Call of Duty franchise is "review-proof"

Low critic scores won't harm sales, but Titanfall and Destiny may pose threat

Media reviews of the Call of Duty franchise have no impact on sales of the games, as critics become bored of analysing the latest in Activision's yearly first-person shooter release.

That's according to Doug Creutz of Cowen & Company, who notes that while Metacritic scores for Call of Duty: Ghosts are hovering around the 74 per cent mark they come too late to influence pre-orders and pre-sales figures.

"We think CoD has become such an embedded franchise that it is somewhat review-proof," he said. "We think of CoD as being like EA's Madden NFL, which continues to sell similar unit numbers year in and year out, regardless of reviews; Madden's Metacritic has ranged as low as 78 in recent years.

"Given that CoD changes only incrementally from year to year, we think reviewers have become increasingly less likely to give very high review scores due to a certain degree of ennui with the franchise."

He also suggested that Call of Duty's main competitor - EA's Battlefield 4 - "didn't exactly cover itself in glory" with an average Metacritic score of 80 per cent on Xbox 360, but again, reviews are unlikely to impact sales.

The biggest threat to Call of Duty and Battlefield's dominance is likely to come from new IP next year, with Titanfall and Destiny pretenders to the throne.

"Our concern lies more with next year, when Call of Duty will face competition from several new next-gen shooters, including EA's Titanfall and Activision's own Destiny," said the analyst.

"To the degree that Call of Duty may become a bit of a 'been there done that' experience for gamers, we think it is vulnerable to losing share as new product enters the market; even if a lot of that share goes to Destiny, as a third party title it will carry a lower margin for ATVI, and we think bullish 2014 EPS estimates assume Destiny will be more incremental than cannibalistic."

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Latest comments (15)

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters8 years ago
Games like this will probably feel the impact in future iterations. If Ghosts is average, people won't be as excited about buying the next one. The money's already been handed over for Ghosts if you pre-ordered it, so the only way to vote with your wallet is to not buy the next CoD game. It might even take a run of a few disappointing games before it makes a dent in the hype.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
they come too late to influence pre-orders and pre-sales figures.
Whilst obviously true, this is the same for many many games being released nowadays (an immediate recent example being Batman: Arkham Oranges, plagued by technical issues that were noticed by customers before ever mentioned in reviews). So, what's new? And why point it out now? (Other than it's CoD, so must be note-worthy).
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 8 years ago
It will sell with no problem. There are so many multi-player users out there that are part of clans and play the game on a daily basis that won't stop playing no matter what reviews are saying . In the end, why not make so many players happy and deliver the game they want.
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Show all comments (15)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
The influence of the press might be very finite, but the goodwill based on which player blindly buy a franchise is not infinite either. Word of mouth can only affect long term sales, so we will have to wait what the impact of this version will be. But I doubt it#s bad enough to really damage the franchise, it's just a filler version in a filler year. Old consoles still too old, new consoles with not enough user base to get Activision accounting excited for launch days.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve8 years ago
I've got to agree with the message of this article. Call of Duty hasn't differed in the quality it offers for some time now. Each year it improves just enough to justify a new title, and that's all that the fan-base want. There's no evidence to show that the titles will ever get hugely better or worse because the series has remained very consistent for years. Why would you look at a review when you know exactly what you're getting?

People have been saying the series will taper off every year (including me until I let go of what the franchise used to be in the early days), but it never does. It may not change much but it's still worthy of a AAA release with each title taken on individual merit, and that's clearly what people want otherwise they wouldn't buy it.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Thomas Actually the series has seen significant sales declines. It peaked at Modern Warfare 3, and Black Ops II sold considerably worse than Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops, and Modern Warfare 2.

Peak sales for the series are 26 million across PS360 on MW3, but Blops II capped out at 22.5 million. That's a lot of lost sales over just a year. So yes, sales decline is a serious concern for Activision. If Ghosts doesn't rebound back to higher than at least Blops II Activision will have a problem on their hands. These games are insanely expsnive to make and advertise, and they need these sales.
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Mike Wells Writer 8 years ago
Let's face it, the reviews mostly don't focus on what the multiplayer is like in the real world for the millions of real players and that is what matters most to the future of the franchise - not how daft the story of a 4-hour single-player campaign is. To review COD for that key audience you have to play it for several weeks (or longer) and that's not the schedule to which the professional reviews business works. If the experience is laggy (despite, somewhat vague, promises of dedicated servers), if the maps turn out to have exploits and glitches, if the weapons and perks (once unlocked) reveal significant imbalances, then there is an issue. And of course, it is not enough for COD to get these wrong, the pretenders to the throne have to get them right too (and Battlefield hasn't after several years of trying).
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Pete Thompson Editor 8 years ago
I've not even looked at any reviews for Ghosts yet, I do only take into account independent reviews if and when I read any though (which is not very often)..

I can't honestly see why Ghosts would get a low score. It's got a good solid campaign and it's an extremely fun game to play online with both the old and new modes.. I'd like to think that maybe future Call of Duty games will go in the direction of being developed along the same sort of lines as Bungies stunning looking Destiny IE: a single player campaign with huge story lead online battles that have drop in drop out multiplayer.. either that or a return to it's roots with a new WWII title..

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 6th November 2013 6:07pm

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Anthony Chan8 years ago
As I stated yesterday, CoD has nothing major to worry about. It is the new Madden. People who don't play any other video games will soak Ghost up, and for some reason, I feel marketing to the general population as opposed to marketing to actual gamers who care about the merits of being a great video game is a much better tactic.

Activision has the correct idea. Put enough design and content into CoD X to call it a new game - no need to redesign or revolutionize. Now hype it up across the internet, put out snazzy collector's editions, have people prepay for the DLC by selling annual passes - PROFIT!

People who say Activision needs to get it together need to explain to me why doesn't EA need to get it together with Madden X. That game has seen less change and revolution in more iterations than the history of CoD Modern Warfare/Black Ops combined. But EA really pumps out the sales for Madden in terms of sports games (in addition to their NHL line).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 6th November 2013 6:11pm

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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments8 years ago
I find it interesting that commentators are asserting both ways on the importance of the single player campaign - some feel it doesn't matter, as the multiplayer is the core of the game, while others feel it's significant as, they claim, a large proportion of players never actual get into the multiplayer component.

Would be useful to see some numbers either way.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
Would be useful to see some numbers either way.
Multi-format stats will be tricky (if not downright impossible), sadly, but Steam's Concurrent/Peak stats reveal something about the PC player-base:

Current Peak
35,618 36,901 Call of Duty: Ghosts - Multiplayer
10,148 13,831 Call of Duty: Ghosts
Taken at a little before 9pm, GMT.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 6th November 2013 8:53pm

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Franchises do not last for ever. And they have to be refreshed and reinvented just to survive. Complacency whilst at the top is the enemy. But Kotick knows this better than I do. You can cruise and mint money for one iteration but abuse your customers and they will desert you.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bruce Everiss on 6th November 2013 11:54pm

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Sasha Yelesin Student 8 years ago
To the idea that Titanfall or Destiny can challenge CoD, I have to say: no way. They're brand new IP's with no dedicated fan base. Some people might buy them because of the developer, but not all gamers playing CoD, a game that's been around seemingly forever, know who Respawn is made up of or care about Bungie. They'll still probably sell well if reviews are good. Maybe they'll hit Borderlands success. But even my grandma has heard of Call of Duty. Those that don't follow games have no idea what Destiny is or the talent behind Titanfall. Only CoD can dethrone itself.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
Only CoD can dethrone itself.
Well said Sasha. Reminds me of when each new Killzone use to be touted as a "Halo killer". Finally one reviewer got it right when saying that the only Halo killers were the newest versions of Halo. And the same can be applied to COD. Battlefield will continue to sell well and Titanfall and Destiny will both also do well for new IP. But the only property that can defeat COD is COD themselves. As I said in the other article, COD has been a pop culture phenomenon for many years now and it has way too many dedicated fans to be seriously challenged by any other shooter any time soon.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Its only review proof because alot of people that play COD, barely play other games. Im not even sure if to call them gamers. They just play COD.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 7th November 2013 6:28pm

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