I couldn't get Robert Bowling to use the words Battlefield 3 in a sentence.
He's an Infinity Ward guy, which means he's a Call of Duty and Modern Warfare guy. And I guess that means that, in public, he's not going to try to talk about Battlefield 3, the latest taste-test challenge to the mighty CoD, to a pesky reporter.
After we played some pre-release Modern Warfare 3 together, I told him about the hate I see for his series. Every time we write about your games, we have hordes of Battlefield 3 fans attacking Modern Warfare 3 in the comments below our articles. They root for its failure. Surely, I asked Bowling, you get that too?
"Any game that has two very different audiences, you're going to see it," he told me. "Every game has its passionate userbase. We see it from everybody."
But is it annoying?
"I wouldn't say it's annoying. It's what it is. It's what games have been forever."
Call of Duty is on top. It's Goliath. It's the New York Yankees. It's LeBron James going into the NBA Finals. Bowling says the franchise has 30 million fans to please, and counting. That's the kind of popularity that spawns competition and hate. I wanted to know from Bowling what it feels like to be in that position, what it feels like to have people preparing to cheer if you fall.
It's helpful to get the hate, Bowling told me.
"We may have the number one selling game," he said. "We may have, at times, the number one most played game. So it's very easy to sit back and say. 'We've done our jobs perfectly. We have the best game ever created. Look at the numbers.' But then you can get online and have people kick dirt in your face constantly every day about anything that they may not like about the game. It allows you to have a gut check and a perspective that this is where we still need to go. This is work that we still need to do."
Where do people kick dirt on his face? Twitter. He says joining Twitter "was the best thing I've ever done from a development standpoint" for just this reason. "It allows you to not rest on acclaim alone, whether critical or commercial, and makes you realise that there are still audiences out there that want to enjoy your games that may not even play shooters, that may not be into the type of game you make. You can look at that and find ways to introduce them into the experience." He cited MW3's co-op Survival Mode as an example of the kind of franchise improvement made because of heat on Twitter. It is designed to give single-player Modern Wardare fans a way to experience the franchise's multiplayer perks by including them in a relatively safe horde mode.
But those Battlefield 3 fans... they are such a consistently fiery and vocal bunch that I wonder about them. They seem marshalled to dog Modern Warfare in ways that won't necessarily spawn a new gameplay mode for Modern Warfare 4 or whatever. Shortly before Bowling and I were chatting, news had come out that www.modernwarfare3.com was re-directing to Battlefield.com (It doesn't anymore). No reaction?
A public relations person from Activision jumped in to point out that Battlefield publisher EA was not behind that. I turned to Bowling once more. Nothing more to say about these Battlefield folks?
"They are passionate."