The Plan To Dethrone Call Of Duty

One year ago this week, the head of Electronic Arts told me he had Call of Duty in his sights. Call of Duty was the king of first-person shooters. He wanted that spot. Today, he is convinced CoD is beatable.

This is the way to do it: "Make a better game," EA CEO John Riccitiello told me during an interview earlier this week in New York. "And make a better game again."

Sounds too simple? Maybe even too naive a method for knocking off a monster franchise that sells five million copies the day it comes out?

"The way you unseat a market leader is you make a better game a couple of times in a row."

"If I had to pick the story I'd like to play out next year is we ship a 90 and they ship an 85," he said, referring to Metacritic scores, which he watches as a measure of game quality. "[Activision has]an awful lot of momentum without heir brand, no doubt. What I've witnessed a couple of times in the games industry is the way you unseat a market leader is you make a better game a couple of times in a row. "

The year 2010 was good for EA shooters, he said. He wagers EA's gone from having just a tiny part of the first-person shooter audience to about a fifth. The spring's Battlefield Bad Company 2 (pictured here) was a hit, helping EA gobble up part of the first-person shooter attention that EA's rival Activision had been dominating with the Call of Duty (and related Modern Warfare) games.

For all the press EA's recent reboot of Medal of Honor got, thanks to its modern Afghanistan setting and its use of the Taliban in its fiction, Riccitiello repeatedly cited to me the work of DICE, a studio that has primarily contributed to EA's shooter efforts with its Battlefield games as the architects of what he seems to think is his best shot at Call of Duty. (DICE also made the multiplayer portion of Medal of Honor)

"I think it's interesting that [DICE's]Battlefield Bad Company 2 got the same Metacritic score as [Call of Duty:]Black Ops," he said. He's right. Both games got an 88 at the time of this writing. He's also enthused about DICE's graphics technology, singling out their Frostbite engine and implying that visual punch is key to taking on Call of Duty. "We knew we were building on [the]Unreal [graphics technology]for Medal of Honor which wasn't our foot-forward tact," he said. "We knew that going in. Our next game [Battlefield 3]is being built on the second generation of Frostbite which I think is at least in my opinion is a class act for FPS. I think we're going to lift the game pretty dramatically in the first-person shooter category."

...most importantly for us [is]Battlefield 3, which I feel incredibly good about.

He has a bright view of EA's shooter line-up for next year, which of course will be up against the next big Call of Duty that surely is coming next fall. "I have great expectations to do a lot better in 2011 than in 2010 on the strength of a couple of products like Bulletstorm and Crysis [2] , but most importantly for us, Battlefield 3, which I feel incredibly good about."

And further down the line is whatever game EA will be presenting from Respawn Entertainment, the former creative team behind the mighty Modern Warfare games. That team made an ugly split from Activison and the Call of Duty games earlier this year and now has something cooking for EA. ("They're working on a really cool product" is all Riccitiello would cough up about them.)

Better games, repeatedly. Riccitiello is convinced that can work, that Call of Duty doesn't have to dominate forever. "Over time we can take the lead."

[Top image of this post is from next year's Crysis 2]


    Again with the focus on Metacritic scores! Gah.

      What's wrong with that? Imperfect as they may be, they're probably the closest thing you can find to an objective measure of quality. Personally I'm really happy to hear the boss of one of the biggest games publishers on earth talking about metacritic scores rather than just sales figures.

    I can totally understand a lot of gamers point of view and developers too when it comes to Call of Duty and the FPS market. I love FPS games personally. It does get crowded and some fail because a game like COD gobbles it up and spits it out.

    But the fact is, COD games are enjoyable and theres nothing wrong with that. I personally don't enjoy the Battlefield games, I find the controls too sluggish for my liking. Probably really great games but hopefully they continue to get better for MY satisfaction.

    Activision may be greedy and the CEO a major douchebag but its all about business and they're clearly doing business really well even if it means killing franchises cause they milk & spam the market. But hey - EA which bring out probably better quality games are looking to dethrone COD with HOW many games?

    COD has built itself into an empire with one game/franchise. EA are using Bulletstorm, Crysis, Battlefield and Medal of Honour to "dethrone" one franchise? It gets a little childish...
    It reminds me of the iPhone - iPhone OS is like the market leader in the US or second. Off ONE phone - I mean clearly Apple are playing their cards right (even though they suck are meeting consumer demands half the time) and Activision clearly have a similar strategy and success as a business, nothing wrong with that!

      Have to agree about Activision. From a business perspective they are making billions and milking COD for all it's worth. But I think if you combine their dick-face CEO, the destruction of Infinity Ward, and the gameplay disaster that is BlackOps, the watershed moment has happened. After BlackOps I certainly will not be buying the next COD, and I hope that Respawn/EA can make an amazing game that dethrones COD. It's about time Kottick/Acitvision (and Treyarch to a certain extent for shipping that abomination) got their asses handed to them.

    i like EA's boss, he seems to know what hes talking about and hes not a total troll like Kotick

    Didn't CoD become popular because of the Hollywood style marketing? Or was it that one CoD game that was actually good (CoD4)?

    The problem with dethroning COD is the fact is it is an established, well known franchise. Hell even my Grandmother knows what COD is and who Soap MacTavish is, and that is truly saying something.

    EA is publishing fantastic games now and I personally am looking forward to Bulletstorm, Crysis and Battlefield 3 for First Person Shooters next year (we won't get into any other genres).But the problem is they aren't established as COD, they are in gaming circles but if you ask someone on the street about any of these games they would look at you funny and continue to move on.

    EA Has to use this many titles because people will automatically buy COD no matter what. It doesn't matter if it's shit, it doesn't matter if it's virtually unplayable, people will buy because it has become a well known brand and that's it.

    I know several people who would buy any game with the Call of Duty name on it. They didn't even know it was coming out but when they saw "Call of Duty" they bought it straight away, no questions asked.

    This will continue until EA's strategy goes into full swing. This strategy of EA's will work eventually because it makes sense. They're using smaller franchises, of higher quality make to bring down one big one. It is a sound strategy and I believe it will work.

    “The way you unseat a market leader is you make a better game a couple of times in a row.”

    EA certainly learnt that lesson when Call of Duty unseated the Medal of Honor series...

      And learned it again when their half-game reboot of Medal of Honor failed to worry Black Ops.

      Altho I guess EA dont care if people bought MoH, played it for a few weeks and then traded it for CoD. Which is what most people did.

    I really enjoyed the "weight" of the MoH guns... I think they got that right, in fact there's a lot I enjoyed about it.

    I believe they need to diversify though... BF:BC should be a funny game, MoH a serious story, Battlefield a realism kind of thing and whatever Respawn knock out a flatout shooter (high action, fast pace, extreme scenario)... the direct CoD competitor.

    The way you beat CoD is to take it's audience by offering something that appeals to each person... which subspecialities would do.

    Sounds like his only point in there that will make the new battlefield better is graphics. Yeah, cause better graphics is exactly what gamers want.

    I personally think the COD series will ruin itself pretty soon. Unless they can come up with some new tricks or rework the formula into something better that they can then build on I think they will see declining sales over the next 2-3 games.

    Modern Warfare was a game that changed things up a bit, and I think they have been riding on those coat-tails ever since. They have added a couple of bells and whistles to multiplayer since then but the series has started to stagnate and it feels like campaigns are just getting worse. I'm sure soon people will get sick of the CoD formula and will be looking to something new to play.

    Personally I got sick of MW2 within a couple of months of release and have never gone back.

    Battlefield is EAs best shot. Personally its already better than COD in my books but I am unsure how EA can market it to COD people.

    Or you could just wait for the greedy rival publisher to cause an internal shit-plosion in the development team and then sit back and laugh...

    EA are being too reactive, and too slow and too heavy handed about it. 3 major FPS releases for 2011 is crazy. Especially if Black Ops outsells them all combined. Dev and marketing costs on 3 'smaller' games, still costs as much as, if not more than, ONE 'massive' game.

    The only problem for Battlefield 3 is that it won't be playable on WinXP - I still have it mostly because I don't want to fork out extra cash for a newer PC (OS + Hardware) when the old one works OK - esp. if it is for one game. Though, WinXP will be nearly (8 years?) old by the time BF3 does release.

    Sales numbers are not important really, EA should be happy enough that they have the better games, generally speaking. EA is the more respected company and it's franchises are more engrossing and innovative. EA's lineup as a whole surely outsells each Call of Duty game and they certainly do make a profit. I understand that it's business but in the long run quality is more important than sales quantity.

    One problem EA will have in the future, when trying to take on Activision, is coming up against Bungie's game and/or franchise...which will most likely be an FPS also. EA are unlikely to produce anything as good as what Bungie will push out for Activision imo. Bungie are tops in this genre.

    Also they will continually be fighting against the Halo games from 343 Industries, which will likely be great also. Halo Combat Evolved HD (if it happens as rumoured) will probably slaughter everything sales wise if it releases this time next year.

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