Call Of Duty can’t have escaped your notice. Even if you don’t game, every year a different incarnation of the same core game is thrust into every shop and 2013’s annual COD release will be Ghosts on November 5th. Every time a COD game is released it gets huge attention and makes massive sales, as Ghost most likely will in November. Why? Lets take a look.
The History of the Call
There’s been quite a few Call of Duties. There were the original 3, all set in World War 2 and released between 2003 and 2006. Since then the franchise has exploded, when someone at Activision had the “groundbreaking” idea to abandon the very saturated World War 2 game setting, skip the obvious Vietnam setting which was already saturated by games such as Battlefield Vietnam (PC released 2004) and Men of Valour (Xbox released 2004), and go for a modern day setting.
The core game of COD has always been the same, a first person shooter war experience. The player is placed in the boots of soldiers, originally in the big battles of World War 2. The World War 2 games were fairly solid but every release was fiercely fighting for dominance against the Medal of Honour titles, also set in World War 2, released by EA Games since 1999. Medal of Honour had the edge simply because it was around first, so it was more familiar to gamers. However, COD notably simplified the interface. Medal of Honour could get a bit confused with its button mapping and the clarity of its mini maps were not the best. That simplicity remains at the heart of the COD philosophy – that simple is best. Shooting mapped to one button, movement to one button, interaction to one button and a clear mini map with clear objectives. That’s the COD formula.
The original Modern Warfare COD was released at the end of 2007 and tapped straight into the minds of its teenaged male fan base. They got to play a war in their own back garden, or at least in recognisable reconstructions of elements from their modern lives such as shopping centres. It was more relevant than World War 2 re-runs, which by now had even more competitors moving in in the form of the Brothers in Arms series. Activision quickly churned out Modern Warfare game after game, making the most of the market which they’d discovered and monopolised so ahead of the competition.
Since late 2007 we’ve had MW1, MW2, MW3, BLOP1, BLOP2, WAW and are soon to have Ghosts. With the exception of World At War, which was a homage to the World War 2 roots of COD, all of these were based in the present day or else end of the Cold War (a more relevant topic of history to teenagers in the 2010s than World War 2). So, Activision have certainly kept the monopoly going, so much so that rival attempts to break in to it such as Medal of Honour Warfighter fell almost entirely flat on their faces.
So, every year the same game comes out with a slightly different story, slightly better graphics and slightly better physics (not that there’s much between them at all). Why do people continue to buy them?
It’s certainly not for the story. I’ve dipped in to most CODs, whether playing with a friend who owned them or borrowing a copy, but the only one I’ve personally bought was Modern Warfare 3 released in 2011. I bought it early in 2013, as it had plummeted to under £5 used, so I thought it would be worth a try.
The interface was smooth and the instructions clear, true to COD philosophy. However, the story was an abysmal attempt to shoehorn as many set piece battles in to “shocking” locations as possible. You fight through New York streets, skyscrapers in an androgynous German city and even on the London underground. You get the feeling that they asked a focus group of teenaged males where they’d most like to see a gun fight and then strung these answers together with a bare-bones outline of a story. To sum it up it took me 4 hours of gameplay to complete the entire story, without racing to finish it and taking my time. 4 hours to complete the entire story, with only one memorable fight for the lot of it. Clearly, the story is not the attraction of COD, or what makes it sell.
Activision were wise again in their incorporation of multiplayer into the COD franchise. Just as Xbox Live was taking off into the mainstream on the Xbox 360 along came Modern Warfare, especially MW2, with a stand out setting, clear and polished interface and a real focus on multiplayer gameplay. Activision invested a lot of time and effort into multiplayer, with clever and polished maps and game modes designed, in fact the maps were pretty memorable on the whole – I still remember playing a friend on the skyscraper map on MW2.
Gone were the days of COD in its World War 2 days, which was about the story but also local co-op and local fights between up to 4 friends. Those gunfights on your sofa through the ruins of a French village were fun. Now Activision replicated that with friends on the internet, and gamers loved it. Gamers still love it today. It’s the multiplayer that really drives people to buy COD.
Its got to the stage now though where there’s not much left to COD besides the multiplayer, that’s all that people buy it for – and more fool me for buying it purely to investigate the offline story. But, why do COD players buy the new version every time it comes out?
If you look to some other successful multiplayer fps the same title can be kept alive and refreshed by community mods. Activision have never supported this, and so gamers buy new installments to keep the gameplay fresh. It might well be the same mechanics to the fights almost 10 years on from the original COD, but different maps keep the fighting fresh. The only way to get these maps is by buying the new copy of COD when its released. Of course, all your friends who you play COD with online will get it immediately – which means that if you don’t pre-order it then you’ll be playing without any friends until you do buy it. The fear is there that you’ll lose the sole reason that you play COD, so you have to pre-order it and bump up the sales.
COD Ghosts will have massive sales when it releases in November. But why is that? Well, at its core its a cynical/wise (depending on your point of view) business move from Activision to tap in to their player’s desire to keep playing with their friends online. Its a well polished game, I wouldn’t say good, but I appreciate how refined it has become in a gaming world where sequels are increasingly rushed out still with rough edges in the interests of a quick profit. There isn’t much to the success of COD, and its been luck and some forethought that’s allowed COD to dominate that market so much. Perhaps, though, if the success is based on so little it will not take much for it to all crumble. That will been seen in time, but for now I hope I’ve enlightened a little.
I wanted to add my own recommendation to the end of this review. When you look into it and realise what the success of COD is all about it changes the way you look at it, I personally feel pretty sorry for the gamers that Activision is pretty much exploiting.
If you’re looking for an online first person shooter experience with well balanced and fun combat, with good fun maps that are updated regularly I would recommend to go for a PC game. Personally, I get that kick out of the Napoleonic Wars DLC for Mount and Blade: Warband (http://mountandblade.wikia.com/wiki/Napoleonic_Wars). If modern warfare based fps for online gameplay is your thing then go for something like Arma 3, as well as an old classic in Joint Operations: Typhoon rising which is still going strong almost a decade on. These are games that won’t need constant new purchases, they will keep going for years with an organic and friendly community that will keep it fresh with self generated new content. Don’t let Activision fleece you out of more money that you needn’t spend!
If modern warfare is your thing but you don’t want online play then Operation Flashpoint might be for you, its less Arcade than COD, but that’s what a real war story is like – 95% boredom and 5% not having a clue where you’re being shot from.
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com