When it comes to Call of Duty's release schedule, We the Gamers don't get much of a say. CoD titles are raking in more cash than ever, and Activision has found enough development studios that can crank them out in time for Christmas every year. Whether you like it or not, Call of Duty will be an annual tradition for the foreseeable future.
I'm a Call of Duty fan, but I have to say that this yearly release schedule is not necessarily a good thing. The franchise's hyperactivity crowds out more innovative games, encourages the industry's obsession with sequels, and pushes the series into a rut.
For Call of Duty lovers, every holiday season is first and foremost about the next CoD title. Who could blame them? Some of the world's most talented developers slave away making sure that each entry in the series is polished and fun to play, with a solid campaign and addictive multiplayer. And for all the changes and improvements that have come over the years, you always know what you're going to get from a Call of Duty game: solid first-person shooting in a realistic war setting, along with a somewhat cheesy and hard-to-follow plot.
However, this means that gamers aren't paying attention to other games they might like just as much. Why is it so hard for a game like Vanquish—a new IP with slick action, fresh mechanics, and awesome graphics—to become a huge hit? At least in part, it's because the industry, the press, and gamers are all focused on the type of big-budget sequels epitomized by Call of Duty games. If CoD took a few years off, it would let other IPs take the spotlight. I don't expect Activision to give up tons of money just so others can have their 15 minutes of fame—I'm just saying the world would be better off if they did.
And speaking of sequels, they are truly the worst aspect of modern video gaming. I understand the appeal: Once you've spent millions of dollars developing a title, it's highly cost-effective to build on what you already have rather than starting from scratch again. What's more, a sequel starts with a built-in fan base, and therefore needs less marketing to get off the ground.
It's simply ridiculous, however, that virtually every big-budget title that comes out these days is part of a franchise—and if it's not a sequel itself, you can bet that there will be a sequel if it sells. Even artsier games like BioShock end up spawning new iterations. This happens because everyone wants the next Call of Duty: the cash cow that spits out millions in profits every single year.
In addition, you can only push a series so far when you're pumping out releases every year. As Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda have proven, a franchise can last decades if you release only one to three games on each hardware platform. So far, the Xbox 360 alone has Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: World at War, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and Call of Duty: Black Ops. That's six games—seven, if you want to count the downloadable version of the original Call of Duty—and this holiday season, another will be added: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Quite frankly, it's starting to show. It was amazing when the series broke out of its World War II rut with Modern Warfare, but since then, each improvement has been much less dramatic. World at War actually took a step backward into World War II. The Modern Warfare 2 storyline was frankly embarrassing. Black Ops explored the Cold War, but it was still just another Call of Duty game.
And as various people have pointed out regarding early screenshots of Modern Warfare 3, the graphics engine is starting to show its age. Since they've been pumping out releases so quickly, Infinity Ward and Treyarch have been tweaking the IW Engine from Call of Duty 2, which is based off of Id Tech 3 (the Quake III engine from a decade ago). The improvements were significant at first, but now, the franchise has fallen behind similar series like Battlefield. If Call of Duty took some time off, it could start anew with a fully updated and stunning engine. Maybe the developers could even do something crazy like add a cover system.
Maybe Call of Duty's ridiculously fast release schedule will be its undoing. Eventually, the market could become saturated, forcing gamers to turn elsewhere for their shooter fix. I, for one, would not mind such a development.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*