Time for Call of Duty to Take a Break?

Time for Call of Duty to Take a Break?

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

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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