The Call of Duty Effect – What Is It and How Can We Stop It

Before you grab your torches and pitchforks, let me make it clear that is post has nothing to do with putting the Call of Duty series down. It’s merely used as a metaphor for something that I consider to be a greater problem in the gaming industry, so read on to catch my drift.

In the world of gaming we see plenty of games in all genres with all kinds of varying characters, themes, storylines, and gameplay mechanics – or at least we think we do. Relatively recently, as in within the past couple of years, I have seen a shift in creativity among game developers, and not the good kind of shift. Developers are buckling down to make more and more money on each game release, that is the name of the game (no pun intended) and quite a few big name developers and publishers are following this business model. Instead of creating new games with refreshing new features, developers are trying to appeal to larger crowds in an attempt to sell more units and make more money. This has greatly affected the survival horror genre, for example, as AAA developers have pushed their games in more of an action-based direction (which is the bigger consumer market) such as with Resident Evil and Dead Space series’.

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I have dubbed this recent and recurring phenomenon the “Call of Duty Effect” due to the fact that the Call of Duty franchise continues to blow sales right out of the water, inspiring others to follow suit. The Call of Duty series remains wildly popular even though they release games annually with little deviation to the general game outside of a couple new features and improved graphics (sometimes). It’s a trend that is damaging the gaming industry at this point, in my opinion. Many developers seem to be scared to think outside of the box and create games that are original in both storyline and gameplay, or any other aspect really. They want to make games that sell and knowing that the Call of Duty franchise sells causes them to follow in the footsteps of more successful developers (money-wise) and hold back on innovation.

A lot of game developers have broken through the “Call of Duty Effect” by creating new, original games with innovative aspects. These games include Bioshock Infinite with its greatly in-depth and detailed storyline and The Last of Us with its fresh take on the post-apocalyptic world. These games received great reviews and stole the hearts of gamers around the world, yet other developers seem to have a hard time following that example, creating the same humdrum games over and over again. This brings me to other major aspect of “The Call of Duty Effect” – game reviews and their impact on gamers.Gamememe1

Gamers read reviews and base their opinions of the game off of them, which can be both good and bad. Reviewers hold way more power than I think they realize. They have the ability to make or break a game in the eyes of the consumers through a simple number attached to a synopsis of the game and it’s mechanics. Some great games have received mediocre or negative reviews due to obscure developers or reviewer opinion which in turn caused a certain group of people to brush these games off and play other, more positively reviewed games. This makes a problem when big name reviewers become bias, as most are, and review games poorly by comparing them to their favorite games. Consumers tend to lose sight of the fact that reviews are based on opinion, and that goes for all reviews. Reviews are written by humans, and humans base anything they rate or score off of some amount of personal thought or opinion. It is impossible for them not to be opinionated and it’s not a bad thing until people let these reviews influence them more than they should.

Reviews are meant to give gamers some basic information and opinions about the game in order to educate but should in no way be a determining factor on whether or not to buy/play a game. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a person become super excited about a game then never purchase it due to less that spectacular reviews that they weren’t expecting. If you want a game, go get it! Don’t let someone else who you don’t even know make the decision for you. This all comes back to the “Call of Duty Effect” as Call of Duty games typically receive positive scores from big time reviewers, setting some kind of invisible standard for many other games. For some reason a select set of reviewers compare every first person shooter, or even third person shooter, to Call of Duty which is not fair. I hope at this point you catch my drift, so let’s get into what we the consumer can do to counteract the “Call of Duty Effect”.

CoDmeme1For one we can express our interests in innovative new games in mature ways on social media websites and online video game forums. Saying “Capcom are a bunch of morons for making Resident Evil 6 more action-based” helps no one since the game is already made and the condescending tone causes the comment to lose credibility. Having a blog (such as the one you are reading now) or posting on game company message boards/Facebook/Twitter in a mature and intelligent way can help. You’d be surprised by how many companies and individual developers actually look at their own message boards and Twitter/Facebook feeds. They want to hear our feedback in order to make their next game better.

We can also do the simple thing and “vote” with our minds and our money. While the Call of Duty games may be great, stop buying them over and over again if you just think they are the same as past games in the series. I know I am not the only one who hears people say they are tired of Call of Duty being the same every year yet they consistently buy the game. I’m not saying to boycott that franchise per say, but if the lack of innovation bothers you then do something about it. Stop letting reviewers decide what you buy or what you don’t buy, stop giving in to the Call of Duty type games, and use your own free will to make game purchase decisions.. After all, it is your money that you are spending, spend it wisely.

I hope that with the next generation of video game consoles comes a plethora of fresh new ideas. They say that one new change can lead to many more so I am hopeful. We have already seen a few new games announced at E3, GamesCom, and other gaming conventions that have taken place this year. These games include (but are not limited to) The Order: 1886, The Division, Titan Fall, Ryse, and Destiny. Maybe these games will break the “Call of Duty Effect” and bring about a new era of innovative ideas. Indie games are also a great way to get some originality, currently and in the future, and they tend to be less bound by sales and more bound by variation as far as general design and story goes.

What do you think are some other ways to counteract the “Call of Duty Effect” from a consumer standpoint? What are your hopes for the future of gaming? Let your voice be heard!

14 thoughts on “The Call of Duty Effect – What Is It and How Can We Stop It

  1. I’ve said this before; yet it’s unfair to slander Mario, Zelda, etc. because they don’t come out every year. They take their time.
    CoD is still a mindless and soulless game with the only intent is to release the next game before the previous DLCs are out so you are on a constant shopping spree and abuse you for your money. THis tells other companies that it’s ok to just repaint maps and release them – maybe even for DLC. As good as I am at these games, I sure have a lot of contempt. Even the campaign of them, what is the point? They are just brainless point-and-click games. I remember playing Metroid Prime 2: Echos when it first came out and I COULD NOT beat it. Fast forward years later and I beat it, but it was one hell of a ride, and even still. It set the atmosphere, it brought p challenges, and it even isolated new things so you could learn them in a controlled environment before introducing other more complex things. I’m comparing Cod to another game that is an FPS, because it is. The only sense of accomplishment I have ever gotten from a CoD Campaign is when I finally get passed a lame checkpoint in Veteran mode – which I will never touch again.

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  2. interesting, but i don’t think you can counter “the call of duty effect” Ubisoft already publicly announced that they are only interested in Franchises. Call of Battlefield will never stop until people stop buying them and on that note, i think that will happen, people will eventually stop buying those same generic games which will force developers into making something new and unique, so that they can milk that into the ground next, It’s just a phase. We are a bunch of dumb sheep at times.

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    • The same can be said about the Assassin’s Creed Franchise. It’s generally the same thing every year. Part 4 is doing some things different but the core gameplay itself is the same. The Witcher, thankfully is it’s own game, I highly enjoy Dragon Age, Mass Effect, part 2 was a huge step up from part 1 in every way. The gameplay in the first Mass Effect game is in my opinion the only thing that held it down, when they fixed that I was great. Games like Call of Duty will always be around because people always buy them. I stopped buying Call of Duty games after the first Modern Warfare game.

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      • Exactly Drakulus23, it’s not just CoD, a lot of other game franchises do the same thing. The worst part is that people actually buy them over and over. If the game is improved upon like the ME series then it makes sense and I don’t think it’s inherently bad to have sequels, but when they are literally the same game then it’s annoying and useless.

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      • I know and it’s aggravating to be honest. We’re missing out on great games because people are used to buying the same crap every year. Of Orcs and Men wasn’t an amazing game by any means but I loved playing through. It didn’t sell well because non of the big companies did a decent review on the game. Same thing for games like Rise Of the Argonauts.Reviewers scare potential customers away from games by giving them low scores. Meanwhile games like Call Of Duty gets a 9/10 almost every time they come out. I see GTA V is already getting it’s share of 10’s too.

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  3. This is a great post with a lot I agree and some I disagree.

    I don’t think buying Call of Duty after Call of Duty is a big issue, nor do I think it is the biggest problem. For me, the bigger issue is that we have fewer and fewer major publishers while AAA titles have gotten incredibly expensive to produce. In other words, it is better to maximize your return on a couple of massively marketable titles than it is to really diversity or experiment.

    While buying Call of Duty or Madden or any mass marketed title over and over does, in a way, cast a vote, you aren’t going to reach enough people to upset the status quo by just not buying it. We’ve already reached a point where AAA budgets are so big that they will only ever be used to make these sorts of games.

    I think the better course of action is to invest more in smaller studios, publishers, crowdfunding, etc. That’s where gaming’s true creative core rests, anyway, so if you want passion and freshness, that’s the vanguard of it all. We thankfully live in an age where it is far easier to bypass the publisher entirely to help bring to life exactly the sorts of games we want as niche demographics.

    That may not help to prevent Dragon Age II syndrome, but give it a couple more years, and we may have a new middle ground where larger companies return to funding slightly smaller, slightly more niche titles alongside their gigantic megahits.

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    • I understand your point about having fewer AAA publishers, there are only a handful and they tend to be associated with rehashed games and sequels rather than anything new at this point, mostly since they do make more money off of those games. I do think that not buying these helps though, even if it’s in a really small way over a long period of time. That may just be my optimism shining through, but I believe that even the smallest drop of water can one day turn into a waterfall.

      By investing in smaller studios do you mean like backing kickstarters and purchasing games from these companies or something else? If that is what you meant then I totally agree, that is a great way to get more creative minds and games out there in the market. I tend to support a lot of indie titles too since they are usually a lot of fun and really creative. It would be great to see big time companies work harder on funding smaller developers in the future 🙂

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  4. Anyone who didn’t see the action-oriented direction RE was trending towards has not been paying attention for the last 15 years. It’s not their fault really, I think survival horror games just aren’t meant to be sequelized. The demon you know tends to be a whole lot less frightening than one you don’t.

    I’m hoping that with the more familiar x86 architecture present in both new consoles we’ll see development costs decrease. Ports between the Xbox, PS4, and PC should be a lot easier. Who knows, maybe gamers will stop being so whiny about monetization via DLC.

    I believe CoD already hit it’s apex and the downward spiral will only worsen if they continue releasing the game every year. Vivendi was trying to sell Activision, last I heard.

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    • I agree about the RE series, but at the same time one of the devs did actually say that they wanted it to seel more copies like Call of Duty (he actually referenced the CoD series) which is a mainly why I brought them up. I do think that series has been going downhill for awhile though, even though it’s one of my favorite game series’. I have gotten past it’s flawas and learned to work around them, which isn’t exactly a good thing.

      From what I hear, the survival-horror genre is generally unprofitable which is why there are so few AAA survival horror games. It’s one of my favorite genres, so that always makes me a little sad. But yes, sequelized survival-horror does kill the mood and make the games less frightening. They just aren’t really made for 6+ games in a single series haha. I’m glad that a lot of indie developers have taken to making some really great survival-horror games, though. It’s nice to still have some great ones out there!

      I really hope your right about development costs and whatnot. It would really be nice to see more games and more original games at that. I too am getting tired of people whining about DLC, so I hope that changes real soon. I’m thinking that we will see a big change with the next generation. A slow change, of course, but in time I think it will be a lot different and in a good way.

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  5. My comment is so late to this post, it’ll probably never be seen by more than a hand full, but the Operation Flashpoint titles for consoles went very well for me. Dragon Rising was amazing in my opinion. Red River wasn’t as good, but I still preferred it over COD or Battlefield by far. Anyway, the most relevant thing about those games is that OFp Red River was another case of a developer guy straight up saying he wanted to sell better like COD and appeal to that juvenile garbage’s fans by dumbing things down and making it more arcadey. I remember him saying they didn’t have the resources or the drive to go in a true milsim direction. I wonder if that was accurate or if it was just him feeling that way. But they failed to compete with the garbage, so the studio place for it was shut down.

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