The Call of Duty franchise has become the standard against which all other video games are measured. Unfortunately, it’s not a measure of quality but of revenue. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latest in this long-running and increasingly diversifying brand, generated over $1 billion in revenue in just 16 days. This smashed the previous record for the biggest entertainment launch which had been held by, you guessed it, another Call of Duty game – Black Ops.
Why in the world would anyone stop making these games when they consistently generate those kinds of revenues? Artistic integrity? We all know that never pays the bills. Inability to innovate (there’s only so much you can do with a shooter, after all)? The gaming industry is practically founded on rehashing old ideas (there’s a certain Italian plumber who has had a very lucrative 25-year career by doing the same thing over and over again). So the question has to be: can there ever be too much Call of Duty?
Those Who Say: No
There will always be those gamers who can’t get enough of their favorite franchises. Yes, they’ve seen the plot before, no there’s nothing new about the game – and they wouldn’t have it any other way. These are the fans who download their Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 wallpaper so that even when they’re not actually playing, they can at least be thinking about playing.
And really, can we blame them? Hundreds of millions of dollars went into designing an amazingly visceral experience where the good survive and the poor have to settle for the single-player campaign where they can set the experience on “easy.” The online component of the game, though, is what has made Modern Warfare (in all its incarnations) really stand out, and the long-time fans don’t seem to need much more than a new playground in which they can apply their skills.
Those Who Say: Yes
Call of Duty has also become the modern example of all things wrong with the gaming industry. Whether it’s conservatives deriding it for being too violent, liberals denouncing it as right-wing fantasy, or gaming “purists” looking for something a little more original, there are plenty of people ready to criticize this game. Even the die-hard fans have had more than a few complaints about gamers using Call of Duty Black Ops cheats on PC or PS3 and XBOX players camping in one spot for the entire game, or anything else that they feel makes the experience “unbalanced.”
These are the people who want to see Activision (the game’s publisher) step back from the iron sights and branch out a little more. They want to see these companies innovate rather than iterate.
Who Will Win?
At the moment, there is simply no reason to stop making Call of Duty games every year. Yes, the companies will receive continued derision, but as long as they keep seeing revenues in the billions we can expect to see the same game with a different finish year after year. History has shown us that there is a saturation point, though (I’m looking at you, Guitar Hero), and that could force the company to back away from a franchise. But until that happens, the world just can’t seem to get enough of the same thing.