That’s a lot of map packs…

Nowadays I often get the feeling that the words Call of Duty are likened to a particularly nasty phrase or that one swearword that everyone feels ashamed to say in public. Most comments and chatter among hardcore enthusiasts is that Battlefield 3 will be superior and the overpriced DLC and exploitation of a franchise has made Call of Duty a place where few wish to tread. However, the fault doesn’t squarely lie at the feet of Activision because it appears no matter how much they charge, people are willing to pay.

At an investors event yesterday, Activision ceo Eric Hirshberg made a lot of attendees smile manically as he revealed a whopping 18 million map packs have been sold for Black Ops making the company a teeny bit richer. The packs sell for around $15 each so times that by 18 million and your calculator just may melt in the process. Compare that to the previous Call of Duty games and it shows how popular Black Ops has become. Treyarch’s World at War sold nine million map packs in the same amount of time as Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 sold eleven million. The former went for $10 a pop whereas from MW2 onwards, packs have become the now standard $15.

Critically, Black Ops wasn’t as loved as Modern Warfare 2 and the fact that Treyarch, thought of as the ‘B-team’ studio, worked on meant those who cared where slightly dubious of its quality. I may not have enjoyed Black Ops as much as MW2 but it was still an enjoyable game and clearly more favoured by the larger mainstream audience. Hirshberg added to his earlier claim saying how consumer engagement is at an all time high, making people think twice about brandishing the franchise as one that is on its way out:

“There are over 30 million unique players of Black Ops who collectively have amassed, incredibly, more than 2.3 billion hours of play. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than a quarter of a million years of play and that means our millions of fans spend more time per day on Black Ops multiplayer than they do on Facebook.”

So where does that leave Call of Duty? With figure like this it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The paid-for stat-tracking service, Call of Duty Elite, surpassing two million Beta registrations not to mention pre-orders of Modern Warfare 3 looking to best those of Black Ops, the fall of the FPS may be a little while yet. Not that I’d want it to. Say what you will, there’s still room in the industry for games like Call of Duty and the more choice we have of what to play the better. And if we’re pissed at high prices for DLC map packs unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame. Well, maybe not directly…

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The retailers’ battlefield

For better or worse, there are gamers and publishers who want Call of Duty to fail. They want to see the smugness disappear from Activision, they want the ‘dude bro’ gamer to find some other hobby and most definitely want to see some significant change to first person shooters. John Riccitiello and his merry band of EA would love to usurp the FPS thrown from Activision and haven’t been shy about saying so with Battlefield 3 being the best chance they have. It’s coming out before Modern Warfare 3, has a gritty real-world setting that we can relate to but feel equally heroic and features a stat-tracking service, similar to Call of Duty Elite but is free instead of paid-for.

All in all, it’s looking good and EA can’t put a foot wrong with marketing and hype – except for the unnecessarily lengthy tank level shown at their E3 press conference which quickly lost its appeal. But if there’s one thing that pisses off gamers it’s pre-order bonus that give unfair advantages to those who stump up the cash early and Battlefield 3 will be no different (via Kotaku). Customers in the UK who pre-order from either GAME or Gamestation will receive the Physical Warfare pack which includes additional weapons and ammo that are normally reserved for unlocks. This means getting them early could shift the balance from a level playing field to downright unfair for anyone not willing to pre-order.

For the UK, it’s not about money because you can freely pre-order titles without paying a penny until release and even then you’re not always obliged to buy them. But it does get a bit crappy when you think of everyone who would rather pick up the game from another retailer, not the two EA have partnered up with. They won’t be entitled to having a suped-up shotgun or flechette ammo on day one but will likely be pitted against someone who does in multiplayer. And there’s nothing that breaks a decent online mode more than feeling like you’re gimped against the opposition.

So for all the belly aching towards companies like Activision for trying to monetize features, it’s become frightfully clear that there are few companies who wouldn’t. But hey, they’re exactly that, a company so while it sucks for us, it’s now just the unfortunate reality of video games and in the grand scheme of things, will it effect whether you buy the game or not? Or rather, should it?