The popularity of the Call Of Duty series is on the wane, analysts claim, with sales of Modern Warfare 3 lagging behind its predecessor Black Ops despite the former performing more strongly at launch.
According to Gamasutra, analysts at Macquarie Equities put lifetime sales of Modern Warfare 3, which was released on November 8, at 4.2 per cent lower than those of 2010 release Black Ops over the same period last year.
Last month was particularly poor, with Modern Warfare 3 reportedly selling less than half the amount Black Ops did in March 2011. Macquarie doesn't say why it's happening, but analysts at investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray posit that 'casual' players – who aren't necessarily queueing up for new releases on day one – have drifted away from games in general, and are instead using their consoles for streaming media.
The few facts that are available show that sales of new games – at retail, at least – are on the wane, suggesting that the problem is not Call Of Duty's alone. NPD's US sales figures so far this year have made for depressing reading: last month total spend on new games at retail brought in 25 per cent less revenue than in March 2010, and NPD has only reported growth in three of the last 12 months.
It's the same in the UK: MCV reports that the national videogame market declined by 13 per cent during 2011. Last month alone, UK retail sold 34 per cent fewer games than in March 2010. With that in mind, what does a 4.2 per cent sales deficit tell us? Sales are down across the board; not just Activision, but everyone with a new release on shelves, has been hit. And the UK all-formats chart suggests that, if anything, Modern Warfare 3 is outperforming Black Ops.
In Modern Warfare 3's 22 weeks on sale to date it has an average chart placing of number four; Black Ops' average is five, thanks in large part to a four-week spell in March and April in which its chart placements were 12, 22, 19 and 13. If the UK chart tells us anything, it's that the decline began not with Modern Warfare 3, but with Black Ops; 2009's Modern Warfare 2 was number one for nine of its first 22 weeks on sale, with an average chart placement of three.
Yet Macquarie insists that Modern Warfare 3 is selling dismally compared to its predecessor, and we'll give the firm the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's privy to data we aren't. EA appears to have succeeded, to some extent, in its mission to eat into Call Of Duty's userbase with Battlefield 3 – even though that has apparently come at a cost, with the publisher reportedly preparing to lay off over 500 staff to recoup marketing overspend.
And Modern Warfare 3 is not without its flaws. Some disgruntled players are calling for a day-long blackout on Friday, urging their fellow users not to play the game for 24 hours in protest at Activision and Infinity Ward's perceived lack of action on problems affecting the game's multiplayer mode. Their disenchantment hinges on creative strategist Robert Bowling's pre-release claim that Infinity Ward was planning "an extreme focus on post-launch support"; that simply hasn't happened, with day-one concerns about lag compensation and the game's spawn system still unaddressed to this day. With Bowling having since left Activision for pastures new and unspecified, it's tempting to say the wheels are coming off.
Will Activision care? Modern Warfare 3 was named the most successful entertainment launch of all time, breaking a record set by Black Ops. It was the best-selling game in dollars during 2011. The Elite subscription service had amassed over seven million users by the end of January, of whom 1.5 million had paid $50 for a year's membership.
Those members will stick around, not just because they've already paid for the service, but for a steady flow of DLC; 24 downloads are promised over the course of the year, and Elite members get early access to new maps, missions and gametypes. Since Activision added clan support to Elite, 460,000 groups have signed up; even if sales have dipped, and the playerbase is grumbling, Elite has shown Activision that its community is, if anything, more engaged than ever.