main theme I want to explore is this other conversation that I’ve seen you reference in videos that the community’s having, where it’s the feeling that the recent Easter eggs, just again, I use that term in place of major achievement within a game, the recent Easter eggs are too easy. Older Easter eggs were often longer, more cryptic, just generally more stretched out, and there are several that I have not completed, more than half I have not completed. I’ve tried many of them, but I’ve just given up, like the one Kiefer Sutherland was in, the mansion with the werewolves, lots of fun, tried it. At the end of the day, we tried a few times and we gave up.
Maybe we’ll go back to it one day, but our most fun, most legendary Zombies moment that we still talk about years later is when we completed the Easter egg for the Origins map. For listeners, Origins was the culmination of a long story that developed over years. It’s like Avengers Endgame, or maybe the first Avengers, of the Call of Duty: Zombies universe. It was a payoff, it was a build-up to a big moment.
It took us many hours to do it. I know about the speed runs, people knock it off in an hour, I got that, we could never do that. We did it three-player, couch co-op working out of the corners of the same TV, four corners of a big TV. The first time we got close to finishing it, we were at eight or nine hours, and the game threw up an error and we all sat there in disbelief. The exceeded anim info error. It’ll be seared into my brain on my deathbed. I’ll look up and see “exceeded anim info”.
We came back after a month, we beat it. We still talk about that whole thing and we laugh about it, so much so that I bought the big Call of Duty Origins poster and we all have it framed, almost like we won the Super Bowl or something. If you compare this to the recent Easter egg for Firebase Z, that’s the latest map in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the latest game, we completed that on our first series try with some help from guys, in a few hours. It wasn’t the same epic moment, but I also didn’t have to trade 40 hours of my life or more in a box for that moment.
It’s kind of like the trade-off. It’s the trade-off of an epic moment that many people probably won’t bother with, but a smaller percentage of the community will, in exchange for a friendlier experience. Me personally, I’m not complaining. I had fun, and three hours feels right. We can go back to that and play it again. There are some, especially the longer-term Zombies players in some cases who feel like this is too quick, too easy, and maybe not earned. Talk a little bit about that disconnect if you would.
[00:38:46] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, Zombies has had a problem with this pretty much since the beginning, actually, which is pretty crazy that it’s managed to get through all these years and had this kind of fundamental- not flaw, but certainly a pain point. The Zombies experience in some games is a casual experience. In this current game, Cold War, I feel that that is the case. I feel like the multiplayer in Cold War is actually a bit more of a hardcore experience. You’re really fighting against the best of the best in every MP match you play it feels like because of skill-based matchmaking, but the Zombies experience is really designed for you to be able to dip into it, get a grip on the kind of basic systems and maybe your first game and then just dip in and dip out in a carefree kind of way. I’d say this one’s a casual one.
There are others that are hardcore. You look at Black Ops III and the very first map that you play on disc at least, Shadows of Evil, has you needing to turn into an alien monster in order to just progress through the most basic aspects of the map. You have to go through all of these elongated different quests in order to get different parts of the map even open, let alone get access to the Pack-a-Punch Machine and basic things that you’d normally expect to be fairly straightforward in other Zombies maps. The contrast there is enormous.
[00:40:05] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I almost feel like time to Pack-a-Punch is like a metric. You could time to Pack-a-Punch how long- because there are maps where I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, we got the Pack-a-Punch finally. Okay, now we can start doing some things,” and in this most recent map, we’re like, “Oh, the Pack-a-Punch is just there. That’s nice. That’s different.” Pack-a-Punch in the game is this item or machine that lets you power up your weapons, make them more powerful so you can kill Zombies faster.
[00:40:25] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: It’s something you fundamentally need in the map. Everyone pretty much goes to Pack-a-Punch as one of their first things they are trying to do because otherwise, your guns just get too inadequate to kill the Zombies. The contrast of the maps that just give you that, and then the maps that really make you work for it is massive. What that means is the people that like those experiences are also pretty divided.
There are a lot of people that are maybe less good at CoD multiplayer typically, or they play less Call of Duty generally, and they’re able to get into Zombies this year in Cold War because of the fact that it’s a more casual experience and are having the times of their life. They are absolutely loving it, doing their first Easter eggs ever, and are having a blast. Then there are other people, some of the more hardcore maybe, they’ve played the Black Ops III’s and the games like that and they’re looking at it and going, “What’s here for me? I can do all this in my first game.” You mentioned you did that Firebase Z Easter egg from the most recent map in your first serious attempt, and for many players, that doesn’t feel like they have any reason to then go back to it afterward because they’ve done the Easter egg and that’s meant to be this grand quest you build up to. What’s next?
I think that it’s a question that, to be totally honest with you, is still unanswered in many ways as to what the best approach is because it seems like Treyarch are really good at doing one or the other, but they, as of yet, have not found a way to consistently and adequately do both. Black Ops III does not have a completely casual experience the newer players that are getting into Cold War this year could tap into and find just as easy. It is a step change, difficulty higher, whereas this game doesn’t really give you any meaningful thing in my opinion at least, for the hardcore players to feel like they have reasons to come back to the game in a month or six months’ time and really try and go for those grand objectives and grand accomplishments that you might get from some of those previous games like Origins that you mentioned for Black Ops II.
I’m very curious to see how Treyarch’s stance on this evolves over the years and what measures they take to try and fix that problem or bridge that gap, but it is something that I think is an essential consideration to make in the building up of the community because it is so disparate otherwise, but I feel like they still have some ground to cover that before they find a solution that really works for most people.
[00:42:49] Patrick O’Keefe: What do you think they should do?
[00:42:51] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Oh, the golden question. I think that there are certain things that should be in the game that should always have been in the game that have never been added and may never be added. One of them is contextual rewards. I want to be able to do an Easter egg on a map three times, and once I’ve done it for the third time, like my third time completing it, I should then get some new weapon or some new cosmetic or something that is only available to the player that has done that third completion and it’s cool as hell.
It should be an incredible thing. For example, just recently they’ve released a new weapon blueprint that I think is called the Ice Strike or something. It’s basically a gun that is a dragon, and it’s like blue and icy and it’s got wings and it looks super cool. What they need to do is they need to build one of those that is themed on a certain map. Let’s, for example, say Die Maschine. Die Maschine, the base map for Call of Duty: Cold War this year, has a radioactive facility, science research vibe. They should build a gun inspired by those themes that is uniquely available to the hardcore players that are able to get to those accomplishments and make it something you can show off.
Let’s go back to Halo for just a brief second. You remember Recon Armor in Halo was this incredible thing that you could strive to that was stupidly difficult to get. It meant that the hardcore players always had something that was on their horizon that they could work towards. The casual players could still just enjoy regular Halo. That wasn’t anything prohibiting them from enjoying their experience, and I think Zombies needs to have a think about and Treyarch needs to have a think about how they can do that in Zombies so that the base experience like we have currently in Cold War is as it is, but the really true fans that want to spend a thousand hours playing this game have things to do, have reasons to do that, that go beyond the same scope of stuff that appeals to the casual fans.
[00:44:53] Patrick O’Keefe: The answer isn’t necessarily to make maps more mysterious, more cryptic, and that you have to go through these guys and read things and get the right moment and make it this really hard high bar experience, but to reward people who are proficient at it and want to come back and get better times and finish quicker and do it over and over again. That way you can get both things. It’s not necessarily about excluding a group of people. You don’t have to do that in order to reward a lot of people who do want to play these maps and play these Easter eggs over and over again.
[00:45:22] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Exactly. I think that- something you just said that was very interesting. Yes, absolutely. I think that the solution is not to just make the maps more complicated and to make them more mysterious and more cryptic because you then run into another problem, which is that some maps from the past, such as the map that you mentioned earlier, Dead of the Night, which has the werewolves on it and is a pretty tricky Easter egg do as well, that map feels like doing homework when you try to do an Easter egg because there’s all of these symbols that you have to remember the locations of and I don’t want to jump into a Zombies map and have to look up a dictionary of symbol locations and then they’re randomized in the game as well, so I might check 50 places and not find the thing I’m looking for.
There’s no fun in that. It’s really an important consideration for Treyarch to make. They need to make sure that the difficulty that they add is not just pure artificial difficulty that there’s no delight coming from that difficulty. It’s totally false just to extend the time the hunt takes or to make it arbitrarily harder to get through. They need to avoid that absolutely and focus on ways to add difficulty or add challenges that don’t cripple the experience of a more casual player but still give possibilities for the elite players to really succeed and to show that off as well.
[00:46:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Players want to play. They don’t want to have to pull up the calculator while they’re playing and stop to do some equations. Milo, thank you so much for spending time with us today. It’s really been a pleasure.
[00:46:45] MrRoflWaffles/Milo: Yes, I’ve had a great time.
[00:46:47] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Milo, better known as MrRoflWaffles, a content creator who focuses on Call of Duty: Zombies-related content. Check him out on YouTube at youtube.com/MrRoflWaffles. That’s M-R-R-O-F-L-W-A-F-F-L-E-S.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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