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 before it is released on other formats.
ELITE vs BATTLELOG
Elite is Activision’s new social network for Call of Duty. Users can check stats, upload videos and create groups, and those that want to pay £34.99 a year will get the DLC for free and win real prizes in multiplayer.Battlelog? It’s EA’s free cross-platform social service with built-in text messaging, game stats and the ability to connect with friends. There’s no competitive gaming element on Battlelog, but Virgin Gaming has teamed up with EA to run tournaments.
WHAT THE CONSUMERS THINK
MCV visited GAME and Gamestation in Stevenage to ask gamers which FPS they’re most excited by...
"Call of Duty, obviously. I just like the game. I’ve got Modern Warfare 2 and it’s the next one out. Battlefield doesn’t appeal to me – I’ve always been a CoD fan. I’ve also got Gears of War 3 and that’s a stop-gap until Modern Warfare 3 comes out."
Aziz Abdul, 34
"I’m not going to get either of them. I don’t have an Xbox 360 or PS3 but if I did and I had to choose one, it’d be Battlefield 3. I don’t really like the Call of Duty games – all you do is go online for a few minutes and you just die over and over and over again. It’s not my style. But it’s kind of the same with Battlefield 3."
Kai Brighamslow, 17
"Call of Duty. I’m a fan of CoD. I’ve tried the Battlefield beta and I didn’t enjoy it as much.Carl Steadman, 23I’ll be getting Modern Warfare 3. I’m not a Battlefield girl – I’m a Call of Duty girl."
Emma Bawden, 22
"Both games – but not for a while because I’ll be playing Skyrim too much. I’ve never played a Battlefield before but I just like the look of it. I always get a Call of Duty because all my mates get it, so I’ll be getting both sometime in the year."
Gary Edwards, 24
"Well these days they’ve gone a bit far on both I think. They need more realism than what they’ve got. I’ll give both a miss. I liked Modern Warfare 2 but it wasn’t realistic enough. If I’m going to be shooting at people I’d like it to seem a bit more realistic."
Craig Kirk, 25
"I’ll probably get Battlefield 3 first because I’ve heard it’s got a co-op campaign and I’ve played the beta for it which is quite good. I like the fact that the shooting is quite realistic. Call of Duty is good because the campaign is quite well put together. I’ll probably get Battlefield 3 first then Modern Warfare 3 afterwards."
Rhys Andrew, 19
"Battlefield 3. This is purely opinion-based but because I’m a team player I prefer to be a part of a team rather than play a single-player arcade-style kind of game. For me Modern Warfare 3 is more arcadey, it’s more to do with what you can do as an individual as opposed to what you can do as a team. Battlefield 3 I find more fun as a team."
Jordan Samuels, 20
WHAT THE INDUSTRY THINKS
Publishers, press and retail give us their thoughts on the upcoming battle royale...
"Battlefield 3 all the way. The team play is much better and I am blessed with clever friends that tell me to lay down suppressive fire while they go take out the baddies! Unfortunately when I play Modern Warfare online it is like the last scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.....run, shoot and wonder why I die in less than three seconds."
Gian Luzio, Bee.com
"I’m not getting involved. I’ll be too busy with Batman: Arkham City to care, but good luck to them both. I’m sure they’ll both be just smashing."
Dan Maher, Xbox Live
"We have executed a great long term marketing campaign with EA and have gained an excellent pre-order quantity which for ShopTo will mean that we will see greater success with Battlefield 3 over Modern Wafare 3 for pre-orders. No doubt in the marketplace overall Modern Warfare 3 will sell more units through to Christmas though."
Igor Cipolletta, ShopTo
"I would say ‘both’ as they’re entirely different games, but if I had to choose right now, it would be Call of Duty. With plenty of time-stealing epics in my pile already, from Rage to Skyrim, the need for a quick fix of tightly plotted, in-and-out campaign carnage, Hollywood set-pieces and a multiplayer where most people I know will be hanging out is large. And no one does all that better than Modern Warfare."
Matt Hill, T3
"Call of Duty this time round. It has the momentum that only an all-time great can carry and right now that appeals to the masses. But, there is a rising star and Battlefield 3 is arguably the better game. Nothing is forever and could this be the tipping point from here on in.Great news for the industry though as 35 to 40 million units across both titles will be sold. What a lift – bring it on."
Rod Cousens, Codemasters
"It will be a 3-3 draw!"
Ian Livingstone, Square Enix