It’s that time of year when Battlefield and Call of Duty go to war. Both sides are about to make a lot of noise about why their shooter is better, and gamers will take sides in their own tribal rants.
For sure, the winner will be the best game. And gamers will be winners because they’re probably play both games. But marketing can make a difference as to whether or not this year’s games beat last year’s sales, and if one or the other comes out on top in the final accounting.
Activision Publishing is kicking off the marketing campaign into high gear today with the press, influencers, and gamers today with its big fan event, Call of Duty XP, which runs Friday through Sunday. It’s the biggest circus-like attraction for Call of Duty players since the first XP event was held in 2011. In some ways, Activision has to do this because it has its biggest sales pitch to players. The initial reaction to the sci-fi setting of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was mixed, as it appeared to be moving away from its modern warfare roots. Activision has to use the XP event to loudly answer the question: Is this new game still Call of Duty? (See more of our Call of Duty XP coverage here).
“The more people see of this game, the more they like it. Of course you’re correct about initial reactions,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, in an interview with GamesBeat last week. “There were a lot of assumptions at the beginning. We aimed to make this a Call of Duty game — something with the visceral authenticity and impact and pace of a Call of Duty game, all the things you expect from the franchise — just in a new theater and setting.”
He added, “The reasons to go into this new setting and time frame were really driven by gameplay innovations that the studio wanted to create. When we showed our first eight-minute playthrough of uninterrupted gameplay at E3, people started to say, ‘Okay, I get why they did this.’ We’re doing things in this game that we simply couldn’t do in a different setting that look really fun, that are new and well-executed.”
Even if the players don’t like Infinite Warfare as much as last year’s Black Ops III, Activision is also betting they’ll like the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and the Zombies co-op games that are included as bonus content. (Modern Warfare Remastered is in the Deluxe and Legacy versions, which cost more). That is brilliant marketing, and this bonus content is also a result of bigger investment. With three major studios working on Call of Duty, each studio now has three years to come up with all of the content for its turn at a launch. And Infinity Ward and Raven Software have packed plenty into this year’s version.
“We’ve had collector’s editions that have been creative and well-received. But this is taking the place of things in the past like night-vision goggles or GoPro cameras or Juggernaut refrigerators for your game room. This year we’re offering an entire remastered, beautiful version of one of the greatest games of all time,” Hirshberg said.
He added, “We’re thrilled to offer it to the community, because we do know there are people who love and appreciate that classic gameplay, and of course, it offers a way to satisfy all of our fans, no matter which style of gameplay they’re looking for. The combination of the two games is really what drove us. We have a new creative vision for Infinite Warfare paired with one of our most beloved games brought to life in a new way.”
Electronic Arts tried to steal a little thunder from Infinite Warfare by launching the open beta of Battlefield 1 earlier this week. If players are distracted playing the World War I era shooter, they may not spend as much time with Activision’s event. Meanwhile, Activision is trying to draw more eyeballs to its event by holding the Call of Duty World Championships — where a team of four players will walk away with an $800,000 grand prize — at Call of Duty XP. The esports craze is picking up big time with the huge amount of money going into the prize pools.
Battlefield 1 will get a little bit of a jump on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, as the EA game comes out on October 21 and Call of Duty arrives on November 4. EA will also try to grab a lot of the attention with Titanfall 2, which comes out on October 28 from EA and Respawn Entertainment, which was founded by former Call of Duty developers. Both EA games will get a big showing at the PAX West show this weekend, in direct competition with Call of Duty XP.
Right about now, players are figuring out where they will spend their time and money. Activision clearly has the biggest event happening this week, but EA will have the advantage of launching earlier.
While EA has two big games to offer, Activision shouldn’t feel outnumbered. After all, it is launching Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, with Modern Warfare Remastered (a full game itself with multiplayer) included in the special edition. And it shouldn’t forget to do a big sales pitch on Zombies, which is going to take a very different twist this year. That’s three games in one, and it shows just how big the stakes are in the shooter business.
Like I said, we’re all going to win. But it’s going to be fun adding up the final scorecard after this epic season of competition.