The Call of Duty ARG Teasing the Next Game Has Been Marred by Datamining, Leaks, and Exploits

Activision, Treyarch, and Raven have been trying something quite a bit different with the reveal of this year’s Call of Duty. A massive ARG (alternate reality game) was launched, tasking players with putting together puzzle pieces and solving a number of strange ciphers and puzzles in and out of the free-to-play Warzone, which serves as a kind of huge stage for the reveal. But some of the steps on this curious journey have been marred by the fact that dataminers pulled the relevant files from the game ahead of when they were supposed to be available, and previous exploits have already let players see what’s inside bunkers and rooms that were supposed to remain locked.

The Call of Duty ARG began with journalists and influencers receiving a mysterious locked black crate. It contained an old 1950s-era slide projector, with a bunch of slides. Using the clues on the slides, players eventually found the site PawnTakesPawn.com, featuring an old TV and VCR which have been central to the next steps of the game. Beginning last Friday, a new videotape has been added each day, the video going over major events that occurred during the years on each label. Secret numbers have been interspersed into the clips, the purpose of which is unclear at this point. Perhaps bigger secret during these tapes is a sector and code that flashes for each, sending players to locked rooms and bunkers all across the map in Warzone. Another page on the PawnTakesPawn site shows six days worth of tapes will presumably unlock six rooms.

Entering these rooms has been slowly revealing the pieces of various ciphers that will ultimately be used for… something. How it all comes together isn’t quite clear yet, except the knowledge that day six (assumed to be Wednesday, August 19th) will be the “big” day when the community finally has all of the puzzle pieces, can solve the ciphers, and figure out where the game is taking us next. Dataminers, however, were able to pull the textures for all of the cipher pieces on day one, making the day-by-day reveals rather anticlimactic. Where the community should have been excitedly finding the new ciphers in these secret locked rooms and gathering the pieces, players already have access to high resolution images of everything they need. Aside from perhaps some contextual clues about what’s coming, these doors held nothing of importance that the players didn’t already had.

So getting into these locked rooms is exciting, but ultimately it yields nothing that players didn’t already have. Now perhaps these rooms hide more secrets yet to be found. One bunker had a bust of Vladimir Lenin that appeared to have a secret code on the back. Whether or not it’s something of import remains to be seen. However, having these files ahead of when they are supposed to has caused some of the community leaders to try to “pre-solve” the puzzle, solving from a place of of having more pieces of the puzzle than they are supposed to, out of context for how they were supposed to be found. It makes the day-to-day reveals feel a lot more like painful time-gating to draw the puzzle out rather than exciting moments of discovery as players find everything they need to solve this thing.

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Nowhere is this more obvious that watching some of the biggest Call of Duty community members try to solve the puzzle. Their daily streams have gotten less and less enthusiastic as they get into the locked rooms and see in-game representations of the high-res images they already have saved to a Photoshop project just waiting for more context. The community calls for them to figure out  a six digit code to enter into a phone number that they shouldn’t even technically know yet without the datamined files. And there’s a sense of exasperation as they keep waiting for Wednesday with nothing much new to “do” each day so far.

However, another wrinkle to all of this was old glitches and exploits that allowed people to get into some of the locked rooms months ago. People had already discovered things like the unfinished RCXD car being built within a couple of locations (now “revealed” thanks to yesterday and today’s unlocks) as well as additional details in other bunkers that we won’t detail here. In fact, one community creator got hit with copyright strikes on his content for turning the Easter egg hunt in that direction, looking inside bunkers we weren’t supposed to be able to get into yet. Activision PR reached out to him to clarify that glitches and exploits should not be used in attempts to solve the ARG.

Someone also found a YouTube video posted a few months ago that had apparently already solved the various ciphers thanks to the datamined files, though the source is suspect. While they may have the pieces of the puzzle, they lack a lot of context and have created a kind of crutch the community keeps referencing back to, despite not technically being a part of the current ongoing ARG. By relying on previous out-of-context solves for these ciphers, the community can often overlook the steps which got us where we are and hint at where we need to go. It looks like key information for these ciphers—namely what exactly they are supposed to decode—has been withheld thus far, however, so while players have the cipher keys already supposedly solved, we don’t know exactly what they will each apply to just yet.

Fortunately the biggest impact this all has is during this discovery phase this week as all of the pieces are doled out, making the Warzone locked doors largely irrelevant (so far, anyway). It’s simply not exciting to find page 2 of 4 of the Venona cipher and 3 of 4 of the NIXCharge cipher when there are high-res images available for every cipher page already available. Once Wednesday morning at 9 am PST/12 pm EST hits, however, everything will be legitimately in the hands of the community, letting them solve all of the ciphers, understand the numbers in the videos, and unlock the next steps on the path to Call of Duty 2020’s reveal.

As we currently understand thanks to a leaked image from a bag of Doritos, Call of Duty 2020 is called Black Ops Cold War. Aside from the leaked name and Warzone teasers, little else is known about the Treyarch and Raven-developed title, but that looks like it could be changing soon. The big day to pay attention to will be Wednesday, which could either result in a reveal or even more steps in this enormous puzzle.