It’s being reported that the total sales of last year’s annual Call of Duty entry, Modern Warfare 3, are behind what the total sales for Black Ops were at this time last year. It’s also being reported that the sales for the entirety of March for MW3 were less than half of what Black Ops managed to achieve last year. Analyst firm PiperJaffray believes that the drop in sales figures represents a shift in the behavior of casual game players, who are opting to spend more time viewing media on their consoles instead of playing games. The question is whether Call of Duty is simply experiencing a momentary lapse in sales or whether a decline has actually started to begin.
It’s not difficult to understand why a decline may have begun. Call of Duty has, for the most part, remained largely unchanged for many years now. The formula remains the same regardless of title or developer and the players are expected to purchase the games and be satisfied that they’re getting ‘more of the same’. It’s a strategy that has worked extremely successfully for many years and even with a decline, will likely continue for many more. The problem is the overall feeling of lack of creativity.
Look at the recent Modern Warfare 3 release, for example. So much of the game is almost recycled from Modern Warfare 2; the HUD looks exactly the same, the graphics appear largely unchanged and overall, there’s an abundant sensation that you’re simply playing Modern Warfare 2 again, under the guise of another sequel. There are several aspects of the environment that are copied from previous games, also. The simple matter of fact is that they feel that there is no need to change the formula that has brought them several billions of dollars profit every year. It almost makes sense. Why would you risk changing the way your game plays, which may be universally hated by your fan-base, when you can simply stick with the old but make a new campaign and new multiplayer maps and still get billions in profit? From a business perspective, it makes sense. From a gamer perspective, it looks lazy and gives us the impression that Activision/Infinity Ward/Treyarch don’t have the creative capability of giving us something ‘out of the ordinary’.
So, could it be that the humungous fan-base that Call of Duty has established over the years is finally starting to tire of the repetitive formula? I’m not convinced. It’s clear, from the sales figures alone, that people are still buying each annual CoD release with no hesitation and the same goes for the map packs released. There may have been a drop in sales in the last month or so, but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s the beginning of a trend that will continue, as much as I’d like that to be the case. The one and only thing that will convince the developers and Activision that their revolving cycle has become stale and need of an upgrade is if the sales figures were absurdly diminished, from the initial release and onwards. As that stands, I believe we’re nowhere near that point yet and that this lapse in sales is probably just a ‘blip’.
On the point of ‘casual’ players shifting more towards using their consoles as media devices being the reason for the declining sales, I am also not convinced that that is true. If anything, Activision’s insistence on flogging the same decaying corpse for years on end would be the reason. There is only so long that people will continue putting up with unimaginative games being put forward ad infinitum before they begin to wonder why on Earth it is they’re putting their money down so easily. It may be one year, ten years or twenty but that point will most certainly arrive eventually. Is this the time? Not in my opinion but I could be wrong, and I hope that I am.
At heart, Call of Duty is a great franchise but is currently suffering with extreme fatigue. There is already a gigantic base of players eager and willing to purchase a new game with the Call of Duty logo emblazoned on the cover, yet the powers that be are unwilling to harness that power and produce something that will re-invigorate the franchise to its former glory. A time will surely come when either Activision decides to re-assemble the jigsaw themselves or a seismic shift in sales will propel them to do it. Is that shift beginning? Possibly, but with Black Ops 2 likely arriving this coming November and with it a giant pool of sales, it remains doubtful that the seismometer will be cracking with pressure anytime soon.