While giant corporations are prone to making some impressively boneheaded mistakes, they're not as dumb as you think they are. For instance, many “in-the-know” gamers see Activision as a sinking ship that simply hasn't quite found its iceberg, but – at the very least – the Godzilla-combined-with-King-Kong of videogame publishing has taken notice. And so, with Guitar Hero having played its swan song earlier this year, Activision's now forced to face the elephant in the room: Is Call of Duty next?
"Isn't Call of Duty today just like Guitar Hero was a few years back?" asked a leaked internal memo uncovered by Giant Bomb. Instead of pressing a giant red button, cackling maniacally, and jetpacking off into the sky, however, Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg gave a composed, well-reasoned answer.
"This is a great question and one we have thought about a lot," he wrote. "But there are several key differences between the two franchises worth considering. 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 – first person shooters – 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."
Gamers are a notoriously fickle bunch, however, and they'll eventually slip off their combat boots and migrate elsewhere. Hirshberg, however, thinks consistent quality will stop them in their tracks. “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,” he explained.
Granted, delivered entirely in saliva-spattered rants or not, gamers' groans about innovation (or lack thereof) are still at the heart of their argument. If Call of Duty, er, calls and no one picks up, it'll be for a simple reason: because players got bored. Even so, Hirshberg was adamant that Activision doesn't get enough credit for its innovations – both within Call of Duty and other franchises.
The take-away? Activision's asking the right questions, but – like anything that can be favorably likened to a hundred-story tall movie monster Frankenstein – it's having a bit of trouble with that whole “moving” thing. For now, the company seems content to stay the course, but with even more Call of Duty in its lineup. An online service, a free-to-play installment designed for China, and at least one triple-A spin-off are all in the works, in addition to a new Infinity Ward-developed entry. Can too much alleged “quality” wear out its welcome? Looks like we're about to find out.