Some moderately worrying news for AAA publishers came earlier this year when Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Battlefield 4 all launched to significantly lower sales than their previous franchise counterparts. Luckily, there was a fairly simple explanation for the sluggish sales upon launch: many fans were simply waiting for the next-gen consoles to arrive, and the chance to play next-gen versions of them.
Call of Duty: Ghosts can now boast of being the best-selling next-gen game of the year, but the critical response was somewhat mixed, to say the least. With an average Metacritic score of 74, Call of Duty: Ghosts was blasted for sticking too rigidly to the formula set by the nine previous console entries, and lacking fresh ideas.
Despite these criticisms, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg has labelled Call of Duty: Ghosts a success. When asked in an interview with VideoGamer whether or not the two-year development cycle and annual release of each CoD title was leading to franchise fatigue, Hirshberg responded by saying that numbers speak louder than words:
“Obviously I don’t agree with the critics there. I know that Call of Duty’s a polarising franchise with some of the critics, and it’s clear to me that not all the critics like our strategy of making a game every year, but thankfully our fans do.
“It’s also clear to me that the critical response doesn’t always mirror the fans’ appreciation of a game. We actually do read the critics’ comments and take them into consideration during our creative process, but we just can’t measure ourselves by that yardstick alone.
“Our most important audience is our fans, so we try to stay laser-focused on making games that they love. If you look at the fact that [Ghosts is] the most pre-ordered game of the year, it’s the most pre-ordered next-gen game of the year, it’s already the number one most played on Xbox Live, and that we’re seeing longer average playtimes than ever before, we’re confident that we’re doing well by the criteria that matter most.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Call of Duty: Ghosts will manage to beat out Black Ops II, which has already sold over 24 million units. If it doesn’t, there are indications that Activision will chalk it up to the console market being shaken up by the arrival of the Xbox One and PS4; Hirshberg also stated his belief that, “It would be a mistake to conflate the challenges of the console transition year with any indications about the health of the franchise.”
It shouldn’t come as news that a games publisher cares more about sales than reviews, and generally cares about reviews only insomuch as they impact upon said sales. Amidst claims that the Call of Duty franchise is review-proof, it’s easy to accept that fans of the franchise will continue to come back for more every year, regardless of what the critics say. If they’re having fun playing the games, then more power to them.
However, the best way to keep a franchise fresh is to take into account criticisms (especially nagging ones) and trying to improve on them in the next installment, and while still impressive, the lower sales numbers for Call of Duty: Ghosts shouldn’t be written off entirely.
A series’ past success is no guarantee of its continued excellence, and with the release of two new major consoles the time is ripe to shake things up a little in the Call of Duty franchise. If nothing else, take the criticism not as meaningless, but motivation to make a game that no one can accuse of being recycled.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available now for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4.