Love it or loathe it, Call of Duty is an important cog in any console’s catalogue. The series may have peaked in popularity with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 still managed to rake in a cool $1 billion in just 15 days on the market – an impressive sum for a series that’s supposedly on the dip. As such, regardless of whether it manages to break the records of its predecessors, the just-announced Call of Duty: Ghosts is almost certain to be one of the biggest games of the year. So, it’s problematic for Sony that Microsoft appears to have dibs on the title for the time being.
We’re not privy to any of the behind-the-scenes negotiations, of course, but the fact that the first footage of the title is set to debut during Microsoft’s event sends a pretty big message. The flush manufacturer has a history of positioning itself alongside the first-person franchise, having secured timed exclusive map packs and advertising bumpers for the previous four Call of Duty titles. That trend is almost certain to continue well into the next generation, which could prove to be a big blow to the PlayStation 4.
Merely securing the first footage of the title at its own reveal event is a smart move by the Redmond-based organisation. Thus far, the build up to the firm’s impending announcement party has been somewhat tepid, with the company’s dreary invites and quiet commentary failing to whip up the same frenzy as Sony’s shock ‘See the Future’ trailer. Its cosy relationship with Call of Duty, however, will add an extra layer to the event’s importance, with viewers not only tuning into see the next Xbox, but also the next Call of Duty, too.
And as far as the mainstream media’s concerned, it’s that big name that’s going to matter most. Sony may have brought a robust offering of internal titles to its own press conference, but Killzone or inFAMOUS will never carry the same clout as a series that‘s frequently topping the software charts. Microsoft may be struggling with its own first-party department, but all that it really needs to do is convince the market that it will offer the natural home for Call of Duty and it will win plenty of mindshare among casual consumers and fans of the franchise.
The real worry for Sony, though, is that such mindshare snowballs. Early adopters picking up a console this Christmas will influence the purchasing habits of their friends in 2014, and while it’s a good thing that the PS4’s actually going to be around to compete this time, a few smart third-party partnerships could quite easily undermine all of the platform holder’s strides. Architectural improvements and accommodating publication practices may appeal to enthusiasts, but the mainstream market is unlikely to care for such improvements, with most casual consumers likely to favour the format that feels like the natural home for the Call of Duty games.
We suppose that the silver-lining for Sony is that the first-person franchise has always sold well on the PlayStation 3, irrespective of exclusivity arrangements. The Xbox 360 has certainly enjoyed the lion’s share of the series’ sales, but there’s perhaps more to the franchise’s success on the system than cross-marketing deals. The cost of the console, for example – which has been consistently cheaper than the PS3 – may have contributed to the property establishing such a strong install base on Microsoft’s machine. These are details that are still yet to be shared for the next generation, and if the PS4 can somehow undercut its unannounced counterpart, it may not matter if the hardware has access to additional content and map packs a month in advance.
But it’s still a headache. We already know that Sony’s system will boast exclusive content for Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Destiny, so it seems clear that the platform holder is willing to play Microsoft at its own game. However, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of the Call of Duty franchise, which has repeatedly established itself as one of the biggest brands in the entertainment sector. There’s still a long road ahead before the next generation systems arrive, but Xbox’s ongoing alignment with the blockbuster series will almost certainly pit the PS4 against a steep incline.
Do you think that Call of Duty will continue to prove a strong coup for Microsoft moving into the next generation? What do you think that Sony can do to counter the series’ association with the Xbox brand? Let us know in the comments section below.