The biggest product launches always take place in the fall. And that stands true whether you’re talking video games or technology. This Friday Apple will be releasing the highly coveted iPhone 5 — their sixth generation phone that has already snagged 2 million pre-orders in its first 24 hours of pre-order availability.
Now, if there was one title to compare it to in the video game world, you need to look no further than the Call of Duty franchise. We’re not just talking about sales numbers relative to their respective industries here. We’re talking about the entire culture that surrounds it. I know, the iPhone is a piece of hardware and Call of Duty is a piece of software but, trust me, they’re much more similar than you think.
Predictability: Here We Go Again
As certain as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can rest assured that every single year Apple will release a new piece of hardware in the later summer months and that it will be available at the “amazing price” of $199. The same predictable cycle holds true for Call of Duty. With the release Black Ops II less than two months away, it will mark the eighth consecutive year that a Call of Duty title will release in the first half of November.
Although Activision has yet to unveil its plans for downloadable content, you would be crazy to think that it’s not arriving right on schedule. Just like it does every year as well.
Innovation: Or the Lack Thereof
I love Apple’s iOS. It’s simple, intuitive, and anyone can use it. But let’s be real for a second and think about the new updates coming to the iPhone 5: a bigger screen, a new charging port, and a thinner design. That’s pretty much it. It isn’t as much of a disappointment because, as always, users know that the device will be predictably good. Apple didn’t exactly blow people away, with tech bloggers saying that the richest company on the planet “played it safe.” But as the old adage goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Right?
Call of Duty, as a series, succumbs to a very similar fate. Sure, we get new stories, locations, and multiplayer perks but, for the most part, the core (and 9 year old engine) remains unchanged. As a franchise, whether it’s intentional or not, they seldom stray from what’s expected; yet every release manages to outsell its predecessor. But, just like Apple’s iPhone, the gameplay is simple, intuitive, and well… you know the rest.
Fan Denial: Somebody’s Obviously Buying It
You think video game fanboys are bad? You should see Apple loyalists. I’m sure I can’t be the only one with friends that say things like “Yeah man, that press conference was weak. It isn’t a major upgrade. I’ll wait for a real innovation.” Then low and behold they find themselves queued up on a line at launch day, going as far as purchasing the device at retail price since they used their upgrade on their previous phone.
Call of Duty fans are just as guilty, myself included. Over time, the series becomes the butt of every bad gaming joke on the internet. When you walk into your local game store, everyone complains about how lame it has become over the years. Yet somehow, some way, it manages to crush not only it’s own previous sales record but any entertainment record set throughout the year prior. People love to hate it in public, but you can bet your ass that they will all line up at midnight, ready to take home a ridiculous collector’s edition. And when you question these secretive Call of Duty players they will likely tell you that they’re getting it because “all of their friends will be on it.” Right.
I guess the moral of the story here is this: Although Activision likes to “play it safe” with their best selling video game just like Apple does with their phone, at the end of the day, it simply pays off. Sure, it becomes mundane and even boring at times. Sure, they don’t really switch things up and try something different maybe quite as often as they should. But if you look at Activision’s (and especially Apple’s) bottom line , it would seem like that they don’t have to make any dramatic changes. Call of Duty is the iPhone of the video game world. And I’m sure if you ask anyone at Activision, that’s a great thing.