Yesterday, DICE had a day-long countdown to the reveal of their new Battlefield game. It’s called Battlefield 1 and is leaving the comfort of present day and going back, way back, to World War I. Trench warfare, mustard gas, horse charges, the whole nine yards. DICE calls it “the birth of modern warfare.” Ha ha.
I’m not really the biggest fan of a reveal “event” where there’s an eight hour countdown to show 60 seconds of a trailer, followed by an hour of spoken description about the game with not a single second of additional footage. And yet, those sixty seconds? Wow. Battlefield 1 has impressed both visually, but more important, conceptually.
This very same week we got to see the other side of the coin, as it were, as Activision debuted their new Call of Duty game, Infinite Warfare. Though it was lacking the awkward livestream, the reception was, to put it lightly, poor.
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As it was revealed, Infinite Warfare was overshadowed by the remaster that was being bundled with it, Modern Warfare, which can’t be purchased separately and is a $20 add-on to the game, making the price effectively $80 for anyone who wants to play the remaster. Which really, should be everyone.
But more importantly, Infinite Warfare was met with loud sighs and eye-rolling mainly because it’s staying in the “future warfare” zone that we’ve seen across so many Call of Duty games now, through Black Ops 3, Advanced Warfare, Ghosts and Black Ops 2. That’s four full years of “future warfare” games, going on five, and before that, about four years of “modern” warfare games before that, other than the last “past” game in the series, Treyarch’s World at War.
A few days ago I noted that the Infinite Warfare trailer was the most disliked gaming-related video on YouTube with 322K dislikes. Now, that’s up to 628K dislikes, underwater with 217K likes on 10 million views. The new trailer for Battlefield 1? 500K likes to 10K dislikes.
You can argue about whether or not using a “protest metric” like YouTube dislikes is useful, but even though it may not be predictive of some sort of pending sales disaster, it’s impossible to argue that there’s no difference between the way these two games have been received, and DICE/EA is doing something right while Infinity Warfare/Activision have clearly missed something.
That “something” is that fans are tired of future-shooters. Fans have been playing futuristic shooters for years, and now that Call of Duty is going full-on sci-fi with spaceships and such, it seems old hat, and not different enough from the last 5-10 years. DICE has outmaneuvered Activision here, understanding that a creative change in concept, ie. going back to somewhere like WWI, is the more attention-grabbing, fresh-feeling time period in which to set your game at this point.
Yes, it’s true that we lived through an absolute flood of WWII shooters close to a decade ago now, but again, that’s practically ancient history in gaming terms these days. We have exactly zero major World War games on present day consoles or PCs, and Battlefield is tapping into a cyclical trend that really should have been obvious to Call of Duty.
I was frankly shocked that Infinity Ward didn’t go back to World War II this year, as after the negative reception for Ghosts, I figured they were the studio that was the most free to not make another sequel, and they could do something different. Technically, Infinite Warfare is something different, but not in the way fans were hoping. Now, it’s unclear when, if ever, Call of Duty might return to the past. Next year, it seems unlikely to me that Sledgehammer will abandon the Advanced Warfare franchise, given that they are already well into their three-year dev cycle, and they couldn’t anticipate this bad/good reaction to Infinite Warfare/Battlefield 1. I think that maybe Treyarch might be the one to end up returning to Call of Duty’s roots with another historical game, if the Black Ops series truly ended with 3.
With all this said, it would truly be a miracle indeed if despite all this positive reception for BF1 and the idea that Call of Duty is on its back foot, if Battlefield was actually able to compete sales-wise with COD this fall. It’s possible, technically. Battlefield’s best-selling game ever was Battlefield 3 with ~20 million copies sold. Call of Duty sold “only” around ~19 million copies of Ghosts (compared to say, 26.5 million of Modern Warfare 3), and Advanced Warfare was supposed to be about a 25% drop from Ghost’s numbers. Activision has continued to be cagey about figures, but Black Ops 3 was supposed to have outsold both Ghosts and Advanced Warfare, probably putting it between 19 million and the ~21 million of Modern Warfare 2, though that can’t be confirmed.
In that picture, you could say if sales tank for Infinite Warfare and are explosive for Battlefield 1, you could have a draw, or BF might even win. But Battlefield 3 was five years ago, and the Battlefield games since then, Battlefield 4, Hardline, have not been the same kind of blockbusters (~13 million for BF4, ~4 million for Hardline). I don’t think it’s easy to predict that Battlefield 1 is going to move 20 million copies and Infinite Warfare is going to plunge to 15 million, or something like that.
I also think that everyone may be overestimating the potential impact of taking the game to an era like World War I. Though historical buffs may go crazy for the setting, one of the reasons games like Call of Duty and Battlefield have stuck with present day/near future settings is because that opens up a lot of gameplay possibility you don’t get with ancient guns and horses and biplanes as vehicles. Visually, yes, it all looked phenomenal in the Battlefield 1 trailer, but in practice? I’m not sure if fans will love it quite as much as they think they will.
Keep in mind that in this modern/ future era of COD/Battlefield games, we have a whole generation who has grown up possibly never playing a WWII game at all. Suddenly, with no more jetpacks or exoskeletons or assault rifles that fire a thousand rounds a minute, will they be as engaged with the game? Will the rest of us, who have also gotten used to all this stuff over the past ten years? I’m not sure.
The name of the game is mobility, mobility, mobility in shooters these days. One of the most common complaints I’m hearing about the Overwatch beta is that it feels too slow. And if that game is too slow, taking these big shooter franchises back to WWI or WWII may feel like wading into molasses, given the lack of available “boost tech.”
I know we have countless WWII games that were loved by fans, but the shooter landscape is different now. And nostalgia might not compensate for a very, very fundamental shift in how these games play.
In the end, I think it’s worth the risk, however. Especially with Activision and Call of Duty, who have three different developers working on sub-series. If they want to stay in the future, great, have Treyarch and Sledgehammer make those games, but they couldn’t have freed Infinity Ward up to return to WWII? That seems like a missed opportunity, and now DICE might eat their lunch. If they follow suit now, they look like copycats, but if they don’t, fans will keep griping about the never-ending parade of future games. It’s going to be very interesting to see this showdown not just in the fall, but in the next few years to come.
(Source by: forbes.com)