Does Publisher Mud-Slinging Hurt Gaming?

Does Publisher Mud-Slinging Hurt Gaming?

Not all that long ago, we talked about the heated competition between Activision and EA. The size of each studio alone is enough to make titans look like tykes, but both companies are wielding weapons that will clash this holiday season: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision) and Battlefield 3 (EA). The two military-themed shooters will leap at each others’ throats this Christmas. Only one will come out on top, and EA is aiming to make sure Battlefield 3 emerges as king.

EA CEO John Riccitiello has seemingly been enjoying the sport between the two companies, and he hasn’t been above a little bit of mud-slinging. He’s been pretty vocal about Call of Duty‘s flaws, stating to IndustryGamers.com last month that the franchise has “jumped the shark,” and is “the Disneyland abstraction of a war game.” While Riccitiello added that there is certainly a market for a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, his scorn is thick enough to taste. Why associate Call of Duty with Disneyland except to brush off its fans as a pack of kids who can’t handle a serious, blood-spattering experience that’s wrapped up in an adult story?

EA has been jabbing at Activision for some time now, and Activision has finally issued a response: The company believes that, this holiday season, the more games that sell at retail, the better.

“As someone who runs one of the biggest publishers in this business I can tell you that I want as many games as possible to succeed, whether we created them or not, because I want this industry to keep growing and bringing in new people,” said Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg during a presentation at Gamescom.

Hirshberg had another message: Grow up, EA.

“Competition is of course a good thing,” he said. “It keeps us all on our toes and ultimately makes the games better. It’s healthy. But it’s one thing to want your game to succeed and another thing to actively, publicly say you want other games to fail.

“I actually feel this kind of rhetoric is bad for our industry. Can you imagine the head of Dreamworks animation coming out with a new movie and going to the press and saying that he wants Toy Story to ‘rot from the core.’ It’s kind of hard to imagine, right?”

Hirshberg’s sentiment is understandable, though a bit out of place for two games that are competing for top dollar in the first-person shooter market. Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are all about war, blood, and aggression. It’s not all that jarring to see EA take a swing at Activision, because the two games are dark offerings with a pretty similar audience. We expect a little biting, a little blood. To use Hirshberg’s own example against him, who would want to attack the cheerful plastic ensemble of Toy Story? Anyone who did as much would be regarded as a mean ol’ monster, because Toy Story is an aggression-free kids’ franchise that simply wants to spread happiness and nostalgia.

Besides, it’s highly unlikely that Modern Warfare 3 is going to sicken and die at retail because EA said some mean words.

Hirshberg still makes some very good points. It would be preferable to see both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 perform magnificently at retail. Still, unless the unlikely happens and both sell the exact same numbers of copies, one game is inevitably going to be declared the “winner” over the other. It’s understandable that EA would want to be that winner.

To reiterate a point we made in the past, the industry has garnered a very diverse following over the past decade or so, and there’s no need for publishers to act as if its primary audience still consists mainly of fifteen-year-old boys who need to feel validated that they chose the “right” game system and/or game. That’s obviously not going to stop some publishers and marketers. EA’s decision to market its game by insulting the other guy’s work isn’t commendable, but it won’t cause any lasting damage. The video game industry has survived mud-slinging wars in the past, and it will probably survive this one.

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.

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