It’s no secret that Call of Duty Infinite Warfare’s sales were underwhelming, but is that a good reason to go back to WW2? I think there’s more to it.
Call of Duty Origins
Okay, so we all know that the Call of Duty series made its name with World War 2 shooters. The first two games (and expansions) are classics. And while I didn’t play them myself back then, it’s hard to argue with the fact that sales of CoD have been dropping consistently for several years.
So what’s the cause for that? I can think of a couple of potential reasons.
The first one is based on how they count sales. If they’re only counting physical boxed copies of games (like BGR suggests here) then that could be a major factor. As broadband connections get faster and hard drives get cheaper, people are moving away from discs to digital copies. Particularly when it comes to PC, almost all gamers will grab a game off one of the many distribution networks available. Back in the day, Call of Duty 2 had the best experience on PC (64 player maps vs 8 on Xbox 360), so it’s reasonable to assume that it sold well on Xbox off the back of the reputation it built on PC.
A second possible reason is that maybe we’ve just got too many FPS games right now. In 2005 there were only a couple of big players in the genre – Call of Duty and Battlefield. There were others (like FEAR and Quake), but none of them had the marketing push and multiplayer experience that those two did. So of course they were going to be successful.
How much can you still add to a story that’s been told so many times across games, books, movies and TV shows over the last 75 years?
Now we’ve got so many multiplayer shooters coming out that it’s hard to tell them apart. A couple of years ago it seemed like every developer in the universe was trying to give us “the next Call of Duty”. It was overwhelming. The number of futuristic or modern day shooters was so ridiculous that DICE decided to take the Battlefield series back to an era that hadn’t been done before, moving into World War 1. And they were successful because it was something people hadn’t seen before.
Another reason is that the gamers who made CoD4 the explosive success that it was are now 10 years older. They’ve likely got jobs, families or other responsibilities that make gaming a lower priority. Maybe they’d have got every shooter when their parents were buying them, but now they’re doing it for themselves they need to choose just one. I don’t think that explains why Infinite Warfare sold so poorly (I put that down to poor advertising and the yearly churn of games), but it’s bound to have at least some effect on sales.
What Is Left To Say?
My big problem with going back to WW2 is that pretty much every story has already been told. The big, major battles were already done in the earlier games. We’ve all stormed the beaches of Normandy, fought through Stalingrad, crossed the Rhine. Of course there were plenty of other battles, but how many of them truly helped shape the outcome of the war? Do we want to play the same ones again? Would it be better to take on smaller skirmishes, even if they’re only tangential to the major pushes? But would it really feel like World War 2 if you didn’t actually take part in the D-Day landings? How much can you still add to a story that’s been told so many times across games, books, movies and TV shows over the last 75 years?
The Real Reason To Go Back
It might sound kind of skeptical, but I think the real reason is the perception of risk and cost versus potential reward. By returning to WW2, Call of Duty can bundle in remastered versions of the old games like they did with Modern & Infinite Warfare. The effort required to increase texture resolutions compared with the cost of developing an entirely new title makes this a surefire way to guarantee they’ll make money. People will re-buy it for Call of Duty 2 even if they don’t actually want the new game. Money for old rope, as they say in some places.
But will that translate to sales? It’s hard to say. Maybe people will be ready to go back to that era. Maybe they’ll have something new to say about the conflict. We’ll find out in due course. Certainly the mainstream media sites have been saying they’re ready to go back. Maybe I’m the weirdo here, but I’m not. I’m not saying that the far future is the way to go (Battlefield 2142 tanked as well), but does it need to be 2017 or 1940? There must be other wars out there worth covering. I’d love to see a new take on Vietnam, so if someone can do that I’ll be happy.