Relax everyone, this was an April Fool's joke.
Activision is one of the largest and most successful publishers in the gaming industry - due, in large part, to an extensive laundry list of controversial business decisions. Controversial, that is, if you're a video game enthusiast; however, these same controversial decisions have paid off for the company's bottom line - and, subsequently, its investors.
It shouldn't come as too big of a surprise then, that Bobby Kotick and company are once again aiming to extend the market share of one of their biggest franchises, Call of Duty, by aiming for a Teen ESRB rating.
The news broke late yesterday afternoon, during Activision's investor call - senior executive, Aubrie-Ann Taylor, responded to a question about whether or not the publisher expects DICE's highly-anticipated upcoming FPS Battlefield 3 to cut into the current Call of Duty market share.
It's nothing new to say that Activision has enjoyed a stranglehold on the market with each subsequent Call of Duty title topping the previous installment - leading to Black Ops becoming the best selling video game of the last 15 years. However, despite solid sales, industry insiders, journalists and even some fans have begun to wonder how much longer Activision can sustain the Call of Duty dominance - especially as DICE nips at their heels with Battlefield 3 (arguably the most realistic military action-shooter ever developed).
Taylor was quick to dismiss any concern over Battlefield 3 - explaining that, not only is the Call of Duty brand going to dominate the genre for years to come, the publisher is actually making moves to extend the franchise's reach - by toning down some of the more unnecessarily violent content.
Speaking about the actual rating change - Taylor said:
"We believe that the Call of Duty franchise is as strong as ever - no matter what those guys put out. But we realize we can always do more to extend our reach. It only takes little tweaks, and we think that by not showing as much blood or not pushing the boundaries quite as fast, we can secure a "T" rating for the next Call of Duty. Which will enable us to go after an enormous demographic who might otherwise have been unable to play Call of Duty."
Taylor also responded to a follow-up question regarding if the publisher was at all worried that a potential ratings change might undercut the core player base:
"We'll, we might not be able to allow the player to assassinate known figures anymore [laughs] but we can do it in a compelling and responsible way. There's no doubt it's a tricky line but we think that looking at a lot of war movies out there right now, you can balance mature content with high-octane action for a great experience - but maybe not show as much blood and guts. And, as a result, provide a title that a mother or father is more likely to pick-up for their kid - or even play themselves. Not to mention, it would allow many of our teenage consumers to walk right into a retailer and purchase a Call of Duty without a parent."
There's no doubt that it could be a risky move on Activision's part but with so many developers and publishers attempting to appeal to the growing casual market, it's not entirely a bad idea - from a business perspective. Taylor's movie analogy is especially true, Hollywood producers often fight tooth and nail to get their film within the PG-13 guidelines - because it's a demographic sweet spot - allowing enough room for mature violence while still providing a low barrier of entry for the coveted teen market.
Call of Duty wouldn't be the first FPS franchise to manage a Teen rating from the ESRB. That said, it's hard to imagine that many existing fans will be excited to hear their favorite FPS will be toned down - simply to appeal to younger audiences and previously disapproving parents.