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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 IBurningStar

Wait. Go back. We should talk about Spyro some more. I for one would love a Call of Duty: Spyro the Dragon game.

Posted by sho76und3wd

CoD is going to reach the point of oversaturation.  We have seen Activision do it, we have seen EA do it. CoD has went from a game that I personally felt was great, but has turned into a FPS-for the masses.  Activision has found their niche, and it is making that game....and it makes a lot of money.  We all know that Halo, Battlefield, etc, are more skilled and in depth games, but they have higher learning curves and are not games you will do well with if you just jump in occasionally and play. 
Posted by liako21

i agree what you say about FPSs. one could say they are in rut right now but wait until battlefield 3 comes out.

Posted by RandomInternetUser
@MattyFTM said:
" Fantastic article. I look forward to reading more stuff like this from you, Patrick. "
Ditto.

It's good news that they seem to possibly realize that they need to innovate the franchise to stay relevant.  I wasn't planning on buying Call of Duty this year as Black Ops I felt was a waste of my money, but if they put their money where their mouths are here and do some game-changing things that are good, I may buy it. 
Edited by TOYBOXX
"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,"    

Innovation? We haven't seen innovation from Activision since the inception of 'COD 4: Modern Warfare'. Granted, that game forever changed the way FPS's are played, and percieved. However, Activision hasn't implemented "innovation" since. The Call of Duty franchise is stagnant, and according to the previous franchises controlled by Activision, Call of Duty will be used like an old tissue, then disposed of accordingly. 

As a gamer, I've decided to abandon the Call of Duty franchise because of Bobby Kotick and his goons running the show and calling the shots. What is the point of further investing time and money into a franchise if it's being treated like garbage and thrown out like the rest of them at a later time? 

And as a side note: Good job, Patrick! Packing a punch already on Giantbomb! Keep up the good work!
Posted by BigChief

Veeeeery interesting. It shows that Activision is at least paying attention to what happened with Guitar Hero, even if they aren't leaping to apply those lessons to everything. While I don't have any real affection for the Call of Duty games (I've only played the original Modern Warfare), it certainly seems to be growing, rather than shrinking. We'll see how long that lasts, I guess. Nothing can last forever, right?


Also, damn Klepeck! Out of the park right off the bat! I look forward to what you're bringing to the Giant Bomb table.
Posted by TooWalrus

I don't need $400 in plastic instruments around my house to play Call of Duty. Honestly, I don't mind paying $60 once a year for some good arcade shooting action. I play it for a couple of weeks and get my money's worth out of it. I'm not some rabid CoD fanboy, but it doesn't piss me off as much as it does most of the GB community, for some reason.

Posted by miva2

interesting, thx for the article

I'd rather see a comeback of tony hawk (a good one) than spyro

BRING TONY BACK GODDAMMIT!

Posted by kamiboy

First Person Shooters, the cockroaches of the gaming industry.

Posted by Dirtyboy

Call of Duty is the Madden of FPS.

Posted by UberExplodey

the deebutt! great article, guy!

Posted by chilipeppersman

they need to freshen up the cod experience, make a new graphics engine or something.....goddamn activision sux. btw, that first comment is straight on! they are so gonna do that

Posted by leejunfan83

how much innovation can you add to the call of duty style of first person shooters war, iron sights and head shots  just get boring no matter the setting or graphical enhancements even the new Battlefield 3 looks boring what would turn the genre on its head is a real war simulation not a Hollywood blockbuster remake thats overly scripted 

Posted by Vexxan

Its incredible how FPS-games in general keep selling in these insane amounts when there really isn't anything new added. Imo FPS-games are getting worse and worse for every years that passes and it'll take a lot to get me to buy them again.


This article amazes me. It's brilliant. Thank you, Patrick!
Posted by fillmoejoe

Good read, Call of Duty will no doubt go on to sell millions upon millions for the next few years but that's immense pressure constantly "raising the bar" for each yearly iteration. I imagine that Beachhead project as a greatest hits version of the modern warfare/black ops franchise where the fan favorite weapons and maps are cobbled together.

Posted by Stupot

Awesome artical man, glad to see you're starting strong already.

Posted by xenogamer

great article klepek, activision will do what it does best. Ill let you decide what that is.

Posted by JEC03

COD the most overated FPS mp game ever.

Posted by leejunfan83
@Pullarius_Capax: They won't see it coming another developer will create a brand new Fps experience that will make CoD seem stale and dated in comparison and everyone will gravitate to the new thing 
Posted by Genjai

Wow, Patrick, I thought you had penned that headline. Glad - and bewildered - that Activision wrote it.

Posted by EgoCheck616
@xenogamer said:
" great article klepek, activision will do what it does best. Ill let you decide what that is. "
No one eats shit better than Activision.
Posted by AuthenticM

The Klepek hard at work! Great article.

Posted by Nomin

I want an article containing some real journalism, not conjecture based on some internal memo released a while back; if I wanted a soapbox editorial I'd go browse in one of CoD message boards strewn about the net. 

Posted by ericdrum

I guess I should be grateful that the money I spend on games doesn't really register on my radar as something that I have to worry about. Even though I like many other games better, I always have fun with my yearly CoD title. Once that stops, I'll stop buying them. I'll be buying MW3 this year.

Posted by Hizang

I dont think it is, its just a game, not a game AND a ton of plastic instruments to go with it

Posted by sixghost

Cool article, though I think they pretty much just state the obvious. Most of the IPs activision has run into the ground have been from fairly niche genres(i.e. music games, extreme sports games) that were probably going to fade in popularity regardless of how many iterations they released.

COD on the other hand is a first person mother fucking shooter. If that genre ever fades out, the industry will have a lot more to worry about than activision killing another IP.

Posted by Xtacles
@Chabbs0:
It's not first person shooters, I've been messing around with shooters for far longer then the "Call of Easy" crowd and it's really just down to what you expect from shooters. To a lot of people who don't know any better CoD is simply the best shooter available on consoles. Add in that it doesn't take a whole hell of a lot of practice to start to feel like you're "Good" at CoD.

I frequently have to interact with groups of people who more frequently play CoD then any other shooter, I've placed Bad Company 2, MAG, Crysis 2, Homefront, SOCOM, Counter Strike and many others in front of these people and they simply are not interested. CoD is a social thing, just like Guitar Hero people will either move on to something else with their friends or stop playing all together. CoD has an expiry date, might not be this year or the next but it will happen eventually.

Btw, after the PS1 I was bored to tears of JRPG's. It's not the genre itself it was simply how overly similar they all started to become. Maybe in the next Final Fantasy the hero will be moody again. :p
Posted by natetodamax
@Vegsen said:
" Its incredible how FPS-games in general keep selling in these insane amounts when there really isn't anything new added. Imo FPS-games are getting worse and worse for every years that passes and it'll take a lot to get me to buy them again.

This article amazes me. It's brilliant. Thank you, Patrick!
"
I think part of the reason is because FPS games like Call of Duty are stupid easy to play. Plus, you can play together online. It's not really surprising how well they are selling, even if each iteration of the Call of Duty franchise isn't exactly ground breaking in any way.
Posted by DavoTron

This week has Giant Bomb fucking bringin' it in terms of news. I go away for half an hour and there's a whole load of new content that I genuinely want to read all of.


Glad to be a member!
Posted by ApolloBob

KLEPEK

Posted by Death_Burnout
@Nomin said:
" I want an article containing some real journalism, not conjecture based on some internal memo released a while back; if I wanted a soapbox editorial I'd go browse in one of CoD message boards strewn about the net.  "
I want you to, oh i dunno, go away?
Posted by Jayross

Sweet, more of this kind of news, please.

Awesome work Kelp.

Posted by zudthespud

Don't forget Tony Hawk and how that franchise bombed. It's the one game a year system that screws up these franchises.

Posted by Twisted_Scot

New developers need a new formula. Id let the new guys try somthign different with the Call Of Duty franchise and see where it takes them. Id be OK with something like Rainbow six call of duty games alternating with the Classic COD games every 2 or so years. If their smart i think they should make 1 more Black Ops / Classic COD game in 2012 and only release DLC for it for 1+ years. So the game comes out on Nov 2012 then every 3 months they release some DLC to keep the community going. If they reduce Map packs to even $8 - $10 and thrown in the odd throwback map pack for free (or even just free if you own the previous games) then you can continue to create sales to the equivalent of $120 in 2 years or whatever they would make from 2 retail games in that time.
Think  COD (as much as I love it) needs a break and definitely to be freshened up a little but I'm pretty sure as were all aware the powers that be will just run it into the ground.
Battlefield I feel is starting to go the same way although to a lesser extent with the Bad Company games so I hope BF3 is as good as it looks so the community can be as dedicated and long lasting as the BF2  community is and was.

Posted by OriginalGman

Everything in this article sounds business-y. Even when talking about innovation, it sounds like the memo is only talking about innovative ways to charge people money. From free-to-play to DLC to whatever weird figurine-based Spyro thing they showed off at that Toy Fair, none of this stuff sounds very fun for the people not getting paid to make it. But fuck if Call of Duty doesn't sell, so it's no wonder everyone wants a piece of that pie. I can't say that Battlefield 3's graphics don't blow me away, but if it plays like COD then I'm all set to be underwhelmed.

I understand that video games are a business, but if this memo was meant to make Activision seem like a place where people care about making fun games first then it still failed. Innovation isn't born in a board room, looking at sales figures and "hours logged." I just wonder what Activision hopes to fall back on once this bubble inevitably bursts. At least the guy who wrote this memo and everyone above him will have enough money by that point.

Posted by Afroman269

I'm willing to be interested again in this franchise again if they are really serious about changing up the game. If their idea of changing up the game is to add more explosions then they have failed.

Posted by swamplord666

Nice article :) I do think COD dominance will fade, maybe not with MW3 or the next treyarch game but definitely after that. Although it's sad that it's been run into the ground I'm excited and optimistic about the new game franchise or even (hopefully) genre that will have mass appeal

Posted by ShaunassNZ

I like how it went from, everyone hated the news and there was no point in reading it, to, this shit is bananas we need more.


Good job Klep
Posted by brocool

alright

Posted by jozzy

This is the kind of news I'd like to see more of at Giantbomb, awesome job mr. Klepek!

Posted by Menito

Patrick <3

Posted by Geez3r


Great article - very interesting to get an appreciation for the insider buzz. The activision / Infinity Ward struggle has certainly made some decent headlines in the past! I would love to see #'s for total sales for the mentioned games.

 

A big distinguisher for me between the two genre titles is that a guitar-hero title essentially turns into a game played when you get together with buddies and get smashed. DUst of the guitar and drums and play for a few hours. A good FPS on the other hand is something that can be played solo or online regularly for years. I'm still favoring Battlefield Bad Company 2 even a year after it's release (plus CoD's suck based on my preferences for online FPS with teamwork elements).

 

Again, great article.

Posted by MildMolasses

Internal activision memos? Not bad for a first go
Posted by AtomicMudKitten

First off great article Mr. Klepek. The downfall of Call of Duty might just depend on what happens with the next non - Treyarch game, and then again with what ever Respawn decides to do

Posted by cravins90

Love it. Patrick is already a great addition to the team.

Posted by heatDrive88

Cool article. I like the fact I can read more news content from Giant Bomb now with Paddy Klepek on the team.


As long as the article titles don't start being too crazy like the way Kotaku ever-so-obviously writes them, I'm totally digging it.
Posted by Nonentity

Knocking it out of the park from day one, Patrick. Keep it up!

Posted by seanvail99

Awesome read. What I find interesting is Activision's projection that COD games will continue to sell more because the previous games have always increased in sales. Are they projecting that COD games will increase in sales forever?  


Homeowners in the US thought their homes were going to increase in value forever. That didn't turn out so well...
Posted by BRG9000

Giant Bomb leveled up!

Posted by I_smell

It sounds like all Activision's "innovations" are in the field of marketting :/