Franchise Opportunity: Why I Always Answer the Call of Duty

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This week, I am overwhelmed with the need to play the new Call of Duty.

Not because of any wanton desire, but an innate craving within me that seeks to be satisfied by the chemical compound that makes up Call of Duty. It’s an intoxicating mix of marketing hype, fluid action and excitement at being in the zeitgeist of Release Day Players.

I’ve played every one of them, all the way back to the original on my home PC, which I begged my dad to upgrade so we could play it. There’s something about the series that keeps drawing me back in, and to be honest, I can never put a finger on what it is exactly.

Why shouldn’t I want to play it? I’ve played all of them, dumped countless hours into each. My friends play them—I still have fond memories of late nights, making Search & Destroy lobbies in Modern Warfare 2, laughing and joshing each other in voice chat, all the in-jokes and perfect moments captured in those maps and sessions. There’s a portion of my life I can relate directly to Modern Warfare 2, where for a year or more it was the most important game I had ever played, and maybe that’s the issue.

I need to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 because I have an attachment to it, a sense of buy-in that has slowly built up through years of compiled emotions tied to a single franchise. It’s the same as those who read books simply because an author wrote them, or buy an album because they’ve always been a fan of the band. Games can be as involving as any other medium, and often that carries with it a feeling of personal attachment to brands and franchises.

It brings up a larger issue in the industry: the culture of pre-orders and day one sales, and how publishers lust for PR blasts about their latest blockbuster’s record-breaking launch. Look at the headlines recently—Halo 5 outsells Spectre, Metal Gear Solid V makes more money its first week than Age of Ultron. This is the result of people who buy in blindly, encouraged by forums and boards and that fear of not being part of the conversation.

If you want tangible evidence, look no further than the current and ever-rising anticipation amongst Fallout fans for the upcoming Fallout 4. Comments like “I know it’ll be buggy on release, but I’ll play it anyways” flood message boards and social media spaces.

I’m hesitant to call it nostalgia, because that implies some sort of rose-tinted, ignorant gaze. In some ways, this idea of brand devotion isn’t just fandom or blind love. Many acknowledge that what they’re getting into will likely never reach their expectations. They’re not Gatsby gazing at his green light; they’re Daisy, ready to simply move on to the next party and enjoy it for what it is.

I often feel guilt over this emotional attachment that I’ve built up over the years. Those who have invested so much into a single series can likely sympathize here: once you’ve spent
enough time and money on a franchise, you start feeling obligated to follow it no matter what. Games also often carry the weight of social pressures. Your friends might want to play the new Call of Duty, so are you going to be the odd one out?

It’s easy to point out the problems with this mindset. This sort of blind faith does a disservice to so many. It encourages uneducated consumerism, buys into marketing wholesale and the general thought process belies any critique or analysis of the product. It isn’t healthy for players, the media, or even the developers to settle into a routine of blindly buying based on some built-in guilt machine.

But it isn’t always about the attachment. It’s the excitement of release day that makes Call of Duty for some. The few days or weeks where there are few known quantities, no optimal loadouts, no camping spots and no one who knows every corner of the map yet. It’s like playing a Souls game on launch—you don’t know what to expect, and that’s half the fun. You get to be a part of the conversation, to contribute and explore and talk.

Even if you dislike it, you can espouse that view with an educated manner, go into detail, type in Caps-Lock in a YouTube comment all day about why the game you bought wasn’t worth $60 and how you’re going to slam it back on the Gamestop cashier’s counter, and no, you don’t want a magazine subscription. Even with games that end up being bad, and the signs were there, people still just want to get them so they can be a part of that conversation.

Latent consumer faith in a franchise defines how many videogame fans view the entire industry. It’s one of the most significant traits in the stereotype of the “gamer.” Our emotional attachment often drives our purchasing desires and interests more than anything else, as the sentimental attachment to franchises and brands are stronger than any single commercial or advert.

Regardless, “diehard fans” like me feel the need to be part of the conversation and discussion. It’s a prevalent force in the industry, driven by social media and other outlets, that tells us that we need to be talking and expressing our informed opinions, or we’re not in the loop. We’re not “gamers.” Every spoiler thread scrolled past, every “are you buying on release day” post builds into that further.

Is this healthy for games? On one hand, you’re blindly buying into whatever is passed your way, willing to drop your money on something regardless of quality simply because you did it so many times before. And on the other hand, it’s a sign of faith, a show of belief that you still think a franchise is important and deserves its stake in the industry. I can’t help but be put off by the pre-order culture that we build up around games, so I would err towards the former, but the undying horde of faithful for each long-running franchise manages to stir something in me every time.

The idea that you should buy in blindly to any franchise is an unhealthy one. It only sets you up for disappointment, and a little wariness will always go a long way. At the same time, don’t douse out your flame—it’s okay to be excited about videogames, as long as you can mete out some rationality for that.

I still have that need, that pulsating drive to pick up Black Ops 3, log on and slide around a corner, blasting rounds down hallways while gunning for the Hardpoint. I have to make my choice: risk disappointment and buy into the zeitgeist, or be willing to abstain from the discussion for a franchise that I hold dear to myself. So I’ll meter my enthusiasm and cautiously wait, read reviews, educate myself and prepare for the possibility that I might skip Call of Duty this year—the first year I’d have ever done so.

I believe in this franchise, but I wouldn’t call it blind faith. I’m done buying into that.

Eric Van Allen is an Atlanta-based writer and Paste intern. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.

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