Call of Duty’s critical-consumer disconnect

It may sometimes feel like there’s a gulf separating those who make and release games and those who buy and play them.

But if there’s one thing that unites these groups it’s an obsession with review scores.

That solitary number – which more likely that not will be a ‘7′, ‘8′ or ‘9′ (OK, good, brilliant?) – can potentially determine the future of a studio or a marketing department and can be the factor which decides whether Jonny Average will indeed shell out 50 on a game.

Or can it?

Last week’s Call of Duty: Ghosts looks like it could be the lowest scoring game in the series to date. And while we won’t get a clear picture of its actual sales performance until after the Xbox One and PS4 arrive later this month, are we right to be expecting its commercial performance to suffer at the hands of the world’s games critics?

The short answer – no. Ghosts may have indeed followed the trends set down by the likes of Assassin’s Creed IV and Battlefield 4 in (so far) suffering year-on-year sales declines, but if the history of the Call of Duty franchise shows us one thing, it’s that falling review scores have seemingly had no impact on the sales of each title.

Indeed, the numbers could even construct an argument to suggest the opposite is true.

The data here starts with 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 simply because it’s from that date that we have access to uniform info that spans all of our criteria across all titles.

It’s not hard to identify the trend here. While 2011’s MW3 fared ever so slightly better than 2010’s BO, there’s only one way to describe the average direction of COD review scores – down.

This year’s current averages (at the time of writing) of 74 per cent and 71 per cent on Xbox 360 and PS3 respectively represent a critical low-point for the series.

So those scores must be a bit of a disaster for sales, right? Wrong. While scores have declined, sales have done the exact opposite. Day one sales, in particular, have not only continued to increase but the rate of that increase has gained pace.

By comparison, while the global five day revenue figure has maintained growth, the rate slowed between the release of MW3 and BOII.

The total day one sales for each game in the US and UK have grown every year, but the week one UK figures are different, showing a peak with 2010’s BO and then a decline – furthermore, it’s a decline that has become more aggressive.

Note that the UK revenue numbers (not shown) have, despite unit sales, shown a steady year-on-year increase for the franchise.

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