bright future ahead

For the first time in a long time, I feel enthusiastic about the immediate future of gaming – at least, that is, for the next year or so.

I’ve been pretty vocal on this site about my distaste for the dull, mass-produced AAA clones that are coming out of publishers these days, a whole lot of the same without much interest in originality or innovation.

But, I’m cautiously optimistic that there’s an actual shift happening right now.

It all started, I think, with Call of Duty: Ghosts.

That’s the point where I believe Activision’s Call of Duty money reactor reached critical mass, and people started to stand up and be heard. More importantly, they started to be dissatisfied.

I can almost hear you all snorting derisively into your coffee – gamers dissatisfied? That’s been a mainstay for the last decade. We’re the hardest to please people in the world, and nothing is ever good enough.

Sure, for the internet trolls and the online petitioners and the angry forumites, nothing ever WILL be good enough. But, for our wallets? Please. We all complain really, really loudly in one Firefox tab while punching in our credit card numbers in another. I know, because I’m one of them.

That changed with Ghosts. For the first time since Call of Duty 4, we saw a chink in the juggernaut’s armour. The most recent iteration sold “only” 24 million units.

That might seem like a publisher’s wet dream, but it’s not quite all that and a hand grenade when you consider that Modern Warfare 3 sold 30 million copies. Black Ops 2? 27 million.

So there we have a sales chart that climbs sharply up to Modern Warfare 3, before trending back down again, at a rather alarming rate. Activision can’t afford another Ghosts.

Let’s not forget the Battlefield Hardline beta, universally panned for being a reskinned Battlefield 4. I can just imagine the EA bigwigs scratching their heads and asking each other, “Since when did that become a problem?”

We’ve seen the same thing with Destiny too, I believe. The headlines may report it topping every sales chart in Europe and America – but we knew that already. The half a billion budget, Bungie logo and unstoppable hypetrain were enough to do that by themselves.

$325 million in five days is impressive, but less so when you consider that’s not yet breaking even. And, of course, it doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of GTA V, which sold a billion dollars’ worth in just three days. It also achieved pretty middling review scores across the board, leaving most critics feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Guns1 Space! Woo!

Guns1 Space! Woo!

What am I getting at here? Like Ghosts, Destiny was (and is) pretty unoriginal. Like Ghosts, it’s a pretty fun game, which will be enough to carry the franchise – for now. But both games were developed according to a formula, the type of formula that promised success with the least possible risk.

My thinking is, that that formula is having to be re-evaluated.

Bobby Kotick is a smart man. He may very well be bad for the gaming industry in the eyes of the purists, but he knows what sells and he knows how to sell it.

Which could be why, after six years of having the same game thrown at us year after year, Advanced Warfare is looking like the most ambitious Call of Duty title we’ve seen since the original Modern Warfare.

I’m not going to come out and say it’s going to be good – I have no way of knowing that, and admitting it doesn’t look like a pile of crap is hard enough for me as it is. I’m also not going to say it’s original, because really it’s not.

It is, however, working to a different formula. Ironically, I think the re-invention of that formula has come from the same people who did it way back in 2007 with Modern Warfare – the same people, of course, that Kotick foolishly fired.

I could be rather accurately accused of Titanfall fanboi-ism, but my point stands – the game showed actual innovation in a horrifically stale genre. It had that same Call of Duty feel and polish, with an actual, significant alteration in the gameplay.

Advanced Warfare has, quite clearly, stolen that formula. The futuristic feel, the “verticality of the maps”, the ability to jump higher, scale walls and cloak – all of that is lifted from Titanfall (and Crysis before it). Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if putting mechs in the game wasn’t on the table at some point.

But here’s the thing – I’m glad they’ve done it. Not every game can ooze originality – there is something to be said of a game that sticks to a formula, but executes it well. The problem occurs when that formula becomes tired and stale, and nobody has the balls to look it over and realize it needs to be changed.

Kotick realized the need for a change, and luckily for him his star programmers did it for him, albeit working for his biggest rival.

The only thing wrong with this game was the title.

The only thing wrong with this game was the title.

I believe that Advanced Warfare is going to be the best-selling Call of Duty game of all time. People are hungry for something new, and having that shiny new thing delivered in a package they know and understand is going to be enough to launch the sales numbers into outer space.

When that happens, everyone is going to follow suit, in much the same way they did with Modern Warfare.

At rAge this year, there was one title that stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of gamer interest, and that was Evolve. People spent hours standing in line to play, crowds gathered around just to watch and many, many people went straight to the back of the line for another playthrough.

Why? Because it’s NEW. It’s different. The excitement around the Evolve stand was palpable; people were frothing at the mouth for a multiplayer-oriented FPS that wasn’t featuring current-day military deathmatches or hordes of zombies.

When these games sell as well as I think we’re going to, the execs will sit up and take notice. And for the next couple of years, we’ll have some fresh content.

Before, of course, the cycle repeats itself all over again.

But that’s 2017’s problem.