Why Call of Duty massacres Battlefield – it’s all social…

November is a massive month for the video games industry as the biggest titles attempt to sell millions of copies at launch and establish themselves for the all-important Christmas rush. And the big battle this year is between Call of Duty, which has broken sales records with the last two installments, and Battlefield, the equally long-running military shooter which has explicitly tried to challenge for the title this year. But most video game sites miss the reason why even before Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is released, the result is a foregone conclusion.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 - social gaming

The answer is simple – for the last three releases, Call of Duty has combined a pretty decent game with a very good implementation of social features. And that’s built up momentum, sales and record-breaking devotion from gamers who put in thousands of hours into levelling up their characters each year.

Call of Duty = social gaming

A while ago I looked at the social features and reason for success of both Call of Duty and Farmville, and to some extent not much has changed. This year, Activision, the publishers of the Call of Duty franchise, have made the social elements more explicit with both the Call of Duty XP live event in LA, and Call of Duty Elite, which is a social network based around Call of Duty to record scores, stats, weapon selections, allow players to create groups etc. Did someone mention Pervasive Social Gaming?

But the real achievement is shown by the comparison with Battlefield. Publishers Electronic Arts are no strangers to social game mechanics as they are attempting to conquer social gaming, and have had success with integrating their ‘Autolog’ feature into racing games – put simply it tracks the scores/times your friends achieve and alerts you as soon as they beat one of your scores. Insanely addictive, and now copied by Microsoft’s own Turn 10 Studios in the latest Forza Motorsport game, also out this November.

Yet the social side of Battlefield is appalling, and not for the first time. Coming from the PC, it isn’t as user-friendly as Call of Duty, the Battlelog feature regularly fails to load, and it’s a challenge to get gamers into the same game, yet alone on the same team or in the same squad. And with squads having a maximum of 4 players, and no way to choose your friends, you can spend an entire match or more swapping teams and squads trying to end up with someone you know.

Compare that to Call of Duty. Load the game, start a lobby, invite friends, and then you’re together as a party for the evening, with the biggest matches allowing 12-18 players competing in two teams.

And that’s why Call of Duty will always win for the foreseeable future. It’s quick and simple for groups to form, and stick together. That’s shown by the fact only two of my gaming group of 20+ have bothered with Battlefield, and found it frustrating before jumping back into Call of Duty. It’s why that group have already arranged one pub meet to bring our gaming friendships into the real world, and it’s why I know that any night of the week at least a handful of them will be playing Call of Duty.

The average Call of Duty gamer plays for 58 minutes per day, according to Activision, which is longer than the average person spends on Facebook.

It’s also why I know the small number of them that haven’t already pre-ordered the game are getting excited about going to the shops at midnight on November 8th to pick up the game, rush home, and fire it up at 1am to meet up and share the first impressions of multiplayer. And I’m one of them.

Comments

  1. This was very insightful. I know nothing about Call of Duty and the likes, except how often they appear on my Twitter timeline, and how often I see my brother asking people, “Call of Duty today?” My brothers live in Ethiopia, and given we have JUST recently upgraded our internet (access to,) I find it amazing that this has become the global favorite pastime among men with gaming consoles. I don’t remember when the change happened, but as you’ve stated, the online/global social aspect of smoothly playing these games is a crucial determinant factor in their success.

    • Hi Hanna,
        Thanks for the comment – I think it’s one of those things that has always appealed, given the popularity of playing cowboys and indians or cops and robbers for small children. Combine that with the ability to get together virtually with friends around the world, and it’s no surprises that a male-dominated success can come about…
        There are other games which are incredibly popular – World of Warcraft tends to have a more equal gender split, for example, possibly because the idea of working together in guilds is more accessible. And obviously racing games are also big business.

  2. This is from the perspective of a casual gamer. I’m a gamer, not a sales rep. I judge games strictly by gameplay and Battlefield 3 massacres COD in every way gameplay wise. Casual gamers new to gaming or crappy gamers with minimal skill may disagree with me, but when did their opinion on gaming matter? That would be like me taking sex tips off a virgin. Screw that.

    •  In my defence, this was written before Call of Duty: MW3 and Battlefield 3… And I definitely prefer BF3 in terms of actual gameplay…

      When did casual and social gamers matter? When they make CoD the biggest selling game of all time, and therefore influence every publisher who is attempting to run a profitable business.

      Oddly enough, Elite seems to have actually damaged things a bit, as many of the people I game with can’t be bothered to sign up even for free, let alone pay…

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