Despite being part of an industry that excels at it, it’s difficult to use hyperbole when talking about Modern Warfare 2. Now that the game has been out for a few weeks, I figured it was necessary to look back and see what we learned from (and what was reaffirmed by) Modern Warfare 2′s time in the spotlight. The biggest game of the year has taught us several lessons about the business, the press, and gamers themselves. Some lessons are obvious; others not so much.
Everybody outta the pool!
For years, gamers and the press have been complaining that there are just too many games coming out during the holiday season. Even the publishers have admitted as much, citing Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge as the type of quality games that would get more traction if they weren’t in such a crowded release window. There were perpetual promises of change — the triple-A games would be released throughout the year instead of being shoved into the metaphorical clown car that is the fourth quarter.
Artist’s approximation of typical Q4
Thanks to Modern Warfare 2, it looks like this promise has finally come true, albeit not in the way one would hope. Instead, we’ll have one of the most cramped first quarter release calendars the industry has ever seen. Though few would openly admit it was because of the elephant in the room known as Call of Duty, we watched as game after game was delayed due to fear of the juggernaut. Now we get to see which games sink and which games swim from January to March instead of from October to December.
It also makes me wonder how games that would typically be released outside this forest of blockbusters are going to fare. Red Faction: Guerillia is a perfect example of the type of game that needed space around it — as well as time to let word of mouth do its work– in order to reach its full, glorious potential. With this giant push back to Q1, I’m just waiting for someone to call this window too crowded and move a game or seven back to Q2, which puts more pressure on the summer releases.
On the bright side, the PR spin for these types of things is often along the lines of “allowing more time for developers to ensure customers will receive the best experience possible when <delayed game> hits on <four months after it was supposed to>.” In all honesty, a couple extra months of polish should mean higher quality titles, and I’m willing to wait for that. Then again, it’s difficult enough for gamers to wait, and sometimes impossible to stick to their guns because…
If you care enough to join a digital boycott, you’ll buy it anyway.
A picture is worth a thousand words, though to Activision it’s worth thousands of dollars. Despite the epidemic of laziness in the online age, ‘boycotts’ can pull more signatures than ever because the supposedly outraged masses are just one click away from joining up when a product draws their ire. The only real effort comes from the guy angry enough to create the group in the first place. But when a person is passionate enough about a game to look up the information, read about it, discuss it with friends, then sign an online petition, they must have cared an awful lot to get that riled up.
That means they’re not going to be able to help themselves when the product finally hits shelves.
It’s like when the Star Wars prequels came out. I knew Hayden Christensen was a horrible actor. I knew George Lucas had gone insane and was destroying the franchise that created my love of nerdom during my childhood. But I was compelled to see them — and, unfortunately, to purchase them — because of my passion for the originals and my need to see every second of Star Wars that existed.
Of note is the dichotomy between Activison’s method of handling the Modern Warfare 2 boycott and Valve’s response to the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott. These two companies are widely considered to be representatives of either extreme when it comes to publishers in the gaming industry; Valve is widely loved and respected, where Activision has taken EA’s throne as the most reviled. Where Valve decided to fly the leaders of the L4D2 boycott in to play the game pre-release, thus ending the ‘boycott’ before the game was even launched, Activision simply gave their fans the proverbial finger and said they weren’t worried about it. Though the differing approaches were approximately as successful, keep this in mind as another reason that gamers believe Valve is angelic and…
Activision is the Devil.
In case Bobby Kotick’s quotes weren’t enough of a reason to think of Activision as the Galactic Empire of gaming, what about gouging customers for an extra 20% above the usual market rate? Just because they could, Activision decided to charge $60 for the PC release instead of the usual $50 that a PC game costs. This embodies the definition of corporate greed.
Thankfully, a few of their own development houses seem immune to their demonic charms. Infinity Ward and Blizzard know the true nature of their evil overlords, and because of the piles of cash they rake in for gaming’s most hated company, are able to take a few shots at them without fear of reprisal.
While the removal of dedicated servers from the PC version and party chat from the consoles has drawn much hate, I think these are interesting experiments. There’s nothing that annoys me more than logging into a server on a PC game to see some ridiculous rules or balance-altering changes that mean you only stand a chance if you’re a regular on said server. As for party chat, gaming is far more enjoyable when you can chat with your friends and ignore the random troglodytes in the lobby. Although I’d rather debate health care reform with Glenn Beck than deal with 80% of the people on Xbox LIVE, the downside of party chat is that it does allow dead players to communicate positions to their allies, a tactic I admittedly exploit in Halo.
There is probably a better way to implement solutions to each of these problems (such as a simple checkbox for PC players to go the console route or traditional PC way of selecting servers, or — if it’s possible technically — not allowing party chat while a player is dead), but the first step is often the clumsiest. I don’t think it was sheer douchebaggery that led to these decisions. I have faith they’ll evolve to become aspects of gaming we cling to dearly.
Between the effect it had on the market, what we’ve learned about boycotts, and reinforcing that Activision is the devil, there are multiple lessons to learn about Modern Warfare 2. It looks like this will be the most commercially successful game of all time, but it may be a year or more before we know whether that’s a good thing.