There’s no question that Call of Duty has become one of Activision’s stronger franchises. Over the past few years, with each new release, the games have sold millions of copies and become one of the biggest draws on the esports market, thanks mainly to the Call of Duty: World League, which continues to bring in hundreds of thousands of fans.
But if you asked fans this time last year what they thought of Call of Duty, they’d more than likely express disappointment. After all, it was around early May 2016 that we first caught a glimpse at the trailer for Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and fans immediately expressed their hatred for the idea of “going into space.” In fact, it instantly became one of the most hated game trailers on YouTube, if not the most hated.
This, on top of some gamers noting that the series has seen fatigue over the past few years, seemed to put a damper on Call of Duty’s overall success. Granted, Infinite Warfare wasn’t really bad at all, and the game did go on to become the top seller for the past year, though clearly not as successful as previously released games in the series.
So Activision knew it was time to take the series “back to its roots,” but the question is would it be able to recapture lightning in a bottle and make it relevant again, especially after so many years of games that didn’t quite live up to the hype, like Infinite Warfare and Ghosts? The answer, surprisingly enough, is yes, and now it appears that the company is fine-tuning the franchise for the better.
Back To World War II
Obviously, the biggest success factor that the company is looking at right now is going back to where Call of Duty initially began, with Call of Duty: WWII. The game was introduced last month to a highly expectant crowd, after weeks of promotional leaks and details seeping out, and got an immediately strong response from the community. The trailer saw a complete turn-around from Infinite Warfare’s response last year, with mostly positive feedback and thumbs-up votes on YouTube.
Part of that success comes from the determination of the team at Sledgehammer Games. The “newbie” developer for the franchise, the team had a mounting task ahead of them, and even considered, at one point, on whether to make a World War II game or a sequel to the 2014 hit Advanced Warfare. It decided to go with the former, and the results seem to be paying off in spades, with a very effective trailer (which we’ve included below) and the promise of “boots to the ground” gameplay that fans have come to expect from earlier chapters in the series – most of which can now be played on the Xbox One via backward compatibility.
The other half is Activision’s very effective advertising campaign for WWII. From the very outset, it knew that it would have to bet big on the franchise, just as it’s done with past releases, but it’s a campaign that’s clearly paid off, thanks to a live stream that was seen by millions, a trailer that’s still getting heavy traction on YouTube, and pre-order campaigns for the special editions of the game, including a free hat giveaway for GameStop pre-orders. And so far, it’s proven to work quite well, as the company has noted a steady amount of pre-orders for the game, though a certain count wasn’t given.
But while this re-invention is novel, Activision wasn’t really the first company to get it done. However, it could be the one that really gets the most traction from it.
The Beauty of Re-Invention
In the past, we’ve seen publishers attempt to rejuvenate life into their franchises by taking them into a bold new direction. Electronic Arts has been getting extremely good at this, trying to turn around its reputation after it was voted – not once, but twice – as one of the worst companies in the United States years ago.
It certainly did come back with the Battlefield franchise. After meandering the launch of Battlefield 4 years ago with lackluster multiplayer servers and a below-average story, the company worked alongside DICE to produce an unparalleled experience with Battlefield 1. Last year’s trailer reveal turned out to be quite an exciting one for the gaming community, with far more likes than Infinite Warfare ever mustered; and the general game got rave reviews, mainly for its utmost quality, addictive multiplayer (a far cry from what Battlefield 4 had), and superb gameplay, both on the ground and in the air. Even though its release was a little too close for comfort with the company’s other big holiday hit, Titanfall 2 (they were literally one week apart), it proved that a return to basics could do any franchise a bit of good. And Activision’s going through that now with Call of Duty.
Whether EA can stay on this successful path has to be seen. Some questioned the quality of Mass Effect: Andromeda, despite the fact it was still well received by the community. On the other hand, Star Wars: Battlefront II looks very good in its early state, and has a lot of promising features that could easily help it eclipse the original game come this November. EA has proven that by giving gamers what they truly want, it can benefit more greatly than sticking with something that just doesn’t work. And it seems like Activision is getting that as well.
And not only is this success proven with Call of Duty: WWII, but Activision seems to also be proving it with another game in the series. Not Infinite Warfare, but something older…
The Return Of Black Ops' Zombies
Rumors began swirling late last month that Treyarch was working on an expansion for Call of Duty: Black Ops III, in the form of Zombies Chronicles, a regathering of classic maps from its previously released games in HD remastered form. While some fans balked at its rather high price ($30, compared to the usual $15 for expansions), Activision hyped this just the right way, so not as to get in the way of WWII’s incredible momentum.
Treyarch ironed out all the details this morning, explaining what was included in the Zombies Chronicles map line-up, and when it would arrive first on PlayStation 4 (next week, by the way). Some may question why an expansion for a nearly two-year old game is needed, but it makes sense, considering that Black Ops III is still a huge best-seller for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC – even with Infinite Warfare making the rounds.
But it’s how Treyarch is advertising the map pack that’s probably the most exciting aspect. Instead of just showing the usual zombie footage that we normally see from something like this (in typical Call of Duty fashion), we were instead treated to an innovative trailer that had a little bit of story behind it, showcasing just what we could look forward to in a rather imaginative manner. It was a change of pace from the usual advertising front, and something that fans are actually getting excited over, instead of mangling with automatic dislikes. And it’s this, coupled with WWII’s amazing trailer presentation, that’s really headlining how much of a difference Activision is making with its Call of Duty push.
Yes, Infinite Warfare is still in that mix, as we have the second expansion set to arrive soon on Xbox One and PC, and two more to go over the course of the year. But Activision seems to be balancing it all out nicely, taking care of fans of not one, not two, but three entries in the series, without really treating one like the lesser. And that’s a strategy that could play out well in the long run, despite the very different tone between all three games. Now it’s just a matter of where it’ll go in the future.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Obviously, WWII will keep the main focus, and Activision will continue to push it with stellar trailers and other promos in the months ahead, while also hyping Black Ops and Infinite Warfare. As for where it goes from here, well, Treyarch has the franchise in hand next year, so it’ll probably be full speed ahead for whatever it has planned, and then it’s back to Infinity Ward. It’s just a matter of making sure the studios are on the same page in terms of giving the audience what it really wants. So far, it appears that it’s a change for the better. Now we just need to see if the publisher will keep it up.
The next few months will certainly be interesting. For now, we’re just waiting for WWII’s imminent arrival on November 3rd for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.