Love or hate it, the Call of Duty franchise is a worldwide phenomenon. The FPS juggernaut manages to pull in huge numbers of sales every single year with games that many would argue are only small variations on a narrow formula. With Infinite Warfare (that’s a whole lot of warfare) announced just days ago, it was revealed that the franchise would once again visit the future, rather than harking back to its historical or current day-inspired titles. It seems this announcement is in direct contravention to what most of the vocal masses appear to want from the genre, which is to dial back the clock significantly and return to simpler times.
But why are the powers that be at Activision/Infinity Ward seemingly flying in the face of what their loyal customers desire? Are they trying to outdo Capcom and Square Enix at giving their supporters exactly what they don’t want (no mean feat)? Or is it the staggered development cycle that makes Call of Duty sluggish in its response to the whims of its fans? Given the current three-year development cycle spread across three developers (Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games), when a Call of Duty game releases there are already another two in the pipeline already. By my maths, the next COD to be released has already been in development for two years when the latest iteration hits us, and presumably the one after that is already one year into its development. You’d imagine that both unreleased COD games in development would be in quite an advanced stage at this point, certainly in terms of story and basic mechanics. What this means is that once the new Call of Duty drops (which is an event you can almost set your watch by in November), the next one must have well and truly had its groundwork laid, and one would think it would be difficult for the developers to be flexible in responding to criticisms of the current iteration, as many important decisions as to the game’s direction would surely have already been made.
Infinity Ward’s Advanced Warfare introduced probably one of the biggest innovations (at least by COD standards) the series had seen for a while in the form of enhanced movement via an exosuit that allowed boost sliding, strafing and jumping. It gave the game an even quicker pace, but in my opinion its shooting mechanics were too slow for the new zippy movement. Black Ops 3 featured the same boosting mechanics, but they were largely refined and seemed a bit more grounded and in sync with the gunplay. Even so, after BO3 the general consensus seemed to be that boosting had done its dash, that the future settings were getting a little tiresome and that it was perhaps time to return to Word War 2 or present day and lose the high-tech bloat. Now we have Infinite Warfare with yet another futuristic setting, and if you listen closely you can already hear the Internet yawning. There will probably be boosting and wall running still and you can probably also dab, whip and nay nay (maybe in space!).
I say the staggered dev cycle might be hurting the COD series in terms of its ability to evolve with gamers’ opinions, but there’s only one factor that’s likely to make Activision change their business model: if it harms the ludicrous amount of money it makes. While gamers continue to flock to COD in droves every year, you can’t help but feel that the tides are perhaps turning. Sales data indicates that Modern Warfare 3 (one of my favourite titles) was the high-water mark, but the series nonetheless continues to be more or less a license to print money. However, if they ignore the wishes of the larger community for too long, they might pave the way for another contender to take the crown. One thing’s for sure though, if the servers of Infinite Warfare are a barren wasteland compared to the remastered Modern Warfare, Activision will probably have to read the writing on the wall and re-evaluate what draws people to the series. Surely it must strike the big wigs at Activision as odd that gamers are infinitely more excited for the Modern Warfare remaster than the next space COD. Then again, maybe that’s why you can only buy it as part of a bundle, as making them available separately would almost certainly be suicide for Infinite Warfare.