Guest Article : Steven Harbor
So, I recently bought Call of Duty: Black Ops. I’ve played the campaign, I’ve played at most ten hours of multiplayer, and I already feel ready to make a verdict. Some may describe this as the law of diminishing returns, as I have spent much longer on Modern Warfare 2, and Call of Duty 4 longer still. When I chose to buy a Black Ops, I spent a long time deliberating on what should have been a no-brainer purchase, and the reason is simple. I mean let’s face it, when you buy a Call of Duty game, you already know exactly what’s inside the box. That is, unless of course you bought it on eBay from Doc Brown.
What is there to really think about when you buy an installment in the Call of Duty series? You know the campaign will be a series of set pieces and scripted events surrounding the same basic gunplay, sending you to a number of locations around the world, and the online multiplayer will be another rendition of the “shoot people in the back for xp” gameplay of previous games. There are almost never any surprises in Call of Duty, and yet people still keep coming back.
In all honesty, Call of Duty’s predictability and consistency may be its strongest selling point. It’s much easier to buy a product from a brand you know and trust than to buy a product from a new brand and risk getting a mop that sets fire to your house or an oven that eats toddlers. In case you haven’t noticed yet, the game industry is positively saturated with shooters that are trying to be just like Call of Duty, but very few of them achieve success because even though I might tell you Battlefield will not, in fact, summon demons into your house, why take my word for it? Call of Duty is a brand you can trust. You might even say Call of Duty is the only friend you’ll ever need…
It’s this kind of brand recognition that leads me to believe that, despite what people may wish or hope for, Battlefield 3 will not topple the Call of Duty behemoth. Talk to any random person at your job about Call of Duty and they’ll likely know what it is, but talk to them about Battlefield and you’ll need to at least preface your conversation by saying it’s a video game. Even with all of the flashy visuals and aggressive marketing that EA throws at it, Battlefield will still have a hell of a time just getting its name put in the same social dictionary Call of Duty is located in.
People keep buying these games year after year, and nothing significant ever changes about the series. Personally, I value each new Call of Duty game less and less. After having played three separate games and feeling no major difference or improvement since 2007, Modern Warfare 3 looks like a $20 title to me. In order to justify a full $60 price tag, they would need to make more than a few significant improvements to the established framework to make me buy it at that price. Yet, Activision is charging more for each installment instead of the same or less. Call of Duty was the standard price for a PC game when it came out on the PC, but then Modern Warfare 2 rolled up and decided to charge people the price of a console game for the PC version. They even decided to raise the price for all versions of the game in the UK territories. Not only that, but downloadable content has gotten more expensive with each new title as well, and it’s about to get more expensive. Activision recently announced the Call of Duty Elite subscription service that will be launching with Modern Warfare 3, essentially charging you monthly for new maps and content rather than releasing map packs. So even though I value each new title in the series less and less, Activision continues to charge more and more for the same experience. One has to wonder if or when this trend might start biting them in the ass. They’re certainly no stranger to the idea of milking a series dead.
For all it’s worth, Call of Duty is still a great game years later. Each year the series cranks out another solid campaign and addictive online component. It’s just worth pondering whether it’s even necessary to go out and buy new installments when the gameplay remains essentially untouched and un-tampered-with after so many iterations. There’s already plenty of Call of Duty to go around between the Modern Warfare’s and Black Ops’, so it is indeed hard for me to become excited about another disc’s worth of content being added to the lineup of carbon copies already on the shelves. There are always alternatives to Call of Duty, many of which meet and surpass its quality. The series will remain popular because of its large following and recognizable name, but to sucker me into another purchase, I’m going to need more than just simply “more.”