Call of Duty and the Tides of Change in the Gaming Industry

The Call of Duty series has radically transformed the gaming industry in both creative and technical ways. It pioneered several changes in game mechanics and business models. Nabil explores the various ways it has had an effect on the gaming industry, and wonders if the impact it has made is good in the long-term or not.

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The gaming industry has come a long way from the days of vector graphics and 8-bit sound effects. The Call of Duty series is a testament to how grand the industry has gotten over the years. With an estimated worth of around 6 billion dollars and having sold about 115 million copies worldwide, it is one of the biggest franchises in the gaming industry. Despite huge revenues, the creative and innovative growth of the industry has stunted in recent years and various companies are following the trend set by Call of Duty of making games more cinematic and action-oriented.

While there are many other franchises focusing on various combat theaters and warfare in general, very few titles provide an atmosphere that throws the player directly in the game. It presents the warfare with spectacular visual detail and authentic musical scores. But one can’t help but feel the experience is somewhat of a cheap thrill – like that of a bad action movie. While the games present players with the horrors of war, they also reduce the experience by going at it with scripted explosions and over-the-top cinematics. Although they work well at first, these features get repetitive after seeing a helicopter crash for the umpteenth time. It tries to cater to the audience, both casual and hardcore.

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Even influential franchises such as Battlefield have been influenced by Call of Duty.

While it isn’t wrong to open up a style to a broader audience, it is a bit worrying when the service makes both halves of the audience want to have just that style. Because of this, the Call of Duty series made fast-paced action a major factor in almost all shooting games these days. Various gaming franchises such as Battlefield, Rainbow Six and Operation Flashpoint are forced to incorporate “blockbuster”-esque gameplay to accommodate an increasing number of players who have grown accustomed to it. While the Rainbow Six series had been traditionally about tactical shooting and realism, it has had to include features like regenerating health and waves of enemy soldiers to survive in a post-Modern Warfare era. The newest Battlefield game features a fully destructible environment to compete with its rivals.

The trend of making games more cinematic can be seen in other genres too. Contemporary RPGs and adventure games have embraced cinematic exposition and simplified gameplay over thoughtful stories, content and depth.

Call of Duty has also started a trend of adding ‘Shock Moments’ in video games. It started with Modern Warfare where Middle-Eastern forces detonate a nuke which the player becomes a victim to; this is followed by the airport level in Modern Warfare 2. To top it off, Modern Warfare 3 had a mission where the player is a victim to a dirty bomb explosion in London. Dan Whitehead rightly says: “Putting the gamer in horrific, hopeless situations only works if there’s some greater insight to be gained. Doing it just to underscore the obvious is an abuse of the first-person perspective; tragedy porn of the worst kind.”

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Half-Life was innovative both technically and creatively.

This streamlining of games is not encouraging the industry to take risks and strive to be innovative at all. Innovation can be seen in technology only. Instead of focusing on the art or new gameplay mechanics, the industry has focused almost all of its attention in making mediocrity feel nice by the use of complex shaders and well-known voice artists. Doom was released in 1994, and Half-Life in 1999. Within those 5 years, action games went from pseudo-3D environments, endless monster hunting and sprite-infested titles to cinematic and objective-based gameplay with fully dynamic environments and advanced 3D. Creative innovation today is almost at a standstill. Apart from the occasional Indie title here and there, nobody wants to do anything new. And why would the giant corporations at the helm of the game franchises be willing to?

The game industry is a business like any other. It strives to make profit off of its products. But, unlike most other businesses, this is one of the very few where the people involved get to influence the overall quality. When every new Call of Duty title nets them a billion dollars, they do not feel encouraged to make their new product unique from the last one.

It’s great that Call of Duty has made the gaming industry into something that rivals the might of the movie industry in entertainment and sheer value, but it has introduced practices that discourage artistic innovation and encourage maximum profit without any regards to the end-user, the gamers.

While the gaming industry needs growth and revenues, this kind of attitude is only a temporary boost. What happens when people get sick and tired of the same game being rebadged every year?

3 comments

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