Publishing giant Activision is confident that its increasing emphasis on the Call Of Duty series will not see the franchise suffer the same fate as Guitar Hero, insisting that the enormously popular shooter is “perhaps the ‘stickiest’ game of all time”.
Activision closed its Guitar Hero business unit in February, pointing to “continued declines in the music genre” caused in large part by oversaturation of the market: the publisher released 14 different Guitar Hero games in the five years following the series’ PlayStation 2 debut in 2005.
The firm has since put an even greater emphasis on the Call Of Duty series, with Infinity Ward believed to be at work on Modern Warfare 3, Sledgehammer Games developing another title and a new studio, Beachhead, formed to further leverage the enormous online popularity of the series. But the publisher is confident that the market will not react to more frequent Call Of Duty titles with the same apathy that met the slew of Guitar Hero releases that contributed to the series’ eventual demise.
An internal memo was leaked to Giant Bomb in which Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg answered the question: “Isn’t Call Of Duty today just like Guitar Hero was a few years back?”
“There are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering,” Hirshberg wrote in response. “Guitar Hero quickly reached incredible heights, but then began a steady decline. Call Of Duty, on the other hand, has steadily grown every single year of its seven-year existence.
“Guitar Hero was a new genre which had incredible appeal, but which had not stood the test of time. Call Of Duty exists in a genre that has shown remarkable staying power and wide appeal over a period of decades. Plus, Call Of Duty has inspired a massive, persistent, online community of players, making it perhaps the ‘stickiest’ game of all time.”
It is that level of engagement that drives Hirshberg’s belief that Activision is doing the right thing. “If you step back and dispassionately look at any measurement – sales, player engagement, hours of online play, performance of DLC – you can absolutely conclude that the potential for this franchise has never been greater,” he said. “In order to achieve this potential, we need to focus: on making games that constantly raise the quality bar; on staying ahead of the innovation curve; on surrounding the brand with a suite of services and an online community that makes our fans never want to leave. Entertainment franchises with staying power are rare. But Call Of Duty shows all the signs of being able to be one of them.”
While Activision is entitled to be bullish – Black Ops grossed a billion dollars in six weeks and was the year’s best-selling game in the UK and most popular title on Xbox Live, despite only being released in November – and Hirshberg’s logic appears sound, his closing comments betray a certain over-confidence.
“Activision doesn’t always seem to get the credit it deserves in terms of innovation in my opinion, but there is no short supply of it, even in our narrower slate,” he wrote. “As I said, when you look at the list of projects and the innovations embedded within them, it’s a pipeline any company would kill for.”
It's certainly an enviable slate, but is it an innovative one? The merits of Hirshberg’s stance cannot be accurately considered until the firm outlines its plans for the series, with no Call Of Duty officially announced for this year and both Sledgehammer’s and Beachhead’s current projects also currently under wraps. Either way, Activision will need to drastically improve its profitability – it posted a $233 million loss in a quarter which saw the record-breaking releases of Black Ops and World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm – for Hirshberg’s confidence to be ultimately justified.
Source: Giant Bomb