In the heat of the moment, the only thing that matters is whether your next shot finds its target. But every time you take into consideration your objectives, you’re taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Do you need to capture another point to make sure your team isn’t being dominated? Should you defend the flag to stop the enemy from stealing it? This is all big-picture stuff, and you’re already thinking about it every time you play a game.
So if every individual gunfight in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a battle, and each battle won or lost is just a small portion of the overall war that is a single match of Call of Duty. And as Milo Minderbinder and Sun Tzu alike would tell it, wars are won on logistics. So we took a step back even further to look at the logistics of a single round in CoD. How much money is spent on ammunition in a single match? We went through a battle, frame-by-frame, to tally it up.
Buying a Round
To begin, we picked a game of 10v10 Domination on Grazna Raid, one of the more significant modes in the beta on a medium- to large-sized map and probably the most popular ‘normal’ Call of Duty mode available. It’s a larger version of a Call of Duty Classic. Ground War and Gunfight, the ‘abnormal’ modes, were chaotic and entertaining, but difficult to wrangle for these calculations.
We chose this round for two reasons. First, we wanted a round where a wide variety of equipment was used, and this match saw a lot of ordinance come out. The more equipment, the better, because what we quickly realised was that bullets alone are relatively cheap. Secondly, we were the kill leader for the round, which gave us a theoretical upper limit on kill efficiency. We could work downwards to calculate others’ frugality with bullets, and brag in the process.
The first thing we wanted to find out was how much the ammunition used by every player in a round cost, so efficiency was critical. We can’t count how many bullets other players used throughout a match. But we can calculate the shots we fired, and if we can create a baseline for efficiency, we can estimate how many bullets everyone else might have used.
So, we counted how many times we fired throughout a match, arriving at 226 bullets from my M4A1. Putting ourselves on myriad government watchdog lists, we dug up the cost of the 5.56 Nato rounds that we fired and found that they cost about $0.42 per round. (All costs are in USD)
Straight off the bat, we can see that throughout this match, we spent $94.92 on bullets alone. You could buy a used PlayStation Portable for that amount, and it’s the original Nintendo Switch Lite.
Above Average G.I. Joe
With the M4 we scored 15 kills, which gives us an average of a little over 16 bullets per kill — about half a magazine per enemy. Modern Warfare has an extremely low Time-To-Kill, so half a magazine is actually pretty high, but there were a lot of speculative shots in the mix, so it is what it is. We finished the game on 27 kills, with four deaths, and the next highest kill total was 21.
If we assume there’s no Snipey McHeadshot below us with ridiculous accuracy, we can say the average is half a mag per kill and use this as a baseline for calculating bullet usage.
All tallied, 187 kills using regular guns were achieved in this particular round of Call of Duty, giving us a grand estimated total of 2,992 bullets fired, costing $1,256.64 all up. The M4 wasn’t the only weapon fired in this round, but the ammo used generally cost a similar amount across the board — some a bit more, some a bit less, but all extremely close to $0.42 a bullet. For $1256.64, you could become the lawnmower man and buy a Vive Index, plus a few games to boot. Worlds within worlds.
— Joab Gilroy (@Joabyjojo) September 20, 2019
But we didn’t just stop at bullets in this eventful game of Call of Duty. There was more to it than merely shooting. Watching the tape back, we counted 12 UAVs called in, but there’s no reason to think they were different unmanned aerial vehicles each time. So we’ll count them as one, except when they’re destroyed… which is what happened to our UAV, literally seconds after we called it in.
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper costs $15.9 million a pop, and watching the video back we’re pretty sure two were shot down. So that means four total UAVs, assuming they were reused by both sides until someone inconsiderately shot them down, so there’s $63.6 million. You could buy nearly 4000 Intel Falcon 8+ Drones for that amount, and if you were to link them all together to make shapes you’d double the current world record for simultaneously flying the most unmanned aerial vehicles at the same time (a record currently held by Intel).
To take those UAVs down as quickly as they did, they’d need a Strela Surface-to-Air Missile Launcher. A classic of the “CoD-iverse,” the Strela is also known as a MANPADS, which sounds like a mismarketed sanitary product, but is actually a MAN-Portable Air-Defence System designed to take out low-flying aircraft using passive infrared guidance.
You point it at an aircraft, it locks on, and then you fire-and-forget, hoping exploding shrapnel doesn’t hit you when it’s falling. Three Strela missiles would cost you $68,100, around the cost of a brand new Tesla. And while “Strela” is an anagram for Tesla R, we’re afraid the only Tesla model $68,100 would buy you is a Model C. “Only.”
Four cruise missiles were called in–small potatoes compared to the UAVs. Yours in Call of Duty for the low price of just four kills in your killstreak (or five without Hardline), in real life they cost $1.5 million each, which means you could call in 45 of them and you still wouldn’t have spent more than those three UAVs.
Six million dollars is about what Dota 2 player Anathan ‘ana’ Pham makes when he unretires once a year to win The International.
So by now we’re up to around $69,669,356.64 (nice) for the cost of a Call of Duty match, with a very small amount of that being bullets. But it’s the next few additions that blew things out of proportion.
Get to the Choppa
Deep into the match, we acquire our third and final killstreak — full control over a Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian, a state of the art helicopter fitted with surface-to-air rockets and a 30mm cannon. We didn’t fire any of the rockets, because we honestly just forgot they were there.
But we did fire 240 rounds from the M230 Chain Gun mounted on the front of the helicopter. At just over $100 a shot, that’s $24,420. Nearly five times what everyone else fired in the rest of the round.
But there’s a bit more to this story. Seven rockets were fired at our plucky little helicopter, so there goes another $158,900. What’s more, those cheeky rocketeers managed to destroy the helicopter before the killstreak reward ended (but not until we’d scored a delicious 12 extra kills).
That cranks the price up a cool $35.5 million for our little helicopter ride. That’d get you 646,041 Remote Control Apache Helicopters, replete with plastic missiles it can fire — though you’ll need to supply your own High Explosive warheads.
I Am Become Death
In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, killstreak kills don’t count towards new killstreaks, so there was one element of the battleground that never factored into my play session. When you achieve 30 kills without dying using a weapon or a lethal/tactical throwable — so not via vehicles and/or killstreaks — you earn the Tactical Nuke killstreak.
Your team instantly wins the game as everyone on the map is vaporised, like Sarah Connor holding onto a chainlink fence. A Tactical Nuke costs around $85 million — $20 million for the warhead, and about $65 million for the delivery mechanism.
If we add up all these totals — not including the Tactical Nuke — we get a nice round number for what a ten minute round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare costs — $105,352,676.64. One hundred and five million, three hundred and fifty-two thousand, six hundred and seventy-six dollars and sixty-four cents.
Funnily enough, at $60 a pop, that is around what the Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made in its first month of sales.
Gone in ten minutes, and there are thousands of Modern Warfare matches happening at any one moment in time, as players do their best to unlock new weapons, killstreaks, perks, and field upgrades. It turns out fake war is around eight times more expensive than the real thing.
Yeah, that’s right. The US Department of Defense has a budget of $693,058,000,000 a year. They spend $13,369,174 every 10 minutes — 1/8th of what is spent in a round of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. As for whether they’re as efficient with bullets as we are, well, we doubt it.