No One Buys “Call of Duty” for the Campaigns

By Deane Barker on November 14, 2010

So, my son got the new Call of Duty game over the weekend, and he’s been playing it like crazy.  However, here’s an observation –

I’d be interested in what percentage of people buying the game are buying it for the campaign.  I’d say it’s pretty small.  Neither my son, not any of his friends have even started the campaign yet.  They’ve been playing for days, and all they’ve played is on X-Box live – Team Deathmatch mainly

Their consensus is that the game is a letdown.  And, let’s be honest, it is – because there’s not much room for innovation when all you’re doing is running around a map and killing each other.  For online play, the differences from the last release of the game are very small.

  • There’s a new type of match called a “Gun Game” where you get different weapons for each kill.
  • There’s a “Wager Match” where you can bet points.
  • There’s a handful of customizations – you can change the color of your (previously) red dot, for example.

And what else could they come up with, really?  For online play, there’s just not a lot you can do.  You run around, you shoot, people die, etc.  I sat and watched Alec play for a while, and after five minutes, he mentioned that he was playing the last version, not the new one.  I couldn’t even tell the difference.

I, on the other hand, enjoy the campaigns.  I loved the last two Call of Duty: Modern Warfare stories – they were like movies, and the ending of each was downright goosebump-inducing.  I played the first level of this one, and it’s a really interesting story told in flashack.  The first level is set during the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961.  So, from my perspective, it’s pretty awesome.

But what do you do as a game designer when the only thing people want from your game gives you very little room to innovate?  Just like no one buys Playboy for the articles, very few people buy Call of Duty for the campaigns.  And even if they do, they’ll play the campaign once, maybe twice, in a month…and then it’s two years until the next one, which means they fall back to repetitive online play.

Five years ago, I posted about more or less this exact same thing (interestingly, I was prompted to post this when I played Call of Duty 2.  Back then, I said:

But let’s step back for a minute and consider the XBox compared to the XBox 360 (the base model, without the hard drive). What’s the big improvement? The graphics, of course. That’s the big thing — there’s more power, so they can make better and better graphics appear on the screen. Finer detail, smoother movement.

Would that power ever be used for anything else? If so, what? I’m willing to bet that the lion’s share of the processing power of an XBox 360 is graphic-oriented.

Say you doubled the intelligence of the enemy AI. How much processing power would you need to do this compared to the power required to run the graphics? My guess is that it’d be inconsequential.

So what this means is that the entire…point, of making a new system is graphics, graphics, graphics. Think about it, when the ads tout “better games,” what do they mean? More mentally challenging? More thought-provoking? More…what? No, they mean “better graphics.” It’s the be-all and end-all of systems these days.

So, the bottom line is that until the next generation of consoles come out and do more awesome things graphically, the games are going be a letdown.  The campaigns will be cool once or twice, but then you’re stuck with the same old thing over and over and over – Call of Duty 7, 8, 23, it doesn’t matter.  At the current level of graphical power, it’s hard to tell the difference between them.

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  1. I owned both GoldenEye 64 and Perfect Dark for the N64. I’m not sure I played the missions at all – I bought them because they were easily the greatest multiplayer games of our generation.

    Is it a symptom of the MMORPG movement? Or is it something that we all learned decades ago: it’s way more fun to play games with your friends than it is to play on your own.

  2. it’s way more fun to play games with your friends than it is to play on your own.

    You see, I don’t agree. I much prefer to be immersed in a planned narrative that someone else created. Playing “with” your friends just means playing “against” your friends, and that gets tedious and repetitive.

  3. I would say the AI has had some improvements and I noticed it best by playing Combat training in a private match with my son. Even when we are on the same team the computer AI sometimes overcomes all odds and kicks our butt! Even better is when we are two different teams and you each have computer teams playing with you.

  4. I’ve had it since launch day and only played campaign until just yesterday. While online is a ton of fun, I love the epic moments these games always have.

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