There’s a disturbing new trend that’s only a year old among video games. And it was caused by one game: Modern Warfare 2. It was probably the most advertised, hyped, and all around pushed game releases of all time. In November, you couldn’t watch any television channel without seeing at least three commercials. And boy did it seem amazing. “Like a playable movie!” That was the usual claim. And they conveniently showed only parts of the game that were different from the usual stand and shoot fare. But the game came out, shattered every conceivable record (except maybe slowest selling game of all time) and seemingly everyone you knew played it. And the reviews were unanimous. After doing some research, the lowest scores the game received were in the 80’s (out of 100), and those were for the PC version. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were consistently in the mid-90’s. It was a good game. But was it as great as the reviewers claimed. It was similar to Call of Duty 4, the game before, but improved on the gameplay. The plot was a little questionable, and the online has been in steady decline, but it still sells surprisingly fast. And why? The game’s good, most would say great, but if it was an unrelated game to Call of Duty, would it sell so well? Undoubtedly no. It sold so well because we were told it would. All the advertising, every mention of it, all claimed it would be the greatest shooter of all time (my words, just summarizing). For all intents and purposes, the advertising was based purely off the success of the prequel. It could’ve been terrible, but it still would’ve sold in the millions. And even with the broken multiplayer, it still sells copies. And then Activision, the publisher, released two downloadable sets of multiplayer maps. Each came with only a handful of new arenas (four to five). And gamers had the privilege of shelling out $15 for each set. That’s upwards of $3 a map. There was only one map pack for Call of Duty 4. It was $10 when it first came out (the console version, anyway). It had four pretty much brand new maps (one was redesigned from an earlier game). Now, in the two map packs for MW2, four maps are completely untouched arenas from Call of Duty 4, which still has an online community. Gamers are being charged for maps that can still be played for remarkably less money. The first DLC pack (downloadable content) broke Xbox Live records for number of downloads. In the first week, over 2,000,000 people downloaded it. That’s not to mention that another set of maps is on the way, more than likely at the $15 mark. Figure in the extra thirty dollars, and most gamers paid $90 for Modern Warfare 2. Eventually, it’ll be $105. For a single game, and for the half of it that’s already been hacked and cheated to death. Now Activision is trying to institute a pay-to-play fee. This is in addition to online subscription fees (Xbox Live only), which run about $50 a year. That’s ridiculous. The reason gamers pay for Xbox Live is to play online. And now this money-grabbing company is trying to squeeze even more money out of them, of us. But according to Activision, they surveyed gamers and found that most of them would pay for the extra privilege. Why? Most game reviewers even noted that the map packs weren’t that good a value in the first place. So why would you pay more than you are now for nothing more? The Activision CEO even said that gamers were “clamoring” for a chance to pay more for their precious game. Who in their right mind would “clamor” to pay more money that they don’t have to right now? Because he said so. Because the ads said so. Because their friends said so. It’s a disturbing new trend in video games: flash over substance. If you hype something enough, it’ll sell well regardless of if it’s any good. And it doesn’t just sell well. It’ll destroy records. If you play it alongside Call of Duty 4, it just isn’t up to the same quality, at least not online. MW2 could’ve been a one-level campaign with subpar multiplayer, and it still would’ve sold. Why? It’s based on exaggeration and the success of its predecessor. If the public is told that a game will beat all expectations, they’ll believe the advertising. Some game websites agree that it’s a frightening idea. Just do some searching. Another Call of Duty is coming out this year (big surprise). And it’s preorder numbers already beat Modern Warfare 2’s. The only reason: because of MW2. Since that game was so over-hyped as the greatest game, they expect the next to be even better. While I can’t say anything about the new game’s quality, I know it’s not going to be a copy-cat of MW2. MW2 wasn’t a bad game. It’s horribly unbalanced now, but it’s a million-dollar-no-end-in-sight-seller. The CEO of Activision has entire pages of quotes in which he openly admits he wants ever last dime out of gamers. At one point, he was asked the DLC’s expense. He said “if it were up to me, I’d charge more.” Activision is even holding the developers, Infinity Ward, hostage by with-holding half their profits until they make Modern Warfare 3. I can't make this up. Obviously there's a legal battle raging somewhere, but it's still one of the most ludicrous moves I've ever heard of. Money, while obviously important to the game industry, is overtaking quality. And it’s a sad sign of the times to come. Again, the CEO said that some dropped franchises (Ghostbusters, several Blizzard titles) were cut because he couldn’t “exploit” (his own word) them every year for more cash. It’s the end of my Call of Duty until someone steps in to balance the scales to the gamers. As it stands, Activison is already mugging us for every last cent. We don’t have much more to give.
Activision: For the Love of Money
August 17, 2010