Opinion: EA Found Its Call of Duty Killer, and Committed a Titanic Mistake
Posted by Sammy Barker
Bracing for a fall
To say that EA is obsessed with Call of Duty would be an understatement. The publisher has been desperately trying to pick off Activision’s multiformat cash cow ever since Infinity Ward – a studio originally made up of Medal of Honor veterans, we hasten to add – changed the entire first-person arena one poorly balanced perk at a time. It’s tossed more money at the problem than a small nation’s military department, even attempting to resurrect the abovementioned brand via the now defunct Los Angeles-based developer Danger Close. However, as rumours perpetuate that Dead Space studio Visceral Games is preparing a police-themed Battlefield spin-off in order to counter ex-employee Glen Schofield’s next-gen focused CoD sequel, it’s hard not to fire a wry smile in the Californian company’s general direction, because it already has the ammunition to bring down Captain Price and crew – it’s just missed the target entirely.
Given the overwhelmingly positive press and public hype surrounding Titanfall, it’s clear that Respawn Entertainment’s inaugural outing is shaping up to be a colossal success on a scale even larger than its titular mechs. It’s not an enormous surprise either, seeing as this is the debut deployment from a developer that single-handedly shaped the state of the shooter as we recognise it today. For those out of the loop, the Sherman Oaks studio is fronted by Vince Zampella, the very same executive that helped to found Infinity Ward and subsequently played a significant role in the construction of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Having been caught dallying with the antagonist, the series creator was dismissed from his role at Activision in 2010, and subsequently signed a contract with EA Partners, bringing a majority of his team along for the ride.
Ignore the almost incestuous game of industry musical chairs, though, and you’ll eventually get to the crux of our point: the pivotal players behind Call of Duty’s rise through the ranks are now batting for the other team. It may be a corporate seminar cliché, but you need the best in order to beat the best, and we daresay that Zampella’s signature etched an enormous smile across the stony features of then chief executive John Riccitiello. However, given recent events, we’d be surprised if that wide grin of old hasn’t been replaced by despondent chagrin across the youthful chops of newly recruited Australian overlord Andrew Wilson, as somehow the North American publisher has managed to squander its chance of squashing Activision’s record breaking brand. Well, for the time being, at least.
“Have you seen Titanfall?” an increasingly flustered Larry ‘Major Nelson’ Hryb told a pretty pink haired presenter while wearing an outrageous headdress at E3 last summer. Microsoft used the first-person shooter as a barrier against its abhorrent DRM policies, pointing to the product’s exclusivity as an example of why consumers should put up, shut up, and pick up an Xbox One. However, contrary to what the company wanted you to believe, the game wasn’t a true exclusive in the sense of the word at the time – a trait that remained true even when you ignored the overlooked Xbox 360 and PC iterations of the release. “[A PS4 version] is definitely not out of the question,” lead artist Joel Emslie told Eurogamer.net last summer. So-called industry insiders claim that the port was even in the preliminary stages of production.
That all changed last October when a weak EA was clearly wooed by a lorry loaded with Redmond cash. Nonchalantly announced during a dreary investors meeting, the publisher emphasised in a roundabout way that Respawn Entertainment’s shooter would stay exclusive to Microsoft’s system for the “life” of the release. Even the abovementioned Vince Zampella seemed surprised, taking to Twitter to console irate fans about the nature of the reveal. “Always exclusive at launch,” he stressed. “EA made a deal for the rest, we only found out recently.” The suit ended that message with a frown that pointed towards the ground, evidencing his displeasure at the money driven decision. Speculation suggests that the original contract was only scheduled to last for twelve months at most, meaning that the title would end up everywhere by 2015.
While it’s easy to applaud the shrewd business conducted by Xbox executives, though, it’s impossible to ignore the idea that EA may have made a mistake. Chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen insinuated earlier this year that the deal was signed based upon its internal projections of the current console war – and that it assumed that Microsoft’s machine would come out on top. However, statistics show that Sony is pulling ahead at an alarming rate with the PlayStation 4, exceeding sales in the region of 5.3 million with stock shortages still rife. NPD data adds that the Japanese manufacturer is even outperforming its nearest rival in North America, a nation which its competitor targeted specifically at launch. As a result, Titanfall is going to miss out on a massive chunk of the next-gen market.
There’s no doubt that the publisher was probably rewarded handsomely for the compromise, but this all brings us back to our original point: EA is obsessed with beating Call of Duty. We’ll never know whether the exclusivity has accelerated the hype surrounding Respawn Entertainment’s first-person shooter, but given the earnest amount of praise being pointed at the parkour inspired escapade for pure gameplay purposes, we suspect that the anticipation would be even greater if the title was tapping into the bigger next-gen install base to boot. Of course, the release is still going to perform exceptionally well, of that we have no doubt – but without the breadth of the PlayStation brand to catapult it to cosmic levels of success, it seems certain that Call of Duty is going to remain the king of the genre for now. The unfortunate news for the multiplatform publisher is that it’s going to have to endure at least another two years before it gets a second shot at ending its adversary’s killstreak.
Do you agree that EA misjudged the market with Titanfall, or do you think that the title’s exclusivity has actually improved the profile of the game? Are you hopeful that the shooter’s inevitable sequel will fire its way onto the PS4, or do you think that Microsoft will find a way to lock the franchise down? Burn our card in the comments section below.
Do you think EA made a mistake with Titanfall’s exclusivity? (111 votes)
Yes, the game would be absolutely huge on PS4
Hmm, I’m not sure
No, the release will still do really well regardless
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