Call of Duty is one of the biggest video game franchises of all time, but find out why one writer thinks it may have done more harm than good for the industry.
Call of Duty is a juggernaut. The series has sold millions of copies, and earned billions of dollars for publisher Activision. It dominates sales charts, usually earns strong review scores, and is consistently the top selling game of the year. Despite its immense success, however, I feel as though Call of Duty has negatively impacted the industry in numerous ways.
Before I continue with the reasons why I think Call of Duty has negatively impacted the gaming industry, I feel as though I should stress something: I consider myself a fan of Call of Duty. I have played every core entry in the series to date, and have enjoyed almost all of them. The studios behind Call of Duty set out to make highly polished first-person shooters, and on that front, they deliver more times than not.
Even so, I think that the negative effects Call of Duty has had on the industry can be seen in a number of different ways. First I would point to its annual release schedule, which I think normalized annual releases for story-driven games. Now, sports titles have been annualized since the 90s, but it wasn’t until Call of Duty became such a massive phenomenon that we started to see annual release schedules applied to story-driven franchises as well.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this is Assassin’s Creed. As Call of Duty started pumping out games on a yearly basis, we started to see Ubisoft do the same thing with its stealth franchise. Of course, the huge success of Assassin’s Creed II also played a role in that decision, but without Call of Duty proving story-driven games could be annualized and still sell quite well, I doubt we would have seen Assassin’s Creed go that route.
The Assassin’s Creed series has arguably suffered quite a bit from its annual release schedule. What was once a highly-rated series began to see its review scores decline and its sales begin to slow – probably due to franchise fatigue. Furthermore, Ubisoft’s rush to maintain its annual release schedule for Assassin’s Creed saw the company put out the messy Assassin’s Creed Unity, which was clearly not ready for release.
Ubisoft has since learned from its mistakes, and decided to give Assassin’s Creed a break in 2016. However, Call of Duty is still going strong with its annual release schedule, having seen a new game in the series every year, without fail, since 2005. Call of Duty has been able to maintain this intense schedule because its stories are secondary to its other features, whereas Assassin’s Creed is story first, everything else second. Until Black Ops III, though, Call of Duty sales were declining from one year to the next, which could indicate that franchise fatigue is finally setting in for it just as it did for Assassin’s Creed.
Besides Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty‘s influence has also had a negative impact on a number of other gaming franchises. For example, after the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games blew up in popularity, we saw many other big shooters follow suit in an attempt to capitalize on the craze. EA brought both its Medal of Honor and Battlefield franchises to modern settings, with varying degrees of success. Medal of Honor has been dead since 2012, and Battlefield is already abandoning modern warfare in favor of World War I, after failing to win over a significant number of Call of Duty‘s players with Battlefield 3 and 4.
With the overwhelmingly positive response to Battlefield 1‘s World War I setting, it’s safe to say that fans of that franchise weren’t necessarily thrilled when it transitioned to a modern warfare setting to a modern setting to begin with. Similarly, Resident Evil fans may not be happy about the way Call of Duty and its success influenced the survival-horror franchise, as the popularity of Call of Duty led directly to the more action-oriented approach of the most recent games in the series.
In an attempt to appeal to Call of Duty fans, Capcom decided to shift Resident Evil‘s focus away from atmospheric survival-horror and to being a guns-blazing action series. The result was the poorly-received Resident Evil 6, and the critically panned Operation Raccoon City. Capcom is finally starting to redirect the series back to its horror roots with the upcoming Resident Evil VII, but its reputation as the premiere horror series in gaming may have been damaged by its Call of Duty-inspired detour into the action genre.
Another franchise that was led astray by Call of Duty‘s influence was Final Fantasy. Many regard Final Fantasy XIII as a low point for the series, as it failed to resonate with gamers as much as its predecessors. Much of the game’s criticism was aimed at its linearity, and a general lack of towns or shops that have otherwise been a consistent feature in Final Fantasy games. Well, as it turns out, the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII and the way its story unfolds was directly inspired by the design of Call of Duty.
By normalizing annual releases for story-driven games, popularizing the modern warfare setting over traditional historical settings, inspiring Resident Evil to be more action than horror, and being one of the reasons why Final Fantasy XIII was so linear, I think Call of Duty has had a negative impact on the industry. However, we’re now seeing the Call of Duty effect fade a bit. Capcom and Square Enix are working to undo the damage done by the Call of Duty-inspired entries in their respective franchises, and Ubisoft isn’t cranking out new Assassin’s Creed games every year. Battlefield 1 is set during World War I instead of modern times, and if the insane number of dislikes on the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare reveal trailer are any indication, we may even see Call of Duty itself return to a historical setting soon.
But while I think Call of Duty negatively impacted the industry in the preceding ways, I also think it has done some good for the industry as well. Year after year, Call of Duty is the best selling game, and its incredible mainstream success has potentially brought in plenty of new people into gaming. Furthermore, Call of Duty is an innovator, with its footprint still clearly visible in the design of online multiplayer games to this day.
Ultimately, I believe Call of Duty has impacted the industry in both negative and positive ways, and it depends on one’s personal perspective as to whether its influence has been for better or worse. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how Call of Duty continues to shape industry trends.
Do you think Call of Duty has had more of a negative or positive impact on the gaming industry?