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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+
Posted by TadThuggish

CoD sales will decline, in a few years the series will be put to rest GH-style, Activision will fall to a #2 position (if not more) because they relied so heavily on CoD they have nothing left but WoW simply as financial support.

The people running Activision haven't learned any lessons because they aren't in it for the long haul.  Kotick (and others) spend their days golfing, and will bail as soon as profits go down a quarter.  To them video games are just the fad kids are into, so after they leave they'll become CEOs of a revived Beanie Babies revolution or something.
Posted by Ontheocho

The whole CoD and Guitar Hero argument may be flawed my the issue of large bulky expensive toy instruments.  Lets not forget that each itteration of the Guitar Hero franchise used new equipment.  Ther was backwards combatability but, you're also looking at 2 different markets.  Most people bought they're first guitar hero or rock band for this generation and we're done.  The Tony Hawk franchise, on the other hand, is a totally different issue.


By the way, great article, and welcome to the family, Patrick.

Posted by 617_jbug

Call of Duty is a juggernaut. Look at how hard EA is already marketing Battlefield 3 to the public during the NBA playoffs.

I expect to see the next Call of Duty around the time of the Eastern Conference Finals (just like they did last year I believe) and will see the first demo of it at Microsoft E3 press conference.

Posted by Grilledcheez

I'm interested to see what they do with the next CoD...I just can't imagine any changes significant enough to fulfill its staying power.

Posted by Kajaah117

The news machine starts chuggin'! Great work, Patrick. Giant Bomb somehow just managed to get even better.

Edited by RoyaleWithCheese

The Call of Duty series has understandably garnered a lot of hate lately, but I don't see people actually acting on their discontent and boycotting these rehashed pieces of garbage. I personally know of several people who are critical of CoD and its repetitiveness, but whenever the newest game comes out, I see them playing it 24/7 on PSN. Guitar Hero was discontinued because consumers stopped consuming them after Guitar Hero XXL: "Bjork in the House." Do the same to this series, and at THE VERY LEAST you'll force them to (God forbid) innovate a little.

Posted by DeadPan

Hot damn this is a great article

I can definatly see COD pulling a GH, unless Activision learn from the mistakes and take it easy with COD

Who am i kidding? They are gonna milk in dry lol

Posted by Ghost407

WOW, welcome to the site!  Glad to have you!

Posted by audiosnag
@TadThuggish said:
" @patrickklepek said:
" @natetodamax said:
" @RsistncE
I'm kinda confused as to why people are jumping up on this Klepek guys dick...I see nothing special about this article. It's most just quoted material with some base analysis...but OK.
Because it's not a Brad Nicholson Kotaku-like article "
Let's chill on Nicholson, cool? "
I love that "Kotaku-like" is a big enough insult to have staff step in and tell people to chill.

Man, that site is atrocious.
I look forward to the day that expressions like "dick riding" and "jumping on (fill in the blank's) dick" goes away. That expression is just the worst. Can people really not come up with anything better then that? It's like being back in highschool again, goddamn.
What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, good job Klepek, good having you on the news team. Nicholson also does a good job people need to get off his case.
Posted by Eribuster

Call of Duty: Free2Play coming soon.

Posted by Zolfe

because klepek broke this story, much like he was the one who broke the Infinity ward story awhile back

hes got a contact at activision or something,
Posted by Vaile
@RoyaleWithCheese said:
" The Call of Duty series has understandably garnered a lot of hate lately, but I don't see people actually acting on their discontent and boycotting these rehashed pieces of garbage. I personally know of several people who are critical of CoD and its repetitiveness, but whenever the newest game comes out, I see them playing it 24/7 on PSN. Guitar Hero was discontinued because consumers stopped consuming them after Guitar Hero XXL: "Bjork in the House." Do the same to this series, and at THE VERY LEAST you'll force them to (God forbid) innovate a little. "
If there was a Bjork-centered Guitar Hero, I'd buy that in a second.
Posted by buzz_killington

Linked here from Eurogamer - GB doing it big. Sick.

Posted by Klaimore

That was a pretty awesome article on activision good job Mr.Patrick. Now I'm curious on that bungie deal I wonder what it is.

Posted by Warfare
@sixpin said:
" Klepek strikes early and hard. Nicely done!

Good read btw.
Posted by Lamashtu

There is the fact that focus-groups for purposes of designing a game is barely more reliable than tossing a dart at a board with: "Have re-generating health... Corridor Shooter... Drivable vehicles" in post-it stamps on it. 

Audiences are extremely fickle and you make generalizations at your own peril. For instance, back in the days of when WoW was still in beta, a lot of us who were coming in from Everquest tried it out and thought that Blizzard was way in over their heads and that it wouldn't take off. Even Microsoft and Bungie themselves were discounting Halo: CE; they had a truly atrocious E3 presentation of Halo and the Xbox, and Bungie had to crash for an entire 9 months to basically rebuild THE ENTIRE GAME into a state where the game was fun, but there were a few things that slipped the cracks (how absurdly overpowered the pistol was, the similar looking corridors, the difficulty of "Truth and Reconciliation," etc). 

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I dunno. Black Ops didn't so much leave a sour taste in my mouth as it didn't leave a taste at all. I enjoyed my time with the multiplayer this time around, but I don't think I will be buying a Call of Duty game for a long while.

Posted by billyhoush

Battlefield 3 seems like a fun action movie single player experience but I thought other EA games were pretty whack multiplayer experiences. I'll look forward to the next BIG call of duty release if there is one but I'm done with every buying their map packs since Bailout on MW2.

Posted by Babble

Great article!

Posted by NeoUltima

So begins the Klepek era.

Posted by Soap

How did this site function without Patrick before?!

Posted by Shuborno

Nice job Mr. Klepek. This story has "Giant Bomb" being mentioned in every article on every news site that is re-posting this news.

Posted by Det1

This sounds like one of those talks from one of those higher-ups who don't get the details on things or is just trying to make things sound good.
The truth is that while it's easy to just say "we're gonna hire a bunch of guys and make them innovate", simply forcing them to focus on one franchise limits the amount of space and direction they can wriggle in. Take the GTA series - another franchise with ridiculous staying power that made COD level profits. After GTA 3, they had to make everything bigger, crazier and better - vice city. After that, SA. After that, they got flaked HARD for GTA4 precisely because it didn't feel like GTA. COD is pretty much stuck in the same spot - it's precisely because people have an expectation that innovation would be difficult, and there's only a similar array of directions for the franchise to head toward while other franchises that put more time inbetween releases (team fortress)/is straight up fresh(portal) can innovate and create gameplay that is unrestricted by previous interpretations of their genre.
Think about it. The multiplayer in BLOP mainly extended itself over MW2 mainly by its inclusion of new modes, new weapons/killstreaks/killstreak handling/weapons/maps/etc. None of these are revolutionary in the sense that they don't change the feel of the game - you don't feel the difference you felt moving from halo to COD or TFC to TF2 or even COD2 to COD4. And if a next-big-thing comes along, all the staying power is just gonna vanish (see: how UT3 died). They're gonna have to change their game eventually, and it'll ruin their staying power.
Then again, maybe COD players really are just that dedicated. who knows?

Posted by Hexogen

As much as I'd like to see a completely redesigned Call of Duty, I fully expect them to keep iterating on the current formula for at least another few years. They'll keep playing it safe until sales start to stagnate, and from there they'll either wise up and start innovating or drive the franchise into the ground completely, like they did with Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero. For the time being though, they're golden.

Posted by DevWil

people have been shooting from a first-person perspective (and getting excited to do so) for decades. i don't think it's going away.

Posted by Vorbis

I can't see BF3 doing half the numbers, but that doesn't mean it won't be a better game.

Posted by MaFoLu

Interesting stuff, looking forward to seeing more of these kinds of articles.

Posted by EmuLeader

Its great to see how Activision views its franchise, though, how accurate it is, i would disagree on.  There hasn't been any really big improvements in a while.  MW1 was huge, a true innovation, 5 added zombies (which i don't care for but others do), which is really just another mode, and nothing super original(Horde Mode). MW2 was just a slightly better version of MW1. Now BLOPS has included wager matches, which is cool and new,  but i still see no great innovation on the scale Activision is claiming since the first MW.

Posted by Jerome85

I'm all for as much innovation as possible as long as it controls like a normal COD game.  Which in my opinion is unmatched when it comes to perfect control scheme/responsiveness.

Posted by Brodehouse

"Guitar Hero had an incredible peak and then began to decline, whereas Call of Duty hasn't declined yet, so everything is fine."

Like, what dude?  Seriously?

Posted by President_Barackbar

This just sounds like corporate propaganda bullshit. If the people at Activision really have their heads this far up their own asses, I don't expect COD to still be making money much longer. Wanna know why else Guitar Hero died? ROCK BAND. Rock Band came along and did the same things as GH, but better. All its going to take to get rid of COD is another franchise that does things in a way better and more innovative way.

Edited by librariangmr

Wow, what a great debut for Patrick! Nice job and welcome aboard!

A question though,

 "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,"

Activision is just a publisher, right? What could they innovate? Distribution? Selling Modern Warfare 2 on Games on Demand for $60?

Edited by Bravestar

I think military shooters are the FPS genre with the longest staying power. One reason is that you can live your war fantasies and with the ongoing wars there's no shortage of templates and inspiration for your fantasies. It feeds of the "what if"s the same way GTA does(which is similarly popular)

Another reason is military shooters are quite simple. In games like Quake you had to adapt your playstyle to the weapon you're holding and the weapon your enemy has. In TF2 you have to learn the different classes and how to deal with the other classes with each one. In military shooters you either have a automatic rifle or a sniper rifle. You either sit around or you run around and whoever shoots first usually wins.
Ofcourse it has it's own depth, but the whole concept is a lot simpler. It's clear cut. If you encounter a tank, you shoot it with a rocket, if there's a sniper far away, you snipe him, etc. You know how to fight certain things without ever having to play a military shooter. You still have to learn how to move in them/how to apply the game mechanics, but there's no "what am I going to do in this situation?"
Among other reasons ofcourse.

Posted by MisterMouse

that is really interesting that they seem to have that insight in their own products. Really good read though, thanks Patrick!

Edited by HiraH4x

Activison and innovation? Ha, don't make me laugh (oh wait). But seriously, it wasn't Activision that innovated Call of Duty - it was Infinity Ward with Call of Duty 4. The game model of CoD4 was new and fresh, and still is, looking at sales of Black Ops. But Black Ops wasn't anything too special. Treyarch added a few new gun, bells and whistles, but the franchise has ultimately followed the same formula since CoD4. It's not because the franchise continues to innovate, it's because people just want more of that CoD4 formula. 

Posted by BUCK3TM4N

it is like guitar hero i just think it will take a little longer for it to die hopefully battlefield 3 will come close to de-throning it

Posted by zoozilla

Wow.  I hope to see a lot more articles like this in the future.

Posted by Jimbo

CoD sales have continued to grow, but to me it still feels like the continuing success of that franchise all stems from CoD4.  It's been like a snowball rolling downhill - CoD 4 was the initial push, MW2 and BLOPS were just the (almost) inevitable result of the momentum.  MW2 sold on the strength of CoD4, BLOPS sold on the strength of MW2.  Was BLOPS good enough to sell the next game quite so well?  Hard to say.

They're still working from the same blueprint that was laid down by IW.  Eventually this will become stale - it always does.  Treyarch have proven themselves to be competent at following the established blueprint, but no more than that yet.  The question is: do they have enough talent without IW proper around to come up with the next blueprint when they need to?  I haven't seen any signs of that.

I'm really interested to see how Activision handle this year's CoD in the face of how aggressive EA are being with Battlefield 3.  They've run at least one TV ad for that game already here in the UK, 6 months before it's gonna come out.  For the first time EA actually seem serious about going after CoD. 

The rumours put BF3 releasing the first week of November, and given MW2 and BLOPS came out the second week of November, that would make sense from EA's perspective.  Assuming (for sake of argument) that this BF3 date is true, do you think Acti will be happy to put CoD out a week after?  Or do they blink and try and bring their date forward?  Almost regardless of the games themselves, watching these two jockeying for position and going head to head should be a very entertaining way to end the year.

Edited by Siphillis

Man, I can practically taste the Activision bullshit coming fresh off the memo.

Posted by Marokai

If this is the kind of news we can expect from Klepek alot then I must say I'm pretty impressed.

Posted by Wonloong

The only reason FPS has staying power is due to the amount of exposure we had since two decades ago from Quake to Duke Nukem to the MoH series. We have been conditioned to accept that shooting digital people is fun.

What with genres like Guitar Hero where shooting is non-existent and, with newer generation of gamers not having the exposure of classical pop-rock (e.g GH3, Van Halen, Metaliica & Aerosmith) the GH franchise logically took a nose-dive in sales.
Posted by AURON570

People love seeing that +125 after every kill... can't beat that...

Posted by CowsWithGuns
@Marokai said:
" If this is the kind of news we can expect from Klepek alot then I must say I'm pretty impressed. "
I agree! Great job Patrick :)
Edited by Skald

Journalists all over the place are citing Giant Bomb as a news source for this story. How great is that?

Posted by niamahai

won't releasing internal stuff like this get GB into trouble?

Posted by Stackboy

I think it is a testament to Activision (as much as I have distaste for them in general) that COD's sell better and better, year after year, after 7 years.
Keen to see if BF3 does indeed make a dint.

Posted by FrEeZe

Actual Video Game Journalism!???? WHa Whaa WHAAA!!!???

Posted by Sooty

I hope the internal memo stuff can't get the site in trouble, it was a good read however. Thumbs up. (two of them)

Posted by FlipperDesert

Cool article, it's interesting to see they're considering the same thing. However, I maintain they keep lucking out because they keep stumbling onto the next big thing. With no real hint at what that is next it doesn't look like they have anything other than Call of Duty to milk dry now. The thing that angers me most about Activision's business strategy is that it still appears to be working.

Posted by natetodamax
@natetodamax said:
" @RsistncE
I'm kinda confused as to why people are jumping up on this Klepek guys dick...I see nothing special about this article. It's most just quoted material with some base analysis...but OK.
Because it's not a Brad Nicholson Kotaku-like article "
Let's chill on Nicholson, cool?
I was mostly referring to the lengths of his articles (many of them are relatively short). I don't go to Kotaku enough to make a comparison based on quality.