With great popularity comes great indifference, a lesson which Call of Duty publishers Activision are threatening to learn the hard way.
As the bankability of original ideas continues to be a major bugbear within the video game industry, publishers have continued to commission the development of a myriad of sequels to already established titles, with CoD being a prime example of this business model.
A new instalment in the FPS series is released yearly, with developers Treyarch and Infinity Ward taking over from each other on a bi-yearly basis with Treyarch helming titles such as World at War and Black Ops, while Infinity Ward take on Modern Warfare. It's a model more commonly used in EA properties such as FIFA and Madden, but while frequent updates are a necessity in those titles to accomodate the ever-changing landscape of sports, CoD's continuous oversaturation of the market has led many to grow tired of what was once one of the video game world's most exciting series.
The issue isn't necessarily with the games themselves; CoD has always maintained a high standard of quality no matter how many naysayers continue to argue the opposite. The issue is that the series' core formula, the one which saw it hugely broaden its fanbase in the original Modern Warfare, has now been spread so thinly across so many different titles that it no longer feels special. The cinematics in the single-player campaign of MW3 no longer impact upon the player in the same manner that, say, the nuke in the original did, while the online component no longer feels fresh and exhilarating.
There's a lot to be said for the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought. Infinity Ward and Treyarch are still putting out good games despite not heavily tampering with the formula from one iteration in the series to the next, so it could be argued that you can never have too much of a good thing and that they should simply continue doing what they do best. However, if CoD continues at the pace it is going now, it is an inevitability that gamers interests will wane, in turn leading to the indifference of its financiers.
At this point it should be noted that Vivendi, who own both Activision and Blizzard (publisher and developer of the declining World of Warcraft), are reportedly interested in selling their 61% stake in the publishers, a move which could succinctly be described as "jumping off of the bandwagon before its wheels fall off". It is also a tell-tale sign that Black Ops II, the sequel to the best-selling game of all time in the US and Europe, was perhaps one of the least-discussed AAA titles shown at this year's E3. If a game's predecessor sold in excess of $1 billion, then how on Earth can it be overlooked at the biggest video game conference in the world?
Activision's milking of the cash cow has not only hurt its own creation, but has also caused a droop in popularity in the FPS genre as a whole. Innovation is limited in war-based FPS's. Unless a developer will willingly ape CoD by forcing multiple explosive set-pieces into their game's single-player campaign, there are only a small number of deviations they can make from the tried 'n' tested formula in a genre that is reliant upon very little else other than shooting and advancing. Before Call of Duty 4 this wasn't as apparent as it is now, with practically any game daring enough to include iron sights, expensive cinematics and a multiplayer mode instantly written off as another CoD clone or dangerously hyped as a CoD killer. Look no further than EA's mediocre Medal of Honor reboot as a prime example.
Call of Duty needs to take a break, plain and simple. While Black Ops II will undoubtedly sell more than enough, the damage these yearly releases will do to the franchise in the long run is something which Activision is either failing to acknowledge or choosing to ignore. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and, with this annual release business model, it is doubtful that gamers will continue to stay interested by the time Modern Warfare 73: Makarov's Ghost Strikes Back (Again) appears on shop shelves.