Call of Duty dips into 'pay-to-win' with $12 bundle that gives you actual gameplay advantages

modern warfare 2 and warzone 2.0
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Call of Duty is treading where few live service games dare go. As part of this week's launch of Warzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 Season 3, a new cosmetic bundle that grants significant gameplay advantages in DMZ mode has appeared, and more are coming. Players are declaring this a move toward Warzone 2 becoming "pay-to-win," and they're not wrong.

The first bundle to include what Activision's calling a "DMZ boost" is the $12 EOD Specialist bundle for Fender. At a glance the bundle is just a forgettable operator skin with a "pro-tuned" LMG blueprint, but equip them in Warzone's extraction mode, DMZ, and they become a lot more valuable—players with the EOD operator skin are automatically given a free medium backpack, and the LMG comes with a special 15-minute insured cooldown after dying (much shorter than a free gun's 2-hour penalty).

What does this mean in practice? While a normal operator typically starts a DMZ match with naked contraband guns and little storage space, players sporting this $12 bundle get an automatic headstart on looting with an optimized LMG. In that sense, this is more of a "pay-for-boost" than "pay-to-win," but some players are rebuking DMZ boosts on principle.

"This is wrong & completely tone deaf," tweeted (opens in new tab) YouTuber Westie.

"Get ready for even more mobile gaming monetization tactics," wrote Reddit user ElMalViajado (opens in new tab).

"The stuff that you can buy in these bundles is stuff you can't normally grind for," said YouTuber LegoUnlocked (opens in new tab). "It's pretty pay-to-win."

It's easy to see how minor paid advantages can turn into bigger ones, especially because some supposed store leaks suggest (opens in new tab) future bundles will include a free self-revive kit and a medium armor vest, two key upgrades that could help you win a firefight.

Hunt: Showdown does this better

Interestingly, fans of one particular extraction shooter that Warzone 2 takes inspiration from will recognize where this DMZ boost idea is coming from. Hunt: Showdown uses a similar system with its premium hunter skins—recruiting a premium hunter instantly grants you three random perks to start the match with. You are literally paying for an advantage in that game too, but there are a few factors that have kept Hunt players from sharpening their pitchforks:

  • You can't handpick a set of perfect perks, so you often end up with perks that you don't care for or aren't that useful
  • All legendary hunters are also created equal, meaning it doesn't matter if you picked up a $3 skin during a sale or just bought the latest $15 bundle: the boost is the same
  • It's possible to recruit a hunter that comes with perks at no real-money cost, it's just easier if you own a legendary skin
  • Premium purchases have no bearing on weapon quality

3 Hunt Showdown characters

(Image credit: Crytek)

Call of Duty's skins, by hand-selecting DMZ benefits and restricting them only to premium purchases, directly tweak its meta in a way that encourages players to pony up cash to keep up with everyone else.

It's a bad look for a gargantuan monetization operation that, at the same time as this update, has introduced a new tier of battle pass that costs triple the usual price (opens in new tab). Warzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 Season 3 are live now.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.