Thursday, November 11, 2010

Editorial: Just Why Is Call of Duty So Popular?

I haven't done an editorial for a while, and it got to me. Call of Duty: Black Ops has just released on all three major platforms and PC, and I wondered why this series was so popular. Then a thread on NeoGAF popped up asking the same question. "It's just fun" isn't a reliable answer. Why is it fun? What makes the game more enjoyable and selling more than something like Halo? (Obviously Halo is exclusive to one system while Call of Duty is not.) Let's try to figure this out in my latest editorial.

Call of Duty is a massive franchise in the Western video game world. There's no secret about that. Every year it seems like a new CoD comes out, and it destroys sales records of its predecessors. To the untrained eye, it would seem like the series was just new missions with the same old gameplay. Perhaps that could be the case, but is there some better reason why millions upon millions of people play the Call of Duty franchise?

Call of Duty is no doubt popular with fraternities and the demographic of males 18-35. How many voices online are that of these people shouting "Ooh-rah" into the mic, cursing out others, and being overly aggressive in their playing? Quite a few is the answer. This demographic is one of the keys to Call of Duty's popularity. That isn't to say that's all the people who play this epic franchise. You can bet though that the majority of people playing Call of Duty are that of the-- I hate this term-- fratcore.

Another explanation to the success of Call of Duty could be attributed to the ease of playing. Even a casual gamer who plays games every now and then can jump in (no reference to the Xbox 360 intended) and mow down Nazis or whatever enemy of the year there is for that installment. The generous number of checkpoints, different difficulties to choose from, and how easy it is to take enemy soldiers down makes for an easy experience for a casual gamer to have a good time. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. More hardcore players can choose a more challenging difficulty if they so desire. Still, it's very easy to take down enemy soldiers and feel like an American marine, navy man, or army soldier in the process. Perhaps that's a reason.

Something else that caught my attention was the multi-player. You gain experience from doing tasks such as kills, kill streaks, k/d ratios, and so forth. The littlest things give the player experience, and with this experience it feels like you're being rewarded for doing the simplest tasks. This system is so popular other FPSes have been using it to reward their players. By gaining enough experience, you gain levels. Levels award the player with new perks, weapons, and abilities, so playing for hours on end just to reach level 25 isn't a big pipe dream to most players. Is it this simplicity of being rewarded for simple tasks a reason for the series being so popular?

Finally, there's one big elephant in the room to broach about. Advertising and marketing. If you think Kinect is overmarketed, you haven't seen a Call of Duty ad campaign. Countless commercials airing on all the major networks that people ages 18-35 would watch. There's your Spike TV, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, ESPN, among others. Each release is treated like some godly event that if you miss out, you'll hate yourself for the rest of your life. The point is, Call of Duty gets a lot of TV time. It gets billboards on the sides of buses, ads in magazines, and so much more. Is this the reason the games are so popular?

My conclusion is that not one of these is the reason the Call of Duty franchise is so popular. Instead, I choose ALL of these answers as my reason why. Call me a gutless coward for not finding the exact reason, just don't call me Shirley. While I haven't played every Call of Duty game, I do find the series enjoyable if not a bit shallow. If people love this series, who am I to tell them to stop liking it? Hopefully future iterations of the franchise change things up quite a bit and don't become complacent. Aw, who am I kidding? This is Activision the company that killed three of their brands due to complacency! Oh, that was a close one!

Why do YOU think Call of Duty is so popular of a series? Let me know in the comments section.

1 comment:

coffeewithgames said...

Word-of-mouth is another reason, along with the advertising I think.

Friends say, "I'm getting Black Ops on the PS3(or Wii/360), are you getting it?" And if people hear that enough, it can be a motivating factor.

I think the multi-player is another factor for sure, as probably the majority of gamers that buy it, hop online before even trying the single-player campaign these days.

The difficulty is one of those things that's definitely interesting, as the lower levels are difficult enough, to still make the levels fun...but the Veteran difficulty setting, is absolutely insane!

I think perhaps the reason the Call of Duty series has sold so well, is because of the hype leading up to the games, and the fact friends just want to play together, and Call of Duty gets their money instead of other FPS games.

If we ever know the real reason...let me know, and we'll start programming right away!