If you were hiding under a rock this past week than you may have missed the Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare announcements. New entries in both franchises were revealed, and it appears that for the first time in years, both series’ are headed in completely different directions. Battlefield is travelling back in time around 100 years, and will feature a World War I setting, while Call of Duty is visiting the far future with a story that take’s place off-world.
These two game announcements have garnered strikingly different responses from around the internet. If YouTube numbers are anything to go by, the response to Battlefield 1 has been overwhelmingly positive, while the response to Infinite Warfare is the complete opposite. As of the publication date of this article, the Battlefield 1 reveal has gained over 30 million views, 1.5 million likes and under 27,000 dislikes. In contrast, the Infinite Warfare trailer has over 21 million views, 358,000 likes, although a whopping 2.1 million dislikes. This makes the Infinite Warfare reveal trailer the most disliked video in YouTube history, a telling statistic.
So why has there been such a backlash to the Infinite Warfare reveal and what does this mean for the Call of Duty franchise moving forward? There’s no guaranteed right answer, but let’s give it a shot…
As a new Call of Duty is released each November, a new story and fresh ideas are required each year to keep the series engaging. In 2007, the franchise shifted from a WWII setting to the present day with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which reportedly sold over 12 million more copies than the previous entry Call of Duty 3. Activision were clearly onto something special, so it makes sense that they’d want to run with it. It also didn’t hurt that this was the first entry to include the experienced-based multiplayer system, which has come to define the franchise.
Although possibly unaware at the time, Activision had slowly begun backing themselves into a corner. The series would need to progress again, and the only viable choice was advancing into the future. As the multiplayer modes had become the most popular aspect of the franchise, Activision risked alienating their audience if they removed the weapons, gadgets, and killstreak rewards that players were accustomed to. If Call of Duty headed back to WWII, there would be no room for drones, holographic sights or UAVs. By advancing the series into the future, the developers were able to keep all the features that players loved, while adding some futuristic twists.
Black Ops II was the first Call of Duty to be set in the future, and the original reveal trailer gained a lot of negative feedback. This was the first entry in the series to not be grounded in an aspect of realism, whether it were a battle from history, or real world weaponry. Despite the criticism, Black Ops II became the most successful Call of Duty to date. In a recent investor meeting, Activision’s CEO Eric Hershberg addressed the negative feedback of the Infinite Warfare trailer and appeared unconcerned. He stated that if the developers didn’t take creative risks, there wouldn’t be a franchise, and “the day to worry is the day we stop trying new things”. While the franchise may not always be set in the future, we can assume that the developers will try new things before returning to the past.
Could Call of Duty successfully return to a World War setting? The response to the Battlefield 1 trailer would suggest so, although it is difficult to compare the two franchises. Battlefield is a different kind of multiplayer beast, and its developer DICE have found their winning formula and stuck to it (more or less). When only 20% of gamers complete the Call of Duty campaigns, it makes sense that Activision would cater to the gamers who play as such.
Over the last few years, internet culture has changed considerably, which could explain some of Infinite Warfare’s negative feedback. We have become a fickle bunch, and are ready to voice our complaints over the internet no matter how minute they may be. We want our beloved franchise to hit all the right nostalgic notes, and at the same time, be the epitome of the modern shooter. It’s like the ‘Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie’ episode of The Simpsons, where the kids participate in a focus group, and agree they would like Itchy & Scratchy to be a “realistic, down-to-Earth show…that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots”. Basically we don’t know what we really want, but are ready to complain at the smallest indiscretion.
There is no denying that whatever decisions Activision make regarding Infinite Warfare, it will still go on to sell millions of copies. That doesn’t mean the negativity surrounding the trailer should be ignored, however. Activision needs to be cautious, for the further the franchise branches from its origins, the more likely it will alienate the established audience.
So what’s the solution? How could Call of Duty appeal to both new and old-school gamers? The Legacy Edition of Infinite Warfare comes packaged with a remastered copy of Modern Warfare. This announcement sent gamers into a nostalgic frenzy, and appears to be more popular than Infinite Warfare itself. Rebooting the franchise to a modern (or maybe even a past) setting could be exactly what Activision needs to guarantee Call of Duty’s future. Just about everyone at the company are obviously aware of Modern Warfare’s importance … it is called the ‘Legacy’ edition, after all. If the remaster is successful (or perhaps played more by the core audience than the genuine sequel), it might force the executive decision.
That’s not even mentioning one of COD’s current strengths, a mode that has quickly become just as big a deal as the main game itself … Zombies. Given Infinity Ward are building their first ever Zombies mode into Infinite Warfare (add to that, this is their first COD since their last addition to the franchise, Ghosts), it shows the importance of the additional content and the evolution of the brand given its popularity. This is their first attempt at the mode, and a poor outcome there could be as detrimental to Infinite Warefare’s success.
The release of Infinite Warfare is still six months away. It will be interesting to see how the game performs compared to Battlefield 1 and what Activision have planned for 2017 and beyond. But the franchise cannot progress into the future forever. Soon there will be a need for a hard reboot or a significant departure from the current format to ensure the franchise survives. Bob Dylan said it best when he said “The times they are-a-changin”. For COD’s time, that’s right around the corner.
What do you believe is the future of Call of Duty? Is Battlefield finally on the verge of stealing its thunder? How did you react to the trailers? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you will be playing come November.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer for PN2 who is also holding out for a remaster of World at War. He’s interested to talk COD and Battlefield on Twitter @DrVane