We're edging ever closer to the next Call of Duty, with just seven days separating us from Black Ops. It's going to be big. In fact, some analysts predict Black Ops' release will be the biggest on record, surpassing Halo: Reach and even Black Op's step-sibling, Modern Warfare 2. Already, in America alone, it's amassed over two million pre-orders, so such predicting might not be hyperbole, after all.
But with every series milked like the proverbial cash-cow, we can expect a slow but steady free fall from the lofty heights of fame. But with such numbers already piling in, Black Ops looks set to buck the trend of dwindling popularity. But why? Is the Call of Duty formula so perfect it can go from year to year, with very little changes, and remain top dog? Well, with just a week until release, we at Dealspwn put on our deerstalkers, slipped some fresh tobacco into our pipes, and set out to investigate. Read on...
While the series began in 2003 on the PC, Call of Duty's sudden rise from popular shooter to sales juggernaut is down to a change of name and setting; Modern Warfare. CoD had been successful before, with solid critical and commercial numbers, but it was Infinity Ward's decision to propel the narrative forward from WW2 to a the modern day that signaled a change in fates for the once small-time series.
Modern Warfare was a unanimous success. The change of setting was inspired, and while Infinity Ward circumvented any controversy by conjuring a fictional war, they kept the threat relevant and very near to our hearts, namely with the Middle East, and the arms race for nuclear weapons. Now, CoD was ahead of the crowd, the contemporary setting an exciting new venture for gamers bored to death of recycled WW2 scenarios.
Call of Duty had always had a penchant for the spectacular, and Modern Warfare was no different. From infiltrating a cargo ship at the dead of night in stormy waters, to a tense stealth op in the irradiated ruins of Chernobyl, Modern Warfare was not only different, it was defining. It had its faults, namely the reloading waves of soldiers who could only be abated by reaching an invisible checkpoint. But Infinity Ward's design was so strong, it barely mattered.
For Power And Prestige
It's the online component where Modern Warfare sunk its claws into millions, and has yet to relinquish its grip. It wasn't particularly revolutionary. It involved shooting folks, mostly. But, with a stroke of genius, Infinity Ward implemented a consistent leveling system, racked up XP, unlocking new ranks. And with each rank, a new gun or perk. XP was awarded for successful shots, grenades, even blowing up cars. The game was constantly rewarding you, and as such, a trickling addiction developed.
It's not enough, however, for a game's rampant success to be traced to an RPG-esque system. It's not new or original. But it's the lack of competency required, Infinity Ward tailoring the experience for the most casual of gamers to stumble on a game of Free-for-All, that split CoD open for the masses. It's not easy, by any means, but the smooth controls, the generous auto-aim, perks like 'Juggernaut', all hint towards an accessible design philosophy. Modern Warfare's success may be difficult to explain, but its intentions aren't.
Modern Warfare's success was carried on to World at War, which had the unenviable task of retrofitting contemporary features so they fit in a 1940s context. Instead of an air-strike, we summoned artillery strikes. Ravenous dogs replaced ruthless helicopters, and step-parent, Treyarch, upped the level cap to appease fans, and threw a Flamethrower perk in for good measure.
Second Time Lucky
Despite lacking the critical response of Modern Warfare, World at War wasn't a flop, with millions sold and millions satisfied. But it was the true sequel fans demanded. Modern Warfare 2, from original developers Infinity Ward. It's amazing to consider it's been less than a year since MW2 released, considering the colossal launch, the frenzy of bugs and glitches, and the controversial departure of Jason West and Vince Zampella, IW co-founders.
Regardless, MW2 was a major success, shattering sales-records, and consistently topping the charts for both LIVE and PS Network. Infinity Ward bowed to fans' demands, including more perks, more guns and more kill-steaks. The inclusion of title cards and emblems, unlocked for performing specific tasks, like dropping two opponents with a single round from a sniper, meant the relentless reward scheme was further bolstered.
But MW2 was a mess. It was riddled with glitches, canny gamers exploiting tears in the design to fly across the map, uninhibited, or dwell underneath in the nether regions, still able to shoot and rack up kills. The design, too, was flawed, with the excess of kill-streaks congesting small and even large-scale maps with multiple helicopters, harriers and even the hulking AC-130. The chaos was fun, and fans' interest didn't waver, but it lacked the finesse and class of Modern Warfare. Where MW was elegant and understated, MW2 was brash and loud, and such failures were only compounded by the West-Zampella fiasco.
It's not long before we see a subscription-based model for Call of Duty. It's simply too lucrative an option for a profit-minded giant like Activision to ignore. And I imagine, despite the venomous reaction, if Activision withheld CoD multiplayer unless you signed up to a monthly subscription, a few million or so of us would give in.
We've already endured rumours of the upcoming Black Ops introducing a pay-to-play model for online. It's since been dismissed, but I am positive Activision is not only mulling the decision, but it's put pieces in place to introduce such an initiative in the near future. Black Ops, for instance, introducing CoD Points, an online currency for unlocking guns, perks, skins etc. Activision might, for instance, allow fans to purchase CoD Points with their own money, instead of earning them online.
If or when this happens, I'm sure we can expect to see something of a fallout in the CoD community. Maybe not quite as epic as the warhead that detonated above Washington DC in MW2's campaign, but an exodus is inevitable. Even if subscription costs amounted to just a fiver a month, that's sixty pounds a year. More expensive than purchasing a boxed copy of the game, and with further expenses to follow if you choose to play for a second, third or even fourth year. I sometimes hop on Modern Warfare now and again, and its community is still thriving, three years down the line. I doubt the same could be said for a subscription-based CoD in the near future.
What are your opinions on the success of Call of Duty? Do you feel its deserved, or not? Does Activision's rumblings of moving CoD to a subscription-based model frighten, or excite you? As always, sign off in the comments section below.