Call of Duty has gone through a strange metamorphosis. They’ve taken us on epic campaigns with movie quality stories and voice acting while continuing to add to and attempt to elevate the multiplayer experience. All along this journey, however, they’ve seen a decline in sales, player base, and title longevity. In fact, the most recent title, Advanced Warfare, saw a 49% decrease in US retail sales from Modern Warfare 3 with all the titles in between showing a steady decline toward the 49% drop. So what happened? And should long-time fans of the franchise even bother with future titles?
A mile wide and an inch deep
Something clicked for me when I watched a video by BDobbinsFTW about skill based matchmaking in Advanced Warfare. If you haven’t watched his videos before, they are always very thought out, lengthy, and well worth your time. He made a convincing point about the repetition and ease of kills as a contributing factor in many veterans not enjoying Call of Duty. Basically kills have become so easily attainable with gun choice and tactics having less and less impact on the outcome of gunfights. This is all compounded by the poor connections, ineffective lag compensation, and skill based matchmaking that creates inconsistent game behavior. So veterans feel that skill has been largely removed from the equation by allowing less skilled players more even footing through external and artificial manipulation of the game as well as by the dilution and lowering of the games accessibility. At it’s most basic level, Call of Duty is not made for hardcore veteran gamers anymore, so playing it feels like a losing battle. Like trying to get some sense of victory or fulfillment from playing Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, it always feels flat, meaningless, and far too dictated by randomness.
Now, to an extent, the decisions made by Activision make good business sense. The majority will always be of lesser skill than the small minority of skilled veterans, and you want the majority to enjoy the game enough to buy future titles or DLC packages. So I totally understand why they have watered down the game into a quick twitch shooter where you dominate one game with the connection advantage and then feel like a target dummy shooting blanks in the next. Unskilled players will relish the few games where they bag a good number of kills, ignoring the games where they get decimated because they are somewhat used to that. The downfall here is that eventually even the lesser skilled players will, like veterans, develop a taste for the games where they dominate and want that experience more consistently. Once they notice their skill only seems to matter when they have the connection advantage, they will feel just as miffed as the veterans who are already hip to the dirty secret. So you are always going to have a perpetual pool of players who are getting better at the game, only to find out that their increased skill matters very little. This is why the franchise can’t succeed, because they just end up frustrating and turning away those who have spent the most time and energy with their game. Call of Duty has become a revolving door of players that won’t sustain itself as their is no incentive to keep playing once you’ve attained even a moderate level of skill.
It’s their messy bed, not ours
The more diluted and inconsistent the game performance became, the quicker many of us walked away irritated and unsatisfied. From Black Ops 2 and on, each title earned less and less of my attention. The good news is the next-gen landscape is filling up at a rate so rapid it’s almost daunting to even think about what I will play and when. And the really encouraging thing is that the shooter genre is getting an injection of freshness and innovation with titles like Battleborn, Overwatch, and Gigantic. So rather than continue to help the dwindling Call of Duty sales numbers, veterans should wash their hands of the series and move on to greener pastures. I know many people have sworn off games before with empty oaths of, “I’m never buying another X title again”, but I really think it’s time we move in droves, and according to the sales numbers many already have. It will be really hard, because World at War II will be tempting even if just for the campaign. And maybe they’ll finally give dedicated servers, and maybe a return to a more basic style and format will help improve things, and maybe it actually will deserve our purchase. But for now, I say we walk. Make them prove the game is better or we will happily stay on the other side of the fence with the greener grass. What do you think?
If you liked this entry please share it on facebook or twitter.
Or if you prefer to listen to me talk and watch a video subscribe to my YouTube channel.