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Isn't Call of Duty Today Just Like Guitar Hero Was a Few Years Back?

Internal Activision memos suggest the publisher is well aware of the question everyone is thinking.


I didn't write that headline, actually. Activision did. I pulled that line from two internal Activision memos sent to employees, then passed to me, following the announcement the publisher was closing its once-massive Guitar Hero business unit and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock would be its last Guitar Hero--for now, anyway. The news and memos were circulated in early February, largely discussing why Guitar Hero's going away, the unexpected death of True Crime: Hong Kong, and Call of Duty's future. The memos provide interesting insight into Activision's perception of the future for two of its biggest brands.

Today, we'll look at Call of Duty. Tomorrow, Guitar Hero.


Let's first return to the original question. It's one that's been asked before, moreso since Infinity Ward and Activision bumped heads a little more than a year ago. In terms of sales, Treyarch held its own with Call of Duty: Black Ops. It was bigger than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

But it's more interesting that Activision is asking itself this question. One of the memos, penned by Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, is mostly presented in a question-and-answer format. 

"Isn't Call of Duty today just like Guitar Hero was a few years back?" is one of the first questions. 

Here's how Hirshberg responded: 

 == TEASER =="This is a great question and one we have thought about a lot," wrote Hirshberg back in February. "But there are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering. Guitar Hero quickly reached incredible heights, but then began a steady decline. Call of Duty, on the other hand, has steadily grown every single year of its seven-year existence." 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sold more than two million copies its first month in the US. With Modern Warfare multiplayer then solidly dominant, Modern Warfare 2 went on to sell 4.7 million copies in North America and the UK on day one. Then, Call of Duty: Black Ops sold 5.6 million copies day one across NA and the UK—and it's still going. Basically, each subsequent Call of Duty, explosively so since Modern Warfare, has continued to sell more and more. 

"Guitar Hero," continued Hirshberg, "was a new genre which had incredible appeal, but which had not stood the test of time. Call of Duty exists in a genre--first person shooters--that has shown remarkable staying power and wide appeal over a period of decades. Plus, Call of Duty has inspired a massive, persistent, online community of players, making it perhaps the 'stickiest' game of all time." 

Hirshberg is right. Since its emergence, first-person-shooters have proved the most reliable of genres. Even when the genre's in a rut, eventually someone comes along with something new, and games sporting notably remarkable multiplayer shifting the genre as a whole (see: Halo 2, Modern Warfare). 

But nothing lasts forever. Here's how Hirshberg portrays Activision maintaining its hold:

 "If you really step back and dispassionately look at any measurement—sales, player engagement, hours of online play, performance of DLC—you can absolutely conclude that the potential for this franchise has never been greater," he said. "In order to achieve this potential, we need to focus: on making games that constantly raise the quality bar; on staying ahead of the innovation curve; on surrounding the brand with a suite of services and an online community that makes our fans never want to leave. Entertainment franchises with staying power are rare. But Call of Duty shows all of the signs of being able to be one of them. It’s up to us." 

Hirshberg's comments portray an Activision that believes it deserves more recognition for innovating.

"Activision doesn’t always seem to get the credit it deserves in terms of innovation in my opinion, but there is no short supply of it, even in our narrower slate," he noted, after listing several ways Activision intends to remain competitive, both with and without Call of Duty. "As I said, when you look at this list of projects and the innovations embedded within them, it is a pipeline any company would kill for."  


Those other projects? Bungie's next franchise (of which nothing of note is mentioned in the memo), the secretive "Beachead" online service designed to extend Call of Duty's online presence even further, a free-to-play, microtransaction-based Call of Duty designed for China and extensions for Call of Duty that "are more complex and have more potential on their own than most stand alone console games." 

Oh, and Spyro. (Hey, the Insomniac Games original was pretty good.) 

Black Ops proved Infinity Ward's formula for success remains one that players are willing to pay for. Repeatedly. Electronic Arts has been extremely vocal about its desire to dethrone Activision's dominance, whether through a reboot of Medal of Honor or continued iteration on the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield 3 likely represents the company's best chance of, if nothing else, making a dent.

Activision has already said there will be a Call of Duty game released later this year. There was no specifics of the upcoming title featured in either memo. 

"Call of Duty is one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world," said Hirshberg. "We have assembled an unprecedented team of some of the finest development and business talent in the world to keep this game ahead of the curve."

Will the next game change the formula? Does it need to? Soon enough, we'll know. Patrick Klepek on Google+
254 Comments
Posted by patrickklepek

I didn't write that headline, actually. Activision did. I pulled that line from two internal Activision memos sent to employees, then passed to me, following the announcement the publisher was closing its once-massive Guitar Hero business unit and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock would be its last Guitar Hero--for now, anyway. The news and memos were circulated in early February, largely discussing why Guitar Hero's going away, the unexpected death of True Crime: Hong Kong, and Call of Duty's future. The memos provide interesting insight into Activision's perception of the future for two of its biggest brands.

Today, we'll look at Call of Duty. Tomorrow, Guitar Hero.


Let's first return to the original question. It's one that's been asked before, moreso since Infinity Ward and Activision bumped heads a little more than a year ago. In terms of sales, Treyarch held its own with Call of Duty: Black Ops. It was bigger than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

But it's more interesting that Activision is asking itself this question. One of the memos, penned by Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, is mostly presented in a question-and-answer format. 

"Isn't Call of Duty today just like Guitar Hero was a few years back?" is one of the first questions. 

Here's how Hirshberg responded: 

 == TEASER =="This is a great question and one we have thought about a lot," wrote Hirshberg back in February. "But there are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering. Guitar Hero quickly reached incredible heights, but then began a steady decline. Call of Duty, on the other hand, has steadily grown every single year of its seven-year existence." 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sold more than two million copies its first month in the US. With Modern Warfare multiplayer then solidly dominant, Modern Warfare 2 went on to sell 4.7 million copies in North America and the UK on day one. Then, Call of Duty: Black Ops sold 5.6 million copies day one across NA and the UK—and it's still going. Basically, each subsequent Call of Duty, explosively so since Modern Warfare, has continued to sell more and more. 

"Guitar Hero," continued Hirshberg, "was a new genre which had incredible appeal, but which had not stood the test of time. Call of Duty exists in a genre--first person shooters--that has shown remarkable staying power and wide appeal over a period of decades. Plus, Call of Duty has inspired a massive, persistent, online community of players, making it perhaps the 'stickiest' game of all time." 

Hirshberg is right. Since its emergence, first-person-shooters have proved the most reliable of genres. Even when the genre's in a rut, eventually someone comes along with something new, and games sporting notably remarkable multiplayer shifting the genre as a whole (see: Halo 2, Modern Warfare). 

But nothing lasts forever. Here's how Hirshberg portrays Activision maintaining its hold:

 "If you really step back and dispassionately look at any measurement—sales, player engagement, hours of online play, performance of DLC—you can absolutely conclude that the potential for this franchise has never been greater," he said. "In order to achieve this potential, we need to focus: on making games that constantly raise the quality bar; on staying ahead of the innovation curve; on surrounding the brand with a suite of services and an online community that makes our fans never want to leave. Entertainment franchises with staying power are rare. But Call of Duty shows all of the signs of being able to be one of them. It’s up to us." 

Hirshberg's comments portray an Activision that believes it deserves more recognition for innovating.

"Activision doesn’t always seem to get the credit it deserves in terms of innovation in my opinion, but there is no short supply of it, even in our narrower slate," he noted, after listing several ways Activision intends to remain competitive, both with and without Call of Duty. "As I said, when you look at this list of projects and the innovations embedded within them, it is a pipeline any company would kill for."  


Those other projects? Bungie's next franchise (of which nothing of note is mentioned in the memo), the secretive "Beachead" online service designed to extend Call of Duty's online presence even further, a free-to-play, microtransaction-based Call of Duty designed for China and extensions for Call of Duty that "are more complex and have more potential on their own than most stand alone console games." 

Oh, and Spyro. (Hey, the Insomniac Games original was pretty good.) 

Black Ops proved Infinity Ward's formula for success remains one that players are willing to pay for. Repeatedly. Electronic Arts has been extremely vocal about its desire to dethrone Activision's dominance, whether through a reboot of Medal of Honor or continued iteration on the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield 3 likely represents the company's best chance of, if nothing else, making a dent.

Activision has already said there will be a Call of Duty game released later this year. There was no specifics of the upcoming title featured in either memo. 

"Call of Duty is one of the biggest entertainment franchises in the world," said Hirshberg. "We have assembled an unprecedented team of some of the finest development and business talent in the world to keep this game ahead of the curve."

Will the next game change the formula? Does it need to? Soon enough, we'll know.
Staff
Edited by Phoenix87

I concur. They will milk it dry, and then fire the whole team when it stops making money for them.

Posted by Yummylee

THE DEBUT!

Edited by KarlPilkington

Interesting... I think it will go on for a few more years.

People will have to get tired of FPS shooters soon, right?

Posted by TomA

In other words, get ready for more shitty CoD games.

Edited by Vinny_Says

maybe the first news article I've read throughout, you did it Mr. Klepeck.

CoD is a series that has lived and will only live on this (the 7th?) generation of consoles. Once the next round of consoles come out the focus will shift to another franchise I can guarantee that!

Posted by cap123

In depth thoughts, i like it.

Posted by Thoseposers

XD i can just imagine patrick slaving away at this article then the first comment by @fishstick is "Yup"

Edited by Jethuty

Hopefully the formula will change quite a bit. Its getting really stale tho i appriciate the RPG style format MW1 did bring to the table



also, those "first" comments are really, really funny
Posted by MattyFTM

Fantastic article. I look forward to reading more stuff like this from you, Patrick.

Moderator
Posted by Undead_Fiend

Although you musnt equate game sales with how good the games actually are, more the relience on how gullible people will continue to lap up practically the exact same game every year with good marketing
Posted by sixpin

Klepek strikes early and hard. Nicely done!


Good read btw.
Posted by Marz

We'll see a drop in quality in their next Call Of Duty game,  not having the old Infinity Ward team working on it is going to have an impact.

Posted by TurboMan

Innovation

  
  
Online
Posted by coastercrusader

This is EXACTLY what Giant Bomb needed. The right kind of person for this job, inside news,  broken, and with commentary. Welcome to the site Patrick, looking forward to your work my man.

Posted by mracoon

I still kind of regret getting BLOPS. The only reason I did is because it's the one game (apart from FIFA) that my brothers and I are willing to play together, I have no interest in it's online multiplayer these days. Still very interested in seeing how MW3 turns out.

Moderator
Posted by Kingloo

OOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHH! He dropped a bomb on it!!

Posted by OmegaPirate

Really enjoyed this read - good to see these kind of articles popping around GB!

But yeah, i think it's been their MO for some time now.

Pick up the Hot happening Ip, run it into the ground with mass marketing and sequel after sequel, sack/ absorb dev team and move onto the next IP.
Posted by SkylinePigeon

Patrick Klepek, I'm so glad you're back.  There are hearts in my eyes right now.

Posted by EvilNiGHTS

Wow. I knew  Klepek was going to bring some great news coverage but I had no idea he'd do it on this scale. Good work. 

Posted by natetodamax

Great article. I had no idea the jump in sales between the first Modern Warfare and the second was so huge.

Posted by Ben_H

What I find interesting is they point out COD4 sold around 2 million in the first month.  I got the feeling that game got much more popular later on than most.  When it came out the original Assassin's Creed was being released as well, and in my group of friends, I was the only one who bought COD4 on launch, everyone else bought AC.  About 3 months later they all started talking about COD4 and they all owned it.  By then I had moved on to different games so I never really paid attention but it seems like that game got much more popular a few months into 2008 than on launch.

Online
Posted by p_p_o_d
I dont think the COD  formula will change.  just like how guitar hero and tony hawk didnt really change all that much.   they will add new cool things to ever new COD and eventually the audience will just grow bored with the core COD gameplay style and it wont matter what they add to it anymore. 

every bubble bursts.  

I am sure activision knows this and are planning ahead.  

guitar hero picked up after Tony hawk,   call of duty after GH.  they will have to be looking for the next big thing.  maybe there betting its Bungie's new game?



Posted by bretthancock

Great article,can't wait for more. The Whiskey empire grows greater every week!

Posted by Evilsbane

Great article, interesting read, and hopefully this means activision is changing things up with the pressure from BF3.

Posted by Oni

Hurrah @ Klepek

Posted by Solh0und

It's stuff like this that makes me glad that Black Ops will be my last CoD game I'll get to enjoy before the true "milking" will begin.

Posted by onarum

They'll still drive the franchise to the ground all the same, not that I care though.

Posted by Pullarius_Capax

 "If you really step back and dispassionately look at any measurement—sales, player engagement, hours of online play, performance of DLC—you can absolutely conclude that the potential for this franchise has never been greater,"    


This quote seems to ignore the existence of bubbles. One day I feel the sales are just going to collapse.
Posted by ApertureSilence

Klepek, you are a credit to your profession. So happy to have you here!

Posted by Bollard

 "This is a great question and one we have thought about a lot," wrote Hirshberg back in February. "But there are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering. Guitar Hero quickly reached incredible heights, but then began a steady decline. Call of Duty, on the other hand, has steadily grown every single year of its seven-year existence."      

Is it me, or does that quote seem like they're saying COD did the opposite of GH? So instead of a sudden boom, then slow decline, COD has had a steady growth and then will... INSTANTLY DIE?

Who knows, but this is a really good article Patrick, and on a topic I was already wondering about. Nice work!
Posted by Droop

Nothing can make me hyped for a Call of Duty game. I just buy them out of habit, really..

Edited by Portis

I'm so intrigued with the Call of Duty franchise. It's so fucking huge, and I often contemplate when it will come to the point that people just don't care anymore. 


Moreover the question I often ask myself is "how many games do they have left before everyone starts to notice the decline?" In my opinion, they've got at least 3 left, maybe more before it all starts to go to shit. I honestly thought Black Ops would start the downward trend, but I just didn't realize how big the franchise really was until that game sold over 5 million in one day. They'll keep milking it until it dips below near or below a million sold -- you can bet on that.

Settle in folks, we've still got quite a bit of Call of Duty ahead of us.

(Also, I loved this article. Patrick Klepek is bringing the heat.)

Posted by p_p_o_d

also congrats on bring a decent news story to Giant bomb patrick.



a breath of fresh air from nicholsons 3 day of write ups he basically copy/pastes from Kotaku.  
Posted by eloj

He talks about "surrounding the brand with a suite of services and an online community that makes our fans never want to leave", but as an outsider I see a young mostly obnoxious player base with questionable loyalty, that's being bled dry with expensive DLC. If they built a community around map editing and modelling tools, then I could understand him, but in so far as I know, that's not part of the CoD package.

I just don't see what's attractive about CoD or its community.

Other genres have risen and then waned. FPSs aren't going to disappear, but I could see the market contracting and changing such that a CoD as we know it today would be a second-tier title.

Posted by MayorFeedback

Patrick, this is the kind of stuff I like to read. Fantastic. Welcome aboard!

Posted by 234r2we232
A very interesting read. Although, it doesn't seem that Activision understand the problem, so much as they acknowledge people keep buying their games and that the competitive FPS is currently more popular than a peripheral based music game. 

And whatever happened to Tony Hawk?

@TomA said:
" In other words, get ready for more shitty CoD games. "
The games haven't been shitty thus far and seem to be increasing in their popularity with each iteration. That's the whole point of this article.
Posted by admanb

How long have you been sitting on this in preparation for your first impression? I kid, I kid. This is great stuff.

Posted by hicks91

Excellent article

Posted by Underachiever007

Great article. Looking for forward to reading more of your stuff, Patrick.

Posted by heat

This article is a nice piece of business.

Posted by ItalianStallion

Great job, Pat!

Posted by Gizmo

This is more like it, an article you want to read, not regurgitated Kotaku stories.

Posted by SSully

Great article. It is about time we have in depth articles that arent just previews of games. I look forward to more stuff from you patrick!

Posted by HarrySound

COD games have never innovated the single player experience....

It's all been incremental multiplayer stuff, and thats always got so many problems...
Posted by StriderNo9

Great read, and a lot of good points on Activison's part. They do have a huge game in a huge genre. This can only be a good thing for them. This won't be GH for that reason alone.

Posted by xrayzwei


Good article, but I kind of liked it better when Activision wasn't a topic of conversation on this site. 

 

Thanks.   

Posted by drew327

I bought call of duty 1-4 and haven't bought one since.  In fact, I haven't bought any brown modern miliatry shooter since.  So I can at least say for me, they have killed the genre.  But to the people who look forward to the yearly release, I salute you and say have fun. 

Posted by HeadNodShy

Parallels of Call of Duty and Final Fantasy perhaps?

Edited by Bass

This is the kind of industry insider type article we need at GB. It's interesting stuff, to be sure. A good start for mr. Klepak