The Call of Duty franchise has become something of a source of distant fascination for me recently. I find it quite interesting to watch something that can still throw the amount of money around that COD can, suffer from a sort of identity crisis.
COD started out as a series of World War II era shooters, a genre that was already overcrowded when the franchise began. An emphasis on spectacle, characterisation, dramatic setpieces and an ambivalent feeling toward the nature of war gave COD something of a unique edge that wasn’t shared by many of its contemporaries. The franchise quickly became one of the top competitors in that genre.
However, it was as a genre rapidly approaching saturation point, which prompted the creators behind COD to make a move that in hindsight borders on genius. They chose to step away from World War II and move into a modern setting. While from the perspective of 2017, this may not seem to be a terribly dramatic move, it’s important to understand what a sea change this was when Modern Warfare was released. Modern Warfare in turn became the kind of hit that fundamentally changed industry standards going forward.
Modern Warfare became the kind of hit that fundamentally changes industry standards going forwards.
The best analogue I can think of would be The Avengers. After the release of the first Avengers movie, a core change in how Hollywood thought about franchising was made and while the outcomes of that change haven’t been entirely positive (coughcoughDarkUniversecoughcough) it can’t be overstated that the initial move was rather brilliant.
If you are aware of concepts of story structure, this is the moment in the tragedy when our hero has risen to his greatest height of achievement and if you’re aware of those tropes, you should know what’s going to happen next.
COD would continue to release games using this new style developed with Modern Warfare. The two direct followups, Modern Warfare 2 and 3, would see ever-increasing profits as their plots became progressively more ludicrous. Meanwhile, the side series, Black Ops, would also become a massive hit while probing in progressively stranger directions. However, at this point it became difficult not to notice some fundamental flaws in the core design of the experience: the fact that the player characters are largely extraneous to the actual events of the game, the repetitive nature of the combat, and the obviously scripted nature of the setpieces that the game became known for.
In hindsight, it’s impossible not to see these games as an attempt to have their cake and eat it too.
With the Modern Warfare series concluded, and the Black Ops series swiftly moving towards its own conclusion, COD began trying to create new games using the design so well-implemented in Modern Warfare. In hindsight, it’s impossible not to see these games as their attempt to have their cake and eat it too. These games would claim to be attempting to explore new ideas, yet the gameplay was fundamentally the same Modern Warfare that people had been playing for years now.
Sales began to drop in response, although it’s worth noting that falling COD sales are still enough money to buy a mansion with a pool, fill that pool with money, set it on fire then use it to toast sandwiches that you’ve made out of more money. The identity crisis truly dug its claws in.
Infinite Warfare, the franchise’s attempt to grab hold of the resurgent popularity of science fiction in the gaming scene, failed to improve sales. It was clear that a change was needed. Something to reinvigorate the franchise. Which led to the announcement of COD WWII.
I’m sorry, hang on a minute.
That’s what you were doing before Modern Warfare.
That’s the opposite of a fresh idea!
That is a move so gutcrushingly lame that it actually blows my mind.
Now I knew, on hearing this, that it would piss me off. But I wanted to give it a fair shake, so I signed up for the beta they held recently. You know what? It’s just another COD game. The same generic environments, the same grindy multiplayer… even the weapons feel fundamentally the same, despite apparently stemming from seventy years earlier. I played the beta for two hours, and I can safely describe them as two of the most boring hours of gaming in my life.
So here’s my plea. COD is one of the Big Three Games, the three games that the marketing departments and CEOs of game companies are truly enraptured by. In case you’ve been looking for a cure for excess joy you may have been feeling recently, the other two are Candy Crush and Clash of Clans.
COD is seen as an industry standard for what a successful game looks like and if you think that the fading away of the abundance of COD clones in recent years is a sign this has improved, it hasn’t. Companies have just finally figured out there’s no way to compete with it directly.
we as gamers like to act very entitled towards the industry we support.
Now, we as gamers like to act very entitled towards the industry we support. One need only look at the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle to see the negativity of that kind of entitlement. But in this case, I feel we are justified in expressing our opinions. This is rubbish. We don’t want this. We don’t want to signpost to the industry that this is where they should go and believe me, if the sales of COD WWII are an improvement on previous COD sales, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
So if you’re a fan, and COD WWII is released and you are standing in the game store of your choosing, hand hovering over the box or you’re on the distribution service of your choice, waiting to click download, consider this:
YOU COULD BE DOING LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.
There are countless amazing games out there right now that you could be giving your money to, games that are encouraging fresh ideas, new concepts rather than shamelessly regressing like a snail to scared to emerge from its shell. This is our hobby, and our opinion matters.
Send a message.
We will not support a lack of innovation.
We will not support lazy design.
We will not support being given the least amount of effort possible.
Let COD sales continue to decline until the message is received. COD has learned countless lessons, made vast improvements over its lifetime. It has taken numerous excesses, but fat can be trimmed and good ideas can supplement new ones easily.
Send a message.
We want you to succeed.
We want to give you our money.
But we won’t do it for this.
Give us something new.