9th October 2011 - Fans of the First-Person Shooter genre are going to have a bit of a dilemma this October. It's a question that might not seem big or of any consequence at first, but it is a question worth having deep qualms about. I am of course talking about whether or not to buy DICE's upcoming Battlefield 3, or waiting until November to experience Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games' Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Personal taste aside, this choice does raise some interesting business strategies at work by both companies involved, and worth considering when making such a choice. On one side, a company is trying to sell a game on the merit of the game alone, and on the other, a company selling a game on the merit of its brand. One is seeing their game as a service that must be added to and refined once released, the other sees their game as a self-contained product in which the additions and upgrades can be sold once more as another product. If there was ever a personification of opposite approaches to game development and advertising, it is Battlefield 3 vs. Modern Warfare 3.
First, some background on the two series in question about to fight it out in October and November. DICE first premiered to gamers in 2002, with Battlefield 1942 on the PC, a title that was reviewed well for essentially refining the WWII shooter formula. They proceeded to enhance this title with two expansions, The Road to Rome and Secret Weapons of WWII. In 2005, the series migrated to the Xbox with Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, and on consoles the company stayed. In 2008, partially to unveil their Frostbite Engine and partially to return some humor to the FPS, they revealed Battlefield: Bad Company. Critically it was well received but got a few weird looks from consumers for the assumption that the company was“ripping off” another popular shooter at the time. Using this new engine, DICE brought back WWII shooters to XBLA and PSN with Battlefield 1943 in 2009, and used it as the engine for their most recent game, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and its Vietnam Expansion. It must also be said that outside their Battlefield IP, they have worked on experimental First-Person Platformer, Mirror's Edge, and the most recent Medal of Honor.
Now to move on to the other corner of the boxing ring with the people behind the Call of Duty series. Call of Duty 1 was developed by Infinity Ward in 2003 and essentially became the iconic WWII shooter, always rivaling Battlefield 1942 to the point of Sonic vs. Mario. Matching DICE's Battlefield 2, Infinity Ward returned once again for Call of Duty 2 in 2005, then Treyarch took the reins in 2006 for Call of Duty 3, much to the dismay of some devoted fans. In the broadest sense, the first three Call of Duty games were essentially the exact same game just with different level design and weapons, which wasn't exactly a harsh remark because there's only so much one can do in a gritty realistic WWII setting. But in 2007, Infinity Ward returned with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and to put it lightly, it blew all other competition out of the water. A well written story, told through the actions and gameplay of the player, and a plausible threat that matched modern sensibilities. Also, it must be said that it's online multiplayer was a massive hit for implementing air strikes, tactical shooting and a rewarding level system for which following sequels would build upon. Treyarch pushed out another Call of Duty, World at War, in 2008, and in 2009, Infinity Ward was demanded to make lightning strike twice with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a sequel that got above average reviews but couldn't quite live up to its predecessor due to a shift in mentality between a plausible war story and an interactive action adventure movie using modern soldiers. The lead designers of Infinity Ward left the company shortly afterwards due to complications involving not being paid for extra time and effort put into the project. As such, Treyarch was called on once again to put together Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010, which boasted an out of place Zombie mini-game, a criminally short single player campaign that felt like a fever dream of the most cliché conspiracy theories ever imagined, and a multiplayer mode that only added so much. As of now, what remains of the original team of Infinity Ward is collaborating with the people at Sledgehammer Games, a studio made from people who originally worked at EA's Visceral Games, the developers of Dead Space and Dante's Inferno, on Modern Warfare 3.
Modern Warfare 3
With all of that history in mind, let's get into the strengths and weaknesses of these games. As stated previously, DICE is attempting to sell their upcoming Battlefield 3 in terms of a service, and if their history is any indication, that has always been a part of how they make their games. For the sake of clarity, a game being treated as a service means that the studio stays involved with the game even after it ships. Patches, updates, add-ons, expansions, etc. The studio does everything in their power to ensure that the consumer acquires as much enjoyment and entertainment for the purchase with as little additional cost as possible. The first Battlefield game received two expansions during its life span, easily extending its life by at least a year, and Bad Company 2's Vietnam expansion was decently priced for the content involved. With these things in mind, it can be assumed that Battlefield 3 will be in good hands as it ages after release.
Another thing in Battlefield's favor is its Frostbite Engine. To many outsiders, a game engine might not seem like much, but it dictates how a game feels. A game made by Valve is indicated by the look and feel of its Source Engine, just as how anything made by Epic Games is marked by their Unreal Engine. To have a game engine to call your own leads to the prospect of an interesting new experience of how and to what extent it is used.
However, as much as these elements help, there are still some lingering problems. The most recent Battlefield games have been known to be lousy with glitches and graphical issues, in Single-Player at least, and the Multiplayer can come off as a bit too realistic for some involved. It's not to the level of SOCOM or the like, but it always seems to straddle the fence between “realistic” and “fun”.
Call of Duty on the other hand has the mindset of not changing what works. For better or worse, all current sequels of the Modern Warfare series have been using the groundbreaking Call of Duty 4 as a template at best and at worst, a formula. Also, the Multiplayer has always been a large selling point for the series, even more so with its ridiculous customization options.
However, there is one aspect of the Call of Duty series that I cannot stand and that is the treating of the games as a product. If you look back at Call of Duty since its inception, sequels have been coming out annually every October or so almost like clockwork. A Call of Duty sequel, once a year, every year for the same price again and again. For the fans, this is great, who will buy and enjoy it all the same, but in terms of innovation or quality, it is development torture. For a large AAA title game to be of high quality, the development cycle usually takes about two to five years, even longer in certain cases. Compare this to how the Call of Duty titles are getting put out every year, and their development cycle is identical to a studio making a game based off of an upcoming Hollywood movie, and we all know how those usually turn out. What usually saves these games from falling into such quality is the reliant use of the Unreal Engine, which essentially has half the work of a modern shooter done already, but at the cost of the games in question feeling the same. While this might help obtain capital and retain a fanbase, it leads to a series of games that, while fun in the moment, run the danger of becoming plain and stagnant. This is running games as a brand. Evidence of such a mindset can be seen in the downloadable content for Black Ops, a grand total of five maps packs whose total sum price can be put towards buying another game. But it is done because not only is the consumer paying for the content, they are paying because it is Call of Duty brand content.
But if the gameplay is essentially the same, why do the sequels continuously sell? The Call of Duty series has become more of an institution rather than a series of games. Call of Duty is a household name that can be dropped in just about anything from late night talk shows to common public chat, celebrities can tweet about their experience in it, and very recently there was the Call of Duty Experience Convention, an entire expo dedicated entirely to Multiplayer celebrities like Hutch and Seananners, expositions of upcoming games in the series, and a fully recreated Multiplayer map as a paintball course. On top of all of this, there is the recently announced Call of Duty Elite social network, where for an annual fee, contributors basically get a COD version of Halo Waypoint. Being an institution, the quality of the games themselves becomes nebulous because, in short, “I have to buy it because everybody else will be playing it.”
Modern Warfare 3
So we have one side selling a game that might be great because of a dedicated team that has made consistent work in the past and willing to make its consumer's experience last, and the other side 's studio that has lost some of its talent working in tandem with another studio selling a game that is guaranteed through continuous monetary tithing to be exactly what to be expected from the series and that everyone will be talking about. But there is still one question lingering, why should we as consumers care? Why shouldn't we just pick up the popular one and leave the one nobody has heard about alone? The answer is simple: as consumers we vote with our money. When we purchase a product new, we are essentially telling everyone involved to make more of this product. Is your hard earned money worth spending on a brand new game that is more of the same, or the same but with just that right mix of new? Are you willing to put down a large sum of cash for a game that be summarized by some as a bloated map and weapon update with overpriced map additions, or for a game that will be expanded after four or so months? Who are you voting for? Battlefield, or Modern Warfare? Have your say in our comments section below or on our Facebook page HERE.
Article By Tyler Chancey