Can Call of Duty Keep Going Strong?

Can Call of Duty Keep Going Strong?

Call of Duty is one of the most successful video games franchises currently on the market. What kind of longevity can we expect from the series? Before you answer, consider this important tidbit: The Call of Duty franchise is the lucrative property of Activision, the same publisher that ran the seemingly unstoppable Guitar Hero series into the ground.

In fact, two internal memos published by Activision in February and leaked to GiantBomb address outside worry that Activision might whip the Call of Duty series for profits until it keels over, leaking bloody froth from its mouth. In one memo, Activision CEO Eric Hirschberg admits that such fears aren’t unfounded, “but there are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering. Guitar Hero quickly reached incredible heights, but then began a steady decline. Call of Duty, on the other hand, has steadily grown every single year of its seven-year existence.”

Hirschberg adds that Call of Duty‘s huge online community has also done wonders in elevating the franchise’s popularity into the stratosphere. Also, whereas Guitar Hero was a relatively new experience for most players that lost appeal quickly, Call of Duty games are first-person shooters–a genre that has remained solidly popular for decades.

Despite Call of Duty‘s seemingly unshakable foundation, however, Hirschberg understands that it’s up to Activision to keep the series alive by “staying ahead on the innovation curve,” and “surrounding the brand with a suite of services and an online community that makes our fans never want to leave.”

It’s good that Activision understands Call of Duty is not infallible, and it’s also encouraging to see that the publisher isn’t denying that it could have handled Guitar Hero with more care. But is the death of Guitar Hero really enough to deter Activision from slicing open the Call of Duty golden goose?

Hirschberg’s memo describes the future of Call of Duty with pleasing terminology like “innovation curve” and “[raising] the quality bar.” Good stuff, but innovating the FPS genre is trickier than it sounds. There’s a reason why people grumble about “grey and brown FPS games” when they need an easy stereotype of the Western game development scene. Truth is, developers have to walk a tricky line between innovation and familiarity when introducing a new FPS. Release an uninspired game, and you get accusations of being a clone. Release something that strays a bit too far from the beaten path, and you have difficulties convincing your target audience to drop their favorite multiplayer arenas in favor of your own.

That’s doubly true for an established franchise like Call of Duty. Black Ops is tremendously popular, which will prove to be Activision’s blessing and curse. How do you follow up a critically acclaimed game that has sold millions across the world, all in record time? Not to suggest that gamers have an inborn cynicism gene, but when a game blows you away, you automatically expect its follow-up to rock your world twice as hard, and that doesn’t always happen for reasons that may or may not be related to the game’s new features and overall quality.

This scenario is complicated further by the fact that Black Ops attracted a lot of new players, even as some Modern Warfare fans complained, justifiably or not, that they felt “alienated” by Black Ops. How many fans of Black Ops are going to feel alienated by the next Call of Duty installment?

Activision has its work cut out for it, though this much is true: It’s always preferable to innovate, even if sticking to the familiar is a tempting tactic for short-term success. Despite the gaming community’s accusations that FPS games lack creativity, something new and interesting does come along without fail and converts legions of fans to its new multiplayer church. Given that the games industry is currently going through enormous changes, and given that the next generation of game consoles is in reach thanks to Nintendo’s attention-grabbing Project Cafe, it wouldn’t hurt Activison to remember its own advice about that “innovation curve.”

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. The line is definetly a tricky one to walk. Once game developers establish a foundation that works I think the innovation needs to come from areas built on that foudnation. For example, Black Ops had the COD foundation with control, engine, and basic mechanics built in, but decided to “innovate” (in quotations because this has really all been done before just not in a COD game) with features like weapon customization and kill replays etc. As long as we feel completely in control when we pick up a controller and at home with the interface, the foundation can remain.

    However, this can also lead to stale games. Games like Half-Life and developers like Valve, do not seem content on just keeping a solid foundation. They are motivated to come up with new games that change your perception of a genre.

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