The arrival of Battlefield 3 next week doesn't just mark the culmination of EA's campaign to unseat Activision's yearly Call of Duty colossus. It's a calculated attack on the most lucrative modern games franchise of all time. Grudges between the publishers run deep, and this fight has dragged in not just two banner franchises, but also warring developers, rival distribution systems and opposing console formats. MCV reviews the story so far...
THE FRANCHISES: CALL OF DUTY vs BATTLEFIELD
This year's Call of Duty-Battlefield face off is the culmination of a tussle between two decade-old franchises that have long tried to assert dominance over the shooter genre.
Battlefield came first with September 2002's Battlefield 1942. It was followed by three expansion packs. Battlefield 2 didn't arrive until 2005, but it took the franchise into the present day, and was extensively supported with add-on packs – Special Forces, Armored Fury, Euro Forces and the familiar-sounding Modern Combat. Think of it as a military take on The Sims model, with regular updates.
Certainly, like The Sims, Battlefield has been keen to diversify. There have been two download-only versions: Battlefield 1943 on consoles and free-to-play PC game Battlefield Heroes. There was also a futuristic sequel, Battlefield 2142, and it's also got a spin-off action-oriented console brand, Bad Company, which has had two retail releases. Across 18 instalments the franchise has sold well over 20m units – but analysts say hype is so strong for Battlefield 3 it could sell at least half that in 12 months.
Call of Duty came a year later and has been a bit less promiscuous than Battlefield. Modern Warfare 3 is only the eighth main game released since the original Call of Duty in late 2003, although three console-only spin-offs were released in the franchise's more PC-focused beginnings. Most famously, development has regularly switched between two US studios, creator Infinity Ward (formed by a squad of Medal of Honor developers who defected from EA) and Treyarch. Whereas Battlefield has been almost-entirely under the remit of Swedish team DICE.
Treyarch has sometimes unfairly (and sometimes fairly) been branded the ‘B team' to Infinity Ward. IW has developed the defining instalments CoD and CoD 2 (2005), plus Modern Warfare (2007) and Modern Warfare 2 (2009). But Treyarch's have been franchise-growing crowdpleasers in their own right – Call of Duty 3 (2006), World at War (2008) and Black Ops (2010). There have been mobile and handheld remakes, but these are footnotes in the franchise, which hasn't been as milked quite like Battlefield.
While the last ten years have also seen Halo, Half-Life and Medal of Honor grab attention, the tension between CoD and Battlefield as rival shooters has slowly mounted, but never been truly realised. Oddly, major releases in each series have never coincided until this year. So when the first shots are fired, any gains – and any weakness – might just define their futures.
THE PUBLISHER SLURS: ACTIVISION vs EA
Choice quotes from the key execs that have stirred up trouble
I have only seen Battlefield 3 shown on a PC. I've not seen it on a console, which is where the bulk of our business is. If it is just a PC title as it looks like today, that is a very small audience to participate.”
Bobby Kotick, Activision
Our game is more authentic. It's definitely going to do a lot of things better. A lot of people bought Modern Warfare more for the coffee table and didn't play it for two months. There's sort of that mass audience... they're going to win there. The question is, ‘So, if the gamer buys our game and the mass audience buys their game, where do the two meet?' And all I want to do, if you will, is to have them rot from the core,”
John Riccitiello. EA
Recently, a competitor of ours was quoted as saying that he wants to see one of our games to rot from the core.” Can you imagine the head of Dreamworks coming out with a new animated movie and saying that he wants to see Toy Story rot from the core”? Or the author of Twilight saying she wants Harry Potter to rot from the core”? We should all support great content, even if we didn't create it.
Eric Hirshberg, Activision
Welcome to the big leagues Eric. I know you're new in the job but someone should have told you this is an competitive industry. You've got every reason to be nervous. Last year Activision had a 90 per cent share in the shooter category. This year, Battlefield 3 is going to take you down to 60 or 70. At that rate, you'll be out of the category in two to three years. If you don't believe me, go to the store and try to buy a copy of Guitar Hero or Tony Hawk.”
Jeff Brown, EA
We [the developers] have a lot of respect for each other. We know how hard each team works, I know the sacrifices they are putting in and their families are putting in, so there is a lot of respect there. I think it's fought at a different level of ours. So although they may be our competition, I actually view Modern Warfare 2 as the benchmark that I need to aim for.”
Glen Schofield, Sledgehammer Games
We've been making Battlefield for 12 years now and we wouldn't have been able to do it and continuouslygrow if we didn't focus on our thing. So I'd use the comparison of runners. If you're running a race and youlook at your competitors, you fall. If you focus on your lane, you have a chance of beating them. That's whatwe do at the studio.”
Lars Gustavsson, EA DICE
If you are a shooter fan, you should be getting both, because they're both going to be excellent experiences. But more importantly they're going to be very different experiences. I think any shooter fan would be extremely disappointed if you only got one.”
Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward
THE DEVELOPER DISSES:ACTIVISION vs EA vs ACTIVISION vs EA vs…
Some of the most scandalous context around 2011's Call of Duty vs Battlefield showdown has been how the bad blood goes deeper than just sound bites and commercial competition.
In 2009 the talented heads of EA's Visceral Games, Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, walked out of the firm to form a new Activision-owned developer, Sledgehammer Games.
According to Activision accusations, EA then tried to do the same thing by persuading Jason West and Vince Zampella – the heads of Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward – to jump ship and join them.
As a result, Activison fired Zampella and West who then set up a new studio, Respawn Entertainment, and poached some 20 staff from Infinity Ward.
Respawn Entertainment then went and signed up to EA's Partners programme.
But it's not all over. Activision is now taking Electronic Arts to court for deliberately interfering with contracts and engaging in unfair competition.
THE DIGITAL SHOWDOWN
ORIGIN vs STEAM
EA's latest bid to grow its digital revenues is Origin – the new PC digital distribution service that goes head-to-head against market leader, Steam. Battlefield 3 on PC requires Origin to use, and as a result the game will likely not be appear on Steam.Modern Warfare 3 on the other hand requires Steam to play on PC.
PS3 vs 360
A long-term deal between Activision and Microsoft means Call of Duty DLC will be released first on Xbox 360 before the PS3 version. This year it goes even further, with a special Modern Warfare 3 Xbox 360 console and controller set for release.EA on the other hand has signed a deal with Sony, which means all of Battlefield's DLC will be available on PS3 a week befor