Call Of Duty Elite And The Barbarians At The Gate

Years ago, sometime after the release of the original Modern Warfare, I remember attending an Activision press conference. The whens, the whys and the wherefores are lost to the annals of my fragile, unreliable memory - but I’ll never forget Activision’s key message.

Exploit key franchises, maximise revenue.

Even then, I remember being puzzled by it. EA were on the comeback trail then, trying to regain the credibility lost in that exact same pursuit.

But who was I to question? Back then Guitar Hero ruled the world, Modern Warfare was fresh, Tony Hawk was still relevant – Activision had just acquired Blizzard and become the largest video game publisher in the world in the process.

Today? Things are a little more sketchy. Activision’s constant updates to Guitar Hero have left it a bloated corpse, Tony Hawk is... well, probably best not to talk about that, and Call of Duty? Well, no-one’s really saying it out loud, but the backlash is stirring. Perhaps not in the mainstream, but amongst the niche, two games a month, core consumer base - the Call of Duty brand is in decline.

It may only be a matter of time before that attitude goes mainstream.

And that’s why the introduction of Call of Duty Elite – the handling of it, the way it was announced, the product itself – could be a major turning point for the series.

First the product itself – an extensive attempt to broaden the brand of Call of Duty by moving it into the social networking sphere, by adding video functionality, extensive statistics, the ability to create groups and clans – putting aside the fact that most of these features (perhaps not collectively) are available for free in other games currently on the marketplace, launching a service like this without a price tag is just willing consumers (and the press) to speculate wildly as to the cost.

And for a publisher like Activision, with an accumulated reputation for milking franchises, that’s not an ideal situation to be in.

Now, let’s talk about the way the news was released. Embargos, in this day and age, are almost offensive to begin with, but asking the majority of the gaming press to sign an embargo for the release of their Call of Duty Elite previews, then allowing the Wall Street Journal, of all places, to release the news first is an utterly mindboggling move.

Firstly – why break the news on an easily misunderstood service via a publication that doesn’t understand games? Surely this is a no-brainer.

Secondly – why alienate the gaming press who write, promote and discuss your products for a publication whose audience absolutely couldn’t care less about your product?

Seriously – what is wrong with this picture?

Gamers are already on the brink. And as successful as Call of Duty is, it is far from infallible.

A note unearthed by Patrick Klepek at Giant Bomb provided an interesting insight into the mentality over at Activision. Despite the rapid decline of Guitar Hero, they are steadfast in their belief that the Call of Duty franchise is unassailable; that multiple entries into the series are sustainable - mainly because Guitar Hero, as a new type of game, was quickly endorsed by the mainstream then abandoned, while Call of Duty is part of a storied history of first person shooters, with a stronger and more resilient fanbase.

History makes fools of those that tempt fate. I’ve yet to hear a single positive comment about Call of Duty Elite. The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, and that’s a direct result of the manner in which the information has been released. That negativity will spread quickly. Those at the core, those that read the news on Kotaku or any other site – these are the people mainstream consumers go to for information, for recommendations on what to buy - not the Wall Street Journal.

The barbarians are at the gate, Battlefield 3 is at the gate, and we get the distinct impression that a sea change is in process. On paper the Call of Duty franchise has never been stronger, but numbers can be deceiving. At the moment the feedback has been resounding. Gamers are getting tired of the Call of Duty template, they want something new, and a paid subscription fee for an extra layer of statistics and features is not it.

This year could be a turning point for the Call of Duty franchise - and Activision had better make sure it points its prize pony in the correct direction.


Comments

    It should go and die with honor. Or just rename the franchise and churn out FPS's every year under a different banner. How about "War Person" or "Shooting Guy from America".

      +1 for funny.

    Great article... I'm dumbfounded by the way Activision handles its franchises and even more dumbfounded about how shameless they are about it. Here's hoping they go the way of EA and start trying to do some quality control.

    Some good analysis Mark, although as you note I suspect this applies primarily to more dedicated gamers and I don't know if the interactions between the majority consumer and the niche gamer crowd is as clear-cut as you put it here.

    Great article. Someone gets it right. And by this afternoon it will hit mainstream. Activision mistreated their programers and now they think they can mistreat their consumers. They have another thing coming

    Good analysis. It does make sense to have WSJ break the news though, as it's the kind of buzzword-filled stuff that investors would eat up.

    I cant wait to see battlefield mop the floor with this COD fad.
    I'm amazed at the amount of pre-pube fanboys that come from such sheltered game backgrounds, yet keep some weird kind of FPS ego mentality in regards to what current gen game is better simply because of it's graphic engine.

    These are the same people that were introduced to half life through HL2 while skipping all the awesome history of HL1 just because the graphical engine is out of date.

    Battlefield never had any of this membership web site crap, and they have never made a game that i wasn't 100% happy with.

      What about Dust Company 2: Getting sniped from your spawn

        You mean Bad Company2? Have you played it lately? It is a great game.

        Never noticed the dust myself (possibly because I was playing on console) and I thought the spawns were fine, as good/bad as any FPS

        Whether BF3 will mop the floor with COD, is another question. I don't think it'll happen this time around, but I definately think the tides are chaging in the favour of Battlefield

        The only drama i have like this on heavy metal playing as the Russians.
        Tend to get base raped with the u.s choppers way too often.

        I find the rest of the maps well balanced and spawn friendly.

      And kind sir, Im amazed at ur idiocracy... The writer is by no means a fanboy of BF3, he is just stating the ridiculous fact that Activision is trying to steal money by adding subscriptions so you can receive some extra content... With a game like CoD which comes out yearly with almost nothing changed except for a new 4 hour campaign, weapons and maps I can't imagine the nerve they have that they release 'extra content' coming with an elite subscription when it should all come for free seeing how little extra content are added each year.
      You are such a hypocrite, you called the author a fanboy when you are the real fanboy here, the author is not biased by any means and never once stated that 'battlefield will be better than CoD'.

    This whole BF3/MW3 will end with MW3 selling the most - although most people will say they would rather pick up BF3 instead... and we all just know how much people LOVE change.

    Besides, I don't understand why COD is a target here and BF3 is getting off free of charge. The whole Genre is being run into the ground and the release of these two titles, I feel, will add to this.

      You have obviously never played a battlefield game before.
      Nothing they have made has done anything but support and enhance the FPS genre.

      Please go back and start with 1942.
      Trust me, they only get better.

        And yet people are calling out the CoD fanboys?

        Mate, look at BC2. Just look at it. The gun physics are beyond terrible, the only thing slightly realistic is the bullet drop but even then it is plagued with inconsistencies. SMG's and shotguns that can shoot accurately from large distances, no burst fire needed. You can get just as many, if not more kills, spraying at enemies with SMG's than you can with controlled bursts from an AR.

        What about medics and engi's having to earn their namesake gear? Or the fact that medics use LMG's...BC2 is inconsistent on every level.

        All BC2 has is the destructible environment aspect which offers very little. Battlefield 2 was the last great Battlefield game. Maybe YOU should go back to 1942 and take off the fanboy goggles and play through them all again.

          I haven't played Battlefield 2, but seriously don't diss Bad Company 2 - its a great game, B2 sold maybe 2 million copies, BC2 - 3 times that and counting.

          Aside from Destruction 2.0 and Rush Mode, I gotta tell you - spotting is the single greatest FPS mechanic to come down the pipe in years.

          No matter what one thing you can say about DICE is that they consistently innovate in their field.

      Why should BF3 be the target? They aren't in the wrong here

    We don't always see eye-to-eye Mark, but I agree with you 100% on this one.

    MW3 will be the first IW developed game released since the big IW debacle and exodus. People will expect it to be up to MW2 and even MW's standard and I belive that it will fall far flat of this, leading to a rapid decline of CoD's image.

    Most core gamers have already made this assumption.

    As for the 'mainstream' gamers? I think that Battlefield 3 and Gears of War 3 will eat in to a gigantic chunk of CoD's standard playerbase - especially with the gigantic ammount of effort DICE are putting in to BF3

    Let's be honest - this announcement was not really intended for gamers but for shareholders. That's why it was in the WSJ and not Kotaku. Those of us who actually read the gaming press may bitch and moan about it but the people who play CoD - and yes, that includes a lot of the people bitching and moaning - will likely snap it up. And Activision (like most) aren't in the business of creating great games - they're in the business of monetising demand, and getting the most money back for their shareholders. That's why they don't develop IP any more, it's too risky. This is not a losing proposition for them from a shareholder perspective. Hence, WSJ.

    I won't elaborate but this is only one of the many ways that the stock exchange fucks over people every single day in every single way. Vive la revolucion comrades!

      I'm picking up what your putting down Jem.

    I still enjoy CoD, but I can't imagine who would pay for this service.

    Oh, how I would love for this thing to be established and then COLLAPSE under Activision. To see them experience abject failure would be so wonderful.

    Of course, it'll sell wonderfully because it's called Call of Duty. That's all it needs.

    I want this series dead & buried. Come on people you can stop this boring waste of money. Not only is it holding back the entire industry with in stale, grinding story & rotting gameplay. The only thing left that they even put effort into is graphics which IMO is the worst direction you can go(at least not for business... unfortunately).

    Awesome article Mark. This is pretty much all I could think of during this debacle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emrHIpzjANI

    Activision are going to be the new visionaries, of failure. Am I right? *makes those weird Uhh noises*

    Yup, this (Elite) has convinced me not to buy MW3 at all. I've bought nearly every COD game in the series, but I just refuse to buy them anymore. I was curious about MW3, willing to buy it to see what they've done, but now I'm just going to avoid it totally. Activision need to learn that people won't just keep supporting a game that is an obvious money grab.

    Plus with Battlefield 3 and GoW 3 looking really good at the moment, I can't see people putting there money into MW3.

    I really think they are shooting themselves in the foot

    Adding my voice to the choir that this is a great article. I have felt the opinion of the COD franchise turning, but being surrounded by core gamers this hasn't been reflected in the sales. Perhaps you can keep the newer, younger and more casual gamers happy with these cookie cutter games but the time will come when even they start to look for more.

    This may be where it starts

      Biggest advantage COD has is that the games that have launched to go against it have all been rather terrible. Homefront, brink, MoH. hell on the PS3 KZ3 decided to drop the awesomeness that was KZ2 and try to emulate COD.

      So long as companies keep rushing out their FPS's unfinished or to meet some ridiculous deadline. It makes the same same approach COD has been taken for years look acceptable, because if these 4 new games all failed, changes could ruin COD as they know it.

      And GH is the perfect example i think theirs still a market for that game the problem is their isn't a market for 5 iterations a year. The one thing Rock Band done right was to avoid having a new game and just sell song's. I don't need an entire Van Halen game, theirs 4 songs on it i might play more than once, and they are tied to the disc not to an account

    The Call of Duty franchise should have died out years ago. I am sick of it and I am sick of Activision.

    I have no idea why all you guys think that MW3 will 'fail'...
    You cant just defrone the franchise of Call of Duty, and you are already predicting that its gonna be the same.... You havent seen any Multiplayer Gameplay at all. Yeah, sure you saw a few screenshots but those are early in development, and its more than we have seen than BF3..
    But its a dogg move with Activision..
    Bungie have been doing this 'statistics' thing since Halo 3.
    But yeah lay off Call of Duty..
    You lifeless nerds will probably end up buying anyway

      And in march the fanboys.

        Call of duty is just an expansion pack over and over again, I'll make a point here I like dynasty warriors but its the same shit every year, call of duty is leading down the same path only making minor improvements here and there.....to me its known as arcade of duty

      That's exactly the point -- Bungie's been doing this "stats" thing since Halo 3 for FREE. Activision could do it for free, but as usual, they're going for the money grab.

      And we've seen about 10 whole minutes of actual gameplay of Battlefield 3, how are a couple of screenshots "more" than 10 minutes of gameplay?

        With the money MS pull in from CoD they should have done this first.

      We're "predicting that its gonna be the same" because the last four were.

      it's spelled Dethrone not defrone

      The reason people are bashing on it is because after 4 installments since Cod 4 nothing useful has been added.

      And the first thing they truly start to add to the experience and they want 9.99 a month for it. i could understand maybe 2.50 a month.

      But their almost asking for a proper MMO based subscription. And we have seen that in the past they have sucked balls at ensuring that the game had updates and bugfixes.

      I also question what happens when the 360 has more than the PC and PS3 userbase paying, does the team focus more on the 360 because that's where the paying users are leaving those on the other systems to rot even though they were willing to pony up the moolah

    Those who dont understand history are doomed to repeat it.

    I highly doubt that the MW craze is bound to die out that soon, but even fans should notice how Activision is simply using the branding for some good quid.

    Not that I won't be interested in MW3 I admit, but it's just wearisome and tiring looking at a game so clearly made to satiate rather than please.

    Look, I actually don't mind the idea of Activision setting up a Halo Waypoint for Call of Duty.

    The grouping and matchmaking they're talking about is something that XBLA and PSN should have been offering a while ago.
    I look forward to something that will help me get better at FPS games... they're a staple of gaming and I should be better at them.
    They claim the stat tracking will help them find cheaters faster, and if it makes it easier to cutdown on tea-bagging 13 year olds, or people like the guy above me... then all the better.

    I'm not planning on paying for it... but I'll look into the free elements.

    I agree with your point about embargoes being stupid, but Acti is a business and the WSJ makes sense if you look at it from the markets point of view.

    I do believe that the quality of CoD games has deteriorated... and I'd personally settle for a game every 2 years.
    Here's the thing though... Acti is Acti, they're well known for how they act. If they blow it all, they've got Blizzard money to fall back on.
    If you truly want to start screaming about milked franchises... then let's talk about Zelda, Final Fantasy, Sonic, Mario, Command and Conquer... et all.

      When I say "... the guy above me...", I'm referring to Liam.

    You guys do know that the core features of Elite are free, right? You just get "extra programming and content" if you go for the premium subscription.

    I just hope when Activision collapse they don't bring Blizzard down with them...

      Agreed, I was about to write this... But it's my main fear that they'll push this type of crap onto Blizzard and Starcraft 42 will be out by 2013...

    Guys, guys guys...

    Just like MW2 nay-sayers, you folks saying you won't buy the game are the vocal minority. That's all there is to it.

    Sure, MW3 won't offer much new content but guess what? Neither did MW2 or Blops for that matter and both of those are still pulling in higher numbers in multiplayer than games like Bad Company 2 could ever dream of (that's not combined numbers btw). Not to mention the sales figures.

    The simple fact is that there is still a market for MW games.

    When it comes to cashing in, people are always vocal. Look at Valve with TF2 and all the crap they got flung their way when they introduced hats, or when they introduced the Mann Co. Store...guess what? Numbers haven't dwindled. People still play it, servers are still full.

    Also, you can compare COD/MW to Guitar Hero all you like but it's apples and oranges. Guitar Hero's main focus always was casual and non-gamers, that's why it died. The COD/MW series targets both the casual/non-gamer audience and the hardcore gamer audience and it always ends up gaining a large number from both camps.

    I'm a huge gamer and I enjoy my Battlefield games (though BC1 and 2 were a huge drop in quality from BF2, yet I still play them) as well as other "quality games" (as you haters would call them) but for myself, and clearly a large number of other gamers, there is always a place for the "simplistic" (I use that term for lack of a better) games like the MW series. That is not going to change.

    When MW dies, if it does, then it'll be re-branded and started again and make the same waves and sales it always has.

    Complain all you want, protest all you want. The gaming industry will keep churning out these kinds of games and they will always be bigger and sell better and have bigger online populations than the games (no matter how much you or I love them) you, the minority, love to talk up.

      I don't understand the point of your comment. When did we ever say we weren't the minority? And what does being the minority change?

      We know that MW3 will sell massive amounts.

      We know that this CoD: Elite thing will bring in money for Activision. (Hell, if Bungie can do it for free, then it can't be anything but beneficial for them.)

      We know that this Call of Duty fad is probably going to last a while.

      Why does that mean we can't be vocal about a greedy publisher and unoriginal developers? Forgive me for not wanting the gaming industry to follow Activision's path and churn out identical, overly-frequent, money-grabbing sequel after sequel. As a consumer, that's not the market I want to choose from, and as an animation student, that's not the industry I want to join.

        Don't throw yourself in with the rest of the nay-sayers, dude. You seem to be the only one of the lot here that hasn't thrown around definite terms as if you have some fancy insider information or laid blanket-accusations about what kind of gamer those who play CoD are.

          I have no problem with being thrown in as a "nay sayer". While I have no problem with people who play CoD, I do have a massive problem with Activision and the way they treat their franchises, especially Call of Duty, and the effect that has on other games. Games much more deserving of money and praise are ignored, other publishers are tempted to go down the "minimum effort/maximum profit" route, and it generally lowers the standard of what's expected of a sequel. If that makes me a nay sayer, so be it.

          That's not to say that there'll never be anything positive about the Call of Duty series again -- there just won't be unless somebody takes it off Activision's hands.

            I don't think that's a risk at all. Look at Mass Effect, look at Dues Ex, look at Gears of War. There are plenty of big name titles that aren't getting ignored that haven't taken the "minimum effort/maximum profit" route. Sure they won't be the biggest selling game of all time like the last two CoD's but that is merely a case of the target audience. CoD offers something for every type of gamer and that is tied in directly with keeping the core of the games the same. To go one way (even simpler) or the other (more complex and story driven etc) alienates half of the audience. This kind of situation has always existed and always will. Activision aren't going to make it worse.

              It's not even about making the game more complex or more story driven -- it's just about evolving the franchise in some way. Nothing that I've played in MW2 or Black Ops couldn't have been done as DLC for CoD4. Activision knows that the current CoD formula will sell so they stick to it and milk it for all its worth. If I want to play CoD4, I'll play CoD4, not buy another version of it every year.

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