Peter Moore, EA’s vocal COO, just told MCV that Battlefield 3 has made some sort of dent in what he considers the Call of Duty money pie. His comments re-lit a concern that I had about EA during this year’s release season. I think EA may be putting too much emphasis on Battlefield (and therefore, DICE) as some sort of Call of Duty-killer. I’m ultimately concerned because I love Battlefield and I don’t want some EA executive a-hole to look at the numbers and say “this ‘Battlfield’ franchise isn’t making the kind of money Call of Duty is, let’s scrap it.” Maybe all of you out there think that is ridiculous, but when the “dust settles” as Moore put it, I think they are going to be surprised by just how small of a pie piece they are really taking.
“I think when the dust fully settles, maybe when we’re looking at the end of our fiscal year, we’ll do an analysis and I think we will have taken [market] share.” – Peter Moore
Maybe all of you out there are thinking “well so what if Battlefield doesn’t do as well? I still buy it, they’ll be fine, I don’t give a rat’s ass about CoD.” You are then missing the entire point of what Battlefield 3 was: EA wanted to draw a line in the sand and make a stand. They wanted to say “us too” to all of the Call of Duty buyers and prove that because their game is about modern warfare and that they could spend lots and lots of money on marketing that CoD players would flock to their franchise and never turn back. Well to put it bluntly: THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
These are the main reasons why the Battlefield franchise needs to stop trying to compete with Activision and Call of Duty:
1) They are two different games
This is one that many have been trying to drive home and its why I want to bring it out first. Battlefield just isn’t the same game as Call of Duty. There are two striking similarities that I believe those outside of video games will probably notice: they both have guns and they both take place in today’s Middle-Eastern conflict. Investors see this, executives see this, maybe even parents see this, and it explains why we’re seeing these two games compete, but gamers – i.e. the ones who actually play these things – see something else entirely.
I’ll try to explain the difference between CoD and BF as best as I can right here:
- Battlefield emphasizes teamwork and winning.
- Call of Duty emphasizes your kill-to-death (K/D) ratio.
If you ever get into a heated debate about the two games, this is really the only point you need to make. To the untrained ear these points sound trivial, but to those who have played both games extensively its the main reason you would choose one over the other. Call of Duty just scratches that itch you may have for competing not just against a rival team, but against your friends.
Even when you are working together in Call of Duty, the main game mode is to just get more kills than the other team, so teamplay usually boils down to who can kill the most people. There’s no reason to emphasize “winning” some objective because the K/D ratio already does this for you. If your team loses and you see several people at a 1 kill to 20 deaths ratio, its obvious why the match was lost. Battlefield, on the other hand, can be easily won by smart teams who know how to control a map, yet may still lose substantially in their K/D ratios.
These games couldn’t feel any different from each other.
On the Xbox not too long ago, Call of Duty did have a fairly worthy adversary: Halo. In fact Halo was the one on top and seemingly had no way of being brought down. Halo’s slayer mode is essentially the same experience that Call of Duty’s deathmatch offers: great emphasis on one’s K/D ratio and personal performance. Its not much wonder then that once Call of Duty took the crown as top Xbox game, Halo dropped like a rock. It barely still registers in the top 10 games on Xbox Live these days. The point here is that Halo and CoD are similar games, despite not even looking like one another at all. Where CoD was once the one who could take down Halo, there now needs to be a similar game that emphasizes K/D ratio and basically plays to whatever the popular theme for gaming is (right now its still middle-eastern warfare). Battlefield is not that game.
2) Making players choose ultimately means Battlefield loses
For the past few years Battlefield and Call of Duty releases have been relatively far apart, usually on opposite ends of the year. When EA announced that Battlefield would be releasing so close to Call of Duty, it sent some clear signals that as far as EA was concerned, it was on.
First of all, I’m not entirely convinced that people actually chose one game over the other. Either people were already into one franchise enough that they had no interest in the other or they wanted to get both to begin with. I fall into the latter category as I’ve always been a fan of both franchises, less so Call of Duty these days, but I digress.
But EA wanted to make it clear that it was either them or CoD this year. You chose Battlefield and that’s one less sale for Activision right? Well even if that were the case there’s 2 problems: a) People are going to chose CoD over BF because it is still the top game and b) anybody from the CoD side that had any sort of interest in Battlefield now feels completely ostracized and will need to begin debating about why their franchise must be chosen over the other. If anything EA just lost sales to Call of Duty because of the proverbial line they drew.
3) Call of Duty is still the juggernaut
For reasons probably unknown to most, yet should be obvious, people will gravitate to whatever is on top. People want to be on the winning side, they want to be popular, they want to confirm that they made the right choice. Who’s on top right now? Call of Duty. I love Battlefield more in many ways and I wish this weren’t true, but if we are going by pure sales figures and player base, CoD is king. The crazy thing that happens in all forms of entertainment when something reaches the top is that more people begin to flock to it. This is what’s happened to Call of Duty, which has consistently been the quickest selling piece of entertainment for the past 3 years. That’s juggernaut status and its near-impossible to defeat the juggernaut.
It will fall eventually, which brings me to my next point.
4) Call of Duty is already imploding, EA just needs to wait it out
And this will be a hard thing to tell. When is the right time? Maybe some other, newer franchise will swoop in at just the right moment and take all of the market that Call of Duty has built. I think this is what EA is afraid of, they ultimately don’t care if Battlefield is the one doing it, but they want to be the ones picking up those pieces. But Call of Duty is still doing so well, how can we tell that things will, if ever, start to fail for Call of Duty? Well here’s at least a couple of points:
Shortly after the release of Modern Warfare 2, the people who originally brought Call of Duty into this world (and I mean the original, Quake 3 engine Call of Duty) were promptly fired. Why? There’s probably a lot of reasons – Activision didn’t want to pay up bonuses, Infinity Ward wanted to do something different and not make another Modern Warfare clone (basically what Modern Warfare 3 ended up being), and Infinity Ward generally was just starting to get a little antsy (boot up your copy of Modern Warfare 2 right now, do you see an Activision logo? No? Yea Activision didn’t exactly appreciate that).
Earlier this year Activision finally put the axe to the Guitar Hero franchise. 3 years ago this would have been astonishing news, but today? Nobody threw one fit. Why? Over-saturation from Activision. When you are publishing multiple games of the same franchise each year bundled with cheap plastic guitars because everything is so easy to make, people begin to get fatigued. There’s only so many Weezer songs I can take. And those one-band-only games really didn’t do them any favors. In the end people got sick of it and quit buying the damn things. Well the spamming of games is now beginning to happen with Call of Duty now on a consistent yearly release schedule. Whatever the quality of the games stays at, eventually people are going to say “hey guys, I just bought the last game, can you give me a little time to play that first?”
5) All great franchises come to an end eventually
This is probably the biggest point I can leave with all of you today. Remember Halo? Remember Counter-Strike? Remember Quake 3? Remember Doom? At one point all of these games were on top of competitive FPS gaming. Sure back in the Doom days nobody had any clue that FPS games would be as huge as they are today, but the point remains. All great things must come to an end and while these games may all still be played by loyal fan bases, they are no longer at the top like they once were. Sooner or later people are going to get bored of this whole Call of Duty thing. Its just the science of entertainment. Its not an exact science, but the idea sticks for all mediums: The SAW franchise has been superseded by Paranormal Activity, Twilight by all those vampire shows on television, every big sitcom ever made by the next big, stupid sitcom. Its just how things work, people get tired of the same thing eventually. That World of Warcraft is still around is rather surprising, but that its losing subscriptions these days is not.
To bring all these points back, EA needs to just continue to wait and build its current player base. If CoD falls and Battlefield suddenly becomes the biggest one standing, people will flock to the biggest game around. Whether they rebuke the game for being so different remains to be seen, but it is a point that EA could also take home. Putting more emphasis on K/D ratio game modes for Battlefield sounds almost blasphemous, but I’ve played some deathmatch in Battlefield 3 and it is not too bad. In any case, having these games compete directly is ultimately going to end up in a frustrated EA who may or may not reconsider another iteration of this franchise. Myself and the millions of other Battlefield fans out there obviously don’t want this to happen, so hopefully EA can listen and reform its entire BF strategy.
Edit: Many seem to be confused by my last point, I never intended to say that Counter-Strike or Quake 3 or Halo are dead games, I think its more than obvious that these games are not dead. I am merely pointing out that they once stood on top and they no longer do. I hope that the changes I’ve made will help clear that confusion.