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Time for Call of Duty to Take a Break?

Activision downplays Call of Duty: Ghosts' lukewarm critical and commercial success.

News by Pete Davison, .

By all accounts, Call of Duty: Ghosts is good, not great, particularly on current-gen.

This seems to be something of a turnaround for the series; despite gamers and press alike regularly bemoaning the fact that Call of Duty has become predictable and stale -- not to mention being based on old technology -- it has typically reviewed pretty well. Ghosts, on the other hand, is one of the lowest-rated Call of Duty titles on Metacritic -- leaving aside the abomination on Vita, which stands in a class of its own -- and has seemingly been underperforming commercially in comparison to past installments' launch windows.

The concerns over Ghosts' commercial performance stem largely from a recent announcement that the game had sold $1 billion worth of stock into retailers ahead of launch -- a figure lower than in previous years, and one that Activision blamed on a combination of the new console generation and the growth in digital distribution. Activision did, however, note that the average engagement rate -- amount of time played per session per player, basically -- was better than in previous installments, and that this would likely lead to better monetization through DLC and the like.

Activision similarly downplayed the new installment's lower pre-order figures as a result of what it referred to as "next-gen hesitation" -- the idea that some players will be hesitant to pick up a current-gen version of a game when a next-gen version is just around the corner. This is something that publishers and developers haven't had to deal with for some time, but it's of some concern this time around, particularly as there are some marked differences between platforms.

Most notably, controversy arose over the disparity in resolution between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the new game; the PS4 version outputs at native 1080p, while Xbox One runs at an upscaled 720p. During an investor question and answer session last night, Activision dodged discussion of the resolution issue by noting it was probably a better question for Microsoft and Sony, instead simply noting that the first parties had "taken different approaches" to the design of their hardware and how it allocates resources -- something Infinity Ward had struggled with.

This isn't the only cause for hesitation, though; current-gen versions of Ghosts limit the maximum number of multiplayer participants to 12 rather than the 18 of the next-gen and PC versions, and there's been a considerable amount of fan outcry over the footage below, which seems to depict a cutscene lifted wholesale from Modern Warfare 2's ending and reskinned for inclusion in Ghosts' first mission.

While none of this is particular cause for doomsaying -- Ghosts is still likely to be one of the more active multiplayer games in the coming months -- it does highlight the fact that it's going to be increasingly important for the series going forward to try and do some new things. Ghosts, as a cross-generation game that is helping to usher in both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, probably isn't the best means of judging Activision's strategy for the Call of Duty series on next-gen platforms -- rather, it should probably be seen as the end of a chapter in the series' history -- but the disquiet and concerns that have been raised over its lack of innovation and dated tech are fast becoming things that can't be ignored any more.

Is it time for the series to take a break? It couldn't hurt; it's certainly not the only popular property Activision is in control of, and going on hiatus for a year would give the Call of Duty teams plenty of time to master the new technology in both of the new consoles, ultimately leading to better experiences with better parity between platforms in the future.

Will it take a break? That's perhaps less likely; the annual release of a Call of Duty game has become an established event in the gaming calendar, and even with Ghosts' lukewarm reception this time around, it's unlikely to deter Activision from continuing to enjoy its annual November money-harvest.

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #1 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    If quality were directly tied to sales, McDonald's wouldn't be popular. Call of Duty is kind of like the McDonald's of the game industry. It's widely decried, and yet still immensely successful. If they continue to be so successful, you really can't blame them for milking it for every dollar it's worth. Even when the reviews for a new Call of Duty game are bottom of the barrel, somehow I don't think it will matter to this series.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #2 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 I have to agree. So what if CoD is annualized? And so what if the returns are vastly diminishing? If it sells, good for them. There are so many (way too many, in fact) other shooters in the sea. I find it pretty easy to ignore the series.

    Of course, on the other hand, the problem with it is that other publishers will follow suit. And so we see once-interesting series like Assassin's Creed become annualized, and quite stale. And there are rumblings of a new Batman game next year... etc. etc.

    As for CoD, I don't care - I just hope my favorite franchises don't follow the same path.

    And in all fairness, annualization is not really the problem. They have multiple teams working on multiple titles; it's not annualization that's ruining the series' quality, but the popularity of its multiplayer and the unwillingness to change. I suspect that if CoD skipped a year, the next iteration still wouldn't hold any surprises.

    People are burned out, sure, but there haven't been any CoD games that are as rushed and shoddy as, say, ACIII. Given the annual release schedule, I think it's pretty surprising that they're able to maintain such a standard of quality.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 4 years ago
    As things stand, unless the sales actually start to drop in serious numbers or other multiplayer shooter finally supplants it as king of the hill, there won’t be much reason for them to made important changes or improvements upon COD, let alone allow it to have a break for a year.
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  • Avatar for transmet2033 #4 transmet2033 4 years ago
    I suppose that a break would be good. It would give them an opportunity to work on a complete overhaul of the engine. Granted, I may have no idea what I am talking about.
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  • Avatar for unclemonkey #5 unclemonkey 4 years ago
    As far as I'm concerned they need to concentrate on the single player. If they make a more compelling sp game they will attract more people who could then go on and be converted to the multiplayer.
    Cod 4 had an excellent campaign a truly stand out single player experience and they could do with going back to that.
    If Activision happen to be reading this get in contact with me and I will write you an excellent single player game full of twists and genuine drama not just explosions
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  • Avatar for unclemonkey #6 unclemonkey 4 years ago
    As far as I'm concerned they need to concentrate on the single player. If they make a more compelling sp game they will attract more people who could then go on and be converted to the multiplayer.
    Cod 4 had an excellent campaign a truly stand out single player experience and they could do with going back to that.
    If Activision happen to be reading this get in contact with me and I will write you an excellent single player game full of twists and genuine drama not just explosions
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for unclemonkey #7 unclemonkey 4 years ago
    As far as I'm concerned they need to concentrate on the single player. If they make a more compelling sp game they will attract more people who could then go on and be converted to the multiplayer.
    Cod 4 had an excellent campaign a truly stand out single player experience and they could do with going back to that.
    If Activision happen to be reading this get in contact with me and I will write you an excellent single player game full of twists and genuine drama not just explosions
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for metalangel #8 metalangel 4 years ago
    Single player was and always has been a theme park ride. The sheer spectacle of some of the setpieces would make the occasional mission worth replaying but the rest of the time you're just going along and shooting the right enemy to trigger your buddies to advance to the next area by kicking in a door or something for you.

    The multiplayer in CoD4 was revolutionary but unfortunately as they've added more and more to it, it's just gotten worse. CoD3 remains my favourite multiplayer FPS on consoles because experience has taught me that XP systems and unlocks spoil the fun. For example: Why is someone who's able to kill five people in a row rewarded with a damned helicopter? Surely they're good enough that they don't need the help!
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  • Avatar for danger.to.others #9 danger.to.others 4 years ago
    I know corporations are like politicians when it comes with trying any spin to avoid looking bad, but in this case, when Activision talks about downloadable versions and especially the mix of old and new systems this year for lower and fractured sales....that's valid and likely.

    I'm getting Ghosts, but on PS4. I'm the minority where I like the single player and then just play co-op (in this case Squads) with my wife. Not a social guy when it comes to my games, but I've always liked all the Call Of Duties.
    Well, Modern Warfare 2 was the weak one to me.

    Maybe I don't burn out on it because I don't play them year round. I just play here and there for a few months while also playing a lot of other types of games.
    But CoD has always been high quality (especially compared to their competition on consoles) fun games.

    Most the bad in reviews seem to be yawning about Call Of Duty as a brand, as opposed to the quality of the product itself.
    But most the people burned out seem to be either professional reviewers who have to play games non-stop all year, being it's their job, and always risk higher burnout than normal gamers who only tend to play only when they want to.
    Others in forums more often than not tend to be people who simply never liked Call Of Duty and are jumping on the pile up to try and tear it down just because they want it to fail, not because of the latest game being bad.

    In fact, I think I've seen more people shouting that this is a terrible game when they haven't played it yet, than there are people with legitimate, informed opinions.
    That seems to be the nature of all big mainstream hit series though.

    I'm not burned out and I don't think one year (two of development since the rotating developers) is too much.
    I think some people just need to learn moderation and variety. And that's not Call Of Duty's fault.
    As with all things in life, balance is key.

    You can get sick of sex and chocolate brownies if you have too much of it. Moderation brings enhanced enjoyment, simple as that.
    If you like FPS, Call Of Duty is well made. Well, I haven't played Ghosts yet, but the series hasn't faltered yet in my eyes.
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  • Avatar for asdasdasdsad #10 asdasdasdsad 3 years ago
    guys check the new call of duty ghosts strategy guide at http://codghostsguide.org/
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