Two of the biggest names in military shooters announced their next games this week. Activision kicked the week off announcing the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will take the series further into the future and feature Earth and space combat. Then EA closed out the week with the announcement of Battlefield 1 set in an alternate World War I. While I personally have very little interest in playing either franchise, the divergent strategies they're taking this year have me more interested in writing about them then I ever have been before.
The Case for Infinite Warfare
In the week since the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare trailer launched, it has received over 750,000 down votes (up 200,000 from when I wrote about it just yesterday). Some people are seeing this as a bad sign for the game's eventual sales. I think it's foolish to underestimate that Call of Duty will do anything other than sell millions of units. Every year, industry pundits and analysts say that this is the year that Call of Duty falls of a cliff and every year, they continue to sell millions and millions of units. According to the NPD Sales Group, the most recent entry Call of Duty: Black Ops III was the highest-selling game in November, December, and January before slipping to number two in February and then eventually number nine in March (behind a lot of newer titles).
This year, Activision is doubling down and throwing in the long requested Modern Warfare Remaster. Many fans of the series view Modern Warfare as the high watermark of the series so the opportunity to play through the campaign and ten multi-player maps is an absolutely ingenious way to bring lapsed fans of the series back. The decision to only include it with deluxe editions of Infinite Warfare is doubly smart. By providing two games this year, they will already wind up splitting their player base in order to give the people what they've been wanting. Offering Infinite Warfare for $60 and Modern Warfare Remastered for $40 would have split the consumer base as most players wouldn't be likely to drop $100 on both games. By including the two titles together at an $80 price point, Activision simplifies the purchasing decision for consumers and the marketing emphasis is still put front and center on the new title.
One of the most fascinating things I'll be keeping an eye on later this year is how many Trophies/Achievements each of these titles are pinging. My friend Barrett from BZGamers.com asked on Twitter if people would be willing to spend $80 for the Modern Warfare Remaster. As someone who bought Final Fantasy Type-0 for $60 and only ever played the Final Fantasy Episode Duscae demo, I have no doubt that the rabid fanbase of Call of Duty fans would be willing to spend $80 on a Modern Warfare Remaster if it were a standalone offering. The fact that they'll also get the new Infinite Warfare game is icing on the cake. So I'll be very interested to see the number of players who run through both games compared with how many play only Infinite Warfare or only Modern Warfare Remastered.
The Case for Battlefield 1
On the other side of the debate, we have EA and the oddly-named Battlefield 1. Since the new generation of consoles were announced, fans of the military shooter genre have been calling for a return to the historic shooter to see what the modern consoles could do with those environments. But instead of going down the well-worn path of World War II, DICE is instead focusing on The Great War aka World War I.
Unfortunately, as most historians will note, the first World War was a markedly slow war and probably wouldn't make for a particularly compelling action-filled video game. So DICE is fudging history a bit and playing with one of the other well-worn tropes in the genre: alternate history. This will allow them to focus on elements familiar to the time period like early aerial and tank combat without being beholden to the overall slow-pace of trench warfare.
DICE and the Battlefield name is probably still doing a bit of damage control over the infamously bad launch of Battlefield 4, which had multiplayer issues for months after launch. The spin-off Battlefield Hardline and the relatively smooth launch by Visceral got the ball rolling on repairing the brand but it also didn't set the world on fire and most people had moved on a few months later to other titles. DICE's most redeeming story to date was the smooth and successful launch of Star Wars Battlefront. Selling over 12 millions units in the first few months, the uneventful launch of the multi-player-centric game suggested DICE finally had a firm grasp on the multi-player networks of the new generation of consoles that plagued the Battlefield 4 launch.
Battlefield 1 will also get a two-week head start on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Launching October 21 (or a few days earlier on the 18th if you're an EA Access member or pre-order a premium version of the game), that could help or hinder the game in potentially equal measure before Call of Duty launches two weeks later on November 4. As the first mover, they might cut a dent in players that would have otherwise gone to the annual Call of Duty offering, picking up some sales that they would lose out on if they launched after the one-two punch of Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered. But on the other hand, it could make for a detrimental exodus of the Battlefield 1 servers if everyone jumps ship two weeks later to play the new Infinite Warfare or revisit the nostalgia-fueled Modern Warfare Remastered.
Who Will Win?
Ultimately, Battlefield has never been able to overcome Call of Duty on the yearly sales charts and I don't really think this year will be any different. But by taking a drastically different route, EA has given players a reason to pick up both games instead of just this year's Call of Duty. In theory, EA might convince people to pick up the "new" idea of a game set among the backdrop of the first World War compared to another futuristic-set shooter. In practice, though, games and movies have such an overabundance of sequels/reboots because that's where audiences spend their money (even if they say they want new ideas). And even if launching two games splits their own player base, Activision's strategy will likely wind up populating the servers for both games with the people who are only cursorily giving Battlefield 1 a shot come this holiday season.