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Call of Duty fans were greeted to a “life imitates art” moment at the Call of Duty XP event this week in Los Angeles. Activision Blizzard recreated the Scrapyard multiplayer battlefield from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 as a paintball arena where teams of 16 players could square off against each other with faux M4 assault rifles squirting green paint pellets. The event was aimed at promoting the upcoming Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 game, which Activision hopes will be the blockbuster of the year in video games.
It was a memorable experience, and all part of a $100 million marketing campaign to cement Call of Duty as the brand to beat in the first-person shooter market, where Activision Blizzard faces tough competition from Electronic Arts in a battle for billions of dollars in video game sales.
You could say this was carrying the game a little too far. But at least the participants weren’t playing with real weapons and bullets. Better to live out the fantasy of fighting in this controlled environment than to fight in a real war.
Was this event and the money spent on the two-day extravaganza worth it? You could very well argue that it was. EA does the same kind of thing with its Madden Football NFL sports video game events, and so does Blizzard Entertainment with its Blizzcon event for fans of Blizzard’s video games such as World of Warcraft. Blizzcon has paid off just fine, as World of Warcraft has reigned supreme in the fantasy online game market for seven years.
The theory is that if you cultivate your most loyal fans and reward them with a one of a kind experience that elevates their status in the community of fans, then you’ll get a big payback in brand loyalty. I’m pretty sure that every single one of the hundreds of players who went through the Scrapyard paintball arena just loved crawling through the dirt so that they could tell their friends about it back home.
I got to witness the action up close as an observer, a faux war correspondent, if you will. The paintball fight made the play battle seem more real. I had to keep my head down and stay behind barriers while I filmed the players. As you’ll see, they had to concentrate on the battle and deal with locating and shooting at the enemy while stinging paint balls flew in their direction. With their face masks and guns, the combatants looked like the real thing, except for their pot bellies and shaggy butts.
I wore shorts and a T-shirt, and my own protection was face mask. So I had no motivation to run out into the open. I have to say that my heart was racing and it was a more intense version of the adrenaline rush you get while playing a multiplayer game.
Scrapyard in the game was an aircraft boneyard with many airplane fuselages to hide in multiple vantage points to pick off the enemy from above. It was fun for both for snipers and run-and-gun assault weapon fighters. The map was memorable for its constant action. The paintball map wasn’t an exact replica, since it was smaller than the actual Scrapyard. But that’s OK, since paint balls don’t fly as far as real bullets do.
“Can you promise me I won’t get shot?” That was the question the camera man next to me asked one of the guys handling the paintball arena. “No I cannot,” the instructor said. So I had the presence of mind to ask the referee to announce that the two sides were not to shoot me, the neutral observer. Hey, I just wanted to play Sebastian Junger, the author of “War,” for about seven minutes.
I saw plenty of soldiers get blasted with paint. When they were hit, they were told to raise their rifles above their heads and walk back to the “respawn” area, where they reenter the battle. The match last seven minutes. Did I get shot? Check out the video for yourself.