Is Call of Duty’s success leading to more accessible games?

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2’s success has been staggering. Even with all of the troubles the game has seen over the past five months, Infinity Ward servers have been filled to the tune of 25 million unique players, logging in and playing, what has turned into the most popular first person shooter of all time. With Modern Warfare 2’s unrivaled success there seems to be a strong theme in today’s game development.

Looking to capture that same magic formula that the guys and gals over at Infinity Ward have bottled, which balances accessibility, and game play. For the majority Modern Warfare 1 and 2 were both really accessible to all levels of gamers, and it’s pretty clear that this accessibility leads to big sales numbers.  What is  unclear is whether these changes in the majority of mainstream games in development  are a byproduct of Infinity Ward’s successes, or if the growing popularity of games, over many different classes of players, has just further confirmed what we all knew was coming.

As developers and publishers struggle to recuperate both development and marketing costs, which have grown to astronomical heights in recent years, the games that they make must be able to reach all of types of gamers. While Call of Duty has never been considered by most gamers as a “hardcore” game, two upcoming and established franchises have taken the approach and revamped their entire systems to try and walk the line, in an attempt to get the best of both worlds in both game play and in sales, while staying true to the fans that got them their in the first place.

It’s pretty clear that this accessibility leads to big sales numbers.

Splinter Cell Conviction once regarded a hardcore stealth title,  is not the first title to go down this road.  The development team has been quite vocal about the changes to the franchise, and the reasons behind them. They know who their audience is. They also know that they are trying to expand their customer base by adding and subtracting game play elements that they believe will bring them to a good equilibrium. In a recent interview with Industry Gamers Max Beland of Ubisoft Montreal spoke on the matter.” I think it’s a subject that is very touchy right now because as an industry we want to grow. We need to stop making games that are super hardcore,” and ” We’re afraid because we don’t want to lose the hardcore people! At the same time, it’s a challenge to find a balance and make your game appealing to all.”

The team at Ubisoft Montreal is in a predicament because of the genre that they are in with Splinter Cell Conviction, and the fact that the series has had so many installments that precede it. It really makes significant game play changes like the mark and execute stand out like a sore thumb to the hardcore, or loyal fans of the series, that have seen the franchise all the way through.  With Splinter Cell Conviction though it’s not all about the game play elements, as much as it some un-included game modes.  Game Director for the Cooperative game play modes for Splinter Cell Conviction also was quoted in an interview as saying that ” Spies vs. Mercs was one of those modes that if you weren’t among the people that started playing it within the first few days it was really really hardcore and really hard to breach into.  As much as I understand where those people are coming from, they need to be willing to share some of the fun with a larger group of gamers that want to play Splinter Cell and want to play it in a multi player form as well.”

Which would be fine if this wasn’t something that has been apart of the game from it’s very beginnings.  The mathematics of the situation in Splinter Cell seem to add up.  The franchise will likely gain more new gamers from the switch in direction towards action and accessibility, than they will lose from fans that are no longer interested in the title.  Other high profile titles are trying to expand their Reach as well and that’s no pun intended.

Some recent debate has been stirred up by Bungie when they released their latest developments for the multi player aspects of the upcoming Halo Reach. The Player Investment features of the game also underlined a small point that true skill and rankings will no longer be an aspect of Halo multi player, and competitive players will be fragmented from the casual gamers with their feature known as The Arena. Many cases have been made recently for the fact that true skill actually made Halo 2 and Halo 3 the hardcore FPS that it was.  By being either forced to get better to compete with players at your true skill, or be bumped down, the traditional Halo true skill truly made Halo the most competitive multi player in it’s class.

The problem is, not everyone is good enough to get to the top of the food chain

The problem is, not everyone is good enough to get to the top of the food chain. Which is where the comparisons of the new leveling and reward systems come into play between Halo Reach and Modern Warfare 2. Call of Duty rewards players and keeps them playing in their own fashion with prestige, very similar to the Player Investment model that Bungie is implementing.  Though Bungie seems to be taking the stance of making drastic changes that affect both everyone and no one as they aren’t just taking away from the equation, but have looked to make it better for all.

Now, I’m not quite sure where I stand on this point.  But reading the tea leaves, seeing the length of games recently, difficulty levels falling , and the clear direction and audience that most developers are trying to reach, it seems like we are heading towards games being geared to a casual audience period. Not in the sense of Wii casual but in the sense of less genres. Less distinct characteristics that have traditionally made games great.  Movie like experiences that are played on a rail, with great production value on the aesthetic features of the titles. This does make sense being that a game developers one solitary goal is to reach as many people as possible. Take Final Fantasy XIII for example.  I loved the game.  But I can remember many times where I was just mashing one button without even thinking about it.  Come to think of it there was a ton of that.

God of War III, another prime example of a title that dazzles in the visual department taking gamers to a new level of innovation and design, but kind of falls short in the game play department.  You can take a look at almost every big budget title to be released in the last year with few exceptions, these titles were designed with the casual audience in mind and for good reason.  They are big budget titles and “hardcore’ gamers are the minority in this burgeoning industry. There was a time when every game was innovative and almost all gamers were considered hardcore, because gamers were the minority.

The problems is more and more people use gaming as an entertainment source, directly competing with watching television or movies. I mean how many people would watch television if it were difficult or challenging.  Not many. So, you can’t deny that the overwhelming success of a game like Modern Warfare 2 shines a spotlight on what made that game do so well and developers try to emulate it, or incorporate the strategy, in some shape form or fashion going forward.  Especially since it seems to be working… very well. This isn’t even taking into consideration that the number one console and games sold this generation belong to what many describe as the casual market.   Though for every one of these games that I listed in this article there’s a Bayonetta or Bad Company, the problem is, these games keeping winding up far behind in sales.

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