I will be the first to say that Call of Duty: Ghosts’ E3 2013 presence was underwhelming. Sure Activision had a huge booth pretty much dedicated to 3 titles with Ghosts being one of them, but there just didn’t seem to be any buzz. And outside of an admittedly impressive tech demo, the two levels shown off were from the presentation earlier online the Sunday before E3 kicked off proper. Coupled with the fact that Titanfall pretty much stole every shooter’s thunder, Call of Duty: Ghosts kind of felt underwhelming.
Flash forward to last Thursday and Activision Blizzard’s Q1 earnings call, and Activision stated that pre-orders for the new entry in the mega-successful franchise were “well below the record-setting pace set by Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 last year.” This set off palpable reverberations across the gaming community where Call of Duty’s vocal critics were starting to feel vindicated that the iterative franchise was finally “doomed.” When Activision pointed to the impending next gen shift as the reason, these naysayers dismissed this reasoning as nothing more than a placating excuse for Activision Blizzard’s shareholders and that the real reason is anything from reasonable “franchise fatigue” to the far more ridiculous “cut and paste” accusations leveled at the series year after year.
I don’t subscribe to the “cut and paste” claims because 1) they’re ridiculously overblown and overused, and 2) clearly these people don’t know what “cut and paste” actually means. I absolutely believe it’s primarily for the reason that Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, has stated.
“Our quantitative consumer research indicates that hesitation amongst past COD pre-orderers is primarily due to not knowing which platform they will be playing on, which is natural at this time in the console transition,” Hirshberg said during the call.
Allow me to offer my personal experience as an example. Since Call of Duty 2 I have played every single Call of Duty game on the Xbox 360. Prior to May 21st, I had assumed I would be playing the next entry on Mircosoft’s next console for a litany or reasons that range from my preference of Achievements to Trophies to the simple fact that I assumed that was where my friends would be playing it. Then the Xbox One revealed happened, followed swiftly by a barrage of PR nonsense talking about fees for used games, my interest in the Xbox One came to a screeching halt. Three weeks later, when the policy hit regarding used games and trade ins were being funneled through “participating retailers,” my mind was made up: I was not buying an Xbox One.
Mind you, while I was leaning towards PlayStation 4 going into E3, I wasn’t entirely sure I was all-in because Sony had yet to truly lay out their plan for used games. That is until Jack Trenton took the stage during the Sony E3 press conference and proceeded to drop bomb after bomb stating used games will be supported as always and culminating with that price point of $399.99. I immediately went on Amazon and pre-ordered the PS4.
At that point I still hadn’t decided what console I wanted Call of Duty: Ghosts on and after attending E3 and seeing a ton of great games, I came out with one thing known for sure – Call of Duty: Ghosts left me underwhelmed but I was blown away by Respawn’s Titanfall. Yeah, yeah, I know the meme, but it’s true – Titanfall showed great and laid out very clearly what its intentions were and gave a great sense of the overall pacing of the game. Call of Duty: Ghosts showed basically the underwater version of “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4, and a jungle level where the highlight was using Riley the dog to breach and clear a room. Even before seeing Titanfall, the levels Infinity Ward chose to show weren’t very impressive.
That being said, I still love Call of Duty and I have faith that they haven’t shown the best of what they have to offer so I knew that I was still in for Call of Duty. There was also the fact that Titanfall was an Xbox One exclusive and Microsoft hadn’t yet reversed their policy on used games and such. That said, I wasn’t sure where I was going to be playing Ghosts. A lot of my friends hadn’t yet decided, even after the reversal. So were we going to stay the course and get it on Xbox 360? Or would more of my friends come over to the Sony camp for this year’s game?
Finally, I decided I wanted the best version of Call of Duty: Ghosts I could get and I knew that me getting an Xbox One was going to be put off until the release of Titanfall, so I bit the bullet and pre-ordered Ghosts for PlayStation 4. This decision took me 2 months from reveal to pre-order and I am one of the most decisive, and convicted people anyone will ever meet. My situation could be an edge case, but then there is the fact that some people don’t even know if they will be able to acquire a next gen console by November 5th due to either having the money or availability. As such I have absolutely no doubt that Call of Duty: Ghosts’ lower pre-orders can be attributed to the next gen transition Hirshberg alluded to in that quote.
Does that mean it’s the only reason? Of course I don’t think that. There are a lot of options on the horizon for shooters and platforms. Battlefield 4‘s glorious next-gen destruction is hypnotic, and Killzone: Shadowfall looks like a game changer for the always-brown franchise. And, like I said after E3, Titanfall is casting a giant shadow over the reigning commercial king of shooters and maybe the glimpse into the future of shooters makes the minor iterations of Call of Duty seem troubling.
Hirshberg also said, “Ghosts pre-orders are over double those of Call of Duty: Black Ops, which is the last time we launched a new sub-brand for the franchise.” Bare in mind that the first Black Ops went on to sell 13.7 million in the US alone. One thing is for certain, the franchise that earned half a billion dollars in its first 24 hours less than a year ago and is still the most played game on Xbox Live isn’t going to slow down in any drastic way and only the fringe, vocal minority with their odd wishful thinking will see it any differently.