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How significantly has Call of Duty changed gaming?

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Call of Duty will always have its detractors, but I'm proud to say that I'm not one of them. A franchise that has sold over 125 million units (and counting) and one with a fan base of players who have racked up a, frankly alarming, 1.6 billion hours of online play on Modern Warfare 3 alone, is bound to attract the ire of many. The series has become so rooted in console gaming lore that it is now impossible to imagine the industry without it, but just how deeply are its effects felt?

It is worth pointing out that Call of Duty began life as a PC title way back when shooting up your friends online was something one could only achieve with a keyboard, mouse and a heady 1MB broadband connection. Of course, those who tucked into the delights of the original Call of Duty back in 2003 had already experienced the wonders of Counter-Strike and Quake III Arena, so the marvel of connected gameplay was not such a new thing. For those playing Call of Duty 2 over Xbox Live, however, the world just got a little bit more amazing despite the early excellence of Halo 2 on the original Xbox.

Those who cut their multiplayer teeth on an early Call of Duty game will remember how quickly everything happened. In the early days, before Modern Warfare came out, Call of Duty was one of the few games that you spent more time playing than sat round in a lobby. When Modern Warfare took the world by storm, players were offered more multiplayer sessions than they could shake an AK-47 at. Matches were tight and well balanced, and progress was utterly addictive. Playing CoD online wasn’t just fun: it was easy, and I (among many) found that very important. It perfectly married the convenience of consoles with gameplay that was quick, enjoyable and easy to understand.

By Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the series had begun to unlock its potential as one of the biggest selling media products on the planet, and its single player campaign reflected the Hollywood comparisons it so craved. Set pieces became more precise and dynamic, although scripts and stories grew larger holes. The campaign became more about shock and awe, grizzly moments married to ever more over-the-top set-pieces--perfect fodder for tabloids that still struggled to (or maybe they just prefer not to) understand modern video games.

The success of a franchise so steeped in violence (it is a game about hosing down Russians with high powered rifles after all), would always attract controversy--some well-meaning, other spuriously motivated. Labour politician, and long-time videogame detractor, Keith Vaz was not particularly fond of Modern Warfare 2’s ‘No Russian’ level, raising his concerns in the House of Commons. Despite his anxiety that the moral fibre of the youth of Britain was being eroded by the horror of Call of Duty, the game passed uncut though the BBFC’s stringent classification system, becoming the first title in the series to be handed an 18 certificate.

As well as being a target for outraged pressure groups, Call of Duty also receives a great amount of stick, unfairly perhaps, for those who dislike both the commercialisation of the industry and perceived narrow reach of the games’ fans. Despite this perception, the current generation has embraced indie gaming like no other, and this progress is diametrically opposed to the familiar format found in Call of Duty’s successive titles. There's room for both types of game, and in many ways, COD can count itself partially responsible for triggering indie's counter-cultural kick against AAA. Gamers want experiences that are the exact opposite of COD's mass-produced bombast.

So, after 10 years, the franchise has been round the block a few times and is about to enter untold territory (well, not entirely untold--this is Call of Duty) with the new console generation. What is quite telling is how, over the course of some years, many of the staples of the Call of Duty series have slowly become staples of the shooter genre. It’s rare to see an action game hit the market without a multiplayer component of some sort, despite it perhaps not fitting in with the game’s tone or having any fresh ideas of its own. Equally, smaller aspects of the franchise that were originally unique to Call of Duty have been borrowed and blended in with nearly every FPS that has followed it, which has led some to criticise those imitators, while at the same time, lambasting COD culture for the wealth of military-style shooters that are kicking around at the moment.

When measuring the impact of the Call of Duty franchise, the simplest answer is that it broadened the appeal of online FPS games on consoles beyond the success of Halo 2 which, while massively popular, was only available to those with an Xbox. We now find ourselves in a situation where the FPS genre is the most popular on consoles (in most markets), something that would have been considered impossible ten or 12 years ago, and this is due largely to the success of Call of Duty. It has also created a thirst for online play that most action games attempt to quench, removing any form of elitism and complication from the endeavour

Call of Duty not only helped console gaming attract a wider audience, it may also be the defining franchise of the entire generation and, for better or for worse, it looks like it’s here to stay.

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18 comments

  • Inthedistrict - November 3, 2013 6:25 p.m.

    In single player, between the infinite respawning between checkpoints and the enemy having the ability to track your every move behind cover, it was hard for me to get into COD. In multiplayer, I could never last longer than 2 minutes without getting shot, and when I did, I ran out of ammo. About the only exception to the single player component was in COD Modern Warfare 2, which did away with a lot of the infinite respawns which made the game play much more enjoyable IMO. There's no doubt in my mind however that a lot of the concepts utilized in modern day FPS have taken their ideas out of the COD playbook.
  • graphicdesigner - November 2, 2013 4:33 p.m.

    the ps4 is almost here, and I'm getting one
  • ZeeCaptain - November 2, 2013 11:52 a.m.

    Huh, funny how a game that doesn't change anything besides a number on their box has changed the industry in such a way, such a bad, bad way.....
  • cluckey07 - November 4, 2013 10:56 a.m.

    OK so a game that brings millions of additional people into the gaming market is a bad thing? It helped sell more consoles, more games, and more hardware. All gamers benefit from this because COD has brought a lot of extra money and new gamers into the market. We get better games, hardware, and continued console support from this. Tell me how that is a bad thing.
  • ZeeCaptain - November 4, 2013 8:43 p.m.

    1st: Call of Duty has been great for the gaming industry but not as a whole, while it has made the game industry a larger and thus more lucrative business, it has had a terrible affect on the publishers. As you can see is the trend now-a-days, most publishers look on at Call of Duty and see how a game, a well made, pretty looking game, but mostly the same game, can be made again and again, and people will buy it. Call of Duty is a blight on original IP's and has made the gaming industry as a whole worst off because it's made the fans complacent and the publishers that control the developers have no interest in taking a risk on something that is not an already established series. Lately most get by on the creativity of indie developers, because they create new and exciting IP's, albeit there not the AAA quality of a Call of Duty game, they at least have some originality. I liked the older Call of Duty games, the ones about the horrors of war, and although they were a messy sort, with their infinite respawns and how the AI was thicker than the brick walls you crouched behind, they were still original and managed to have some of the best graphics at the time. While the graphics part hasn't changed, the rest has, some for better, most for worse. Call of Duty is a stagnant pool of water that dwells at the bottom of the well, and twice a year water is fetched from it, where the only new thing is the disease and floating derbies that have dislodged from the moss covered walls of said well. Was Call of Duty ever good for the gaming industry ? Yea, it was, it helped kickstart it into a larger era with a much wider audience and I believe that it is also a reason that gaming consoles have gained as much prestige. Is Call of Duty still good for the game industry ? No, I don't believe it is anymore. 2nd: I don't know what COD has done for the gaming industry, COD is just a smelly fish and I don't see it contributing much to anything.
  • mothbanquet - November 2, 2013 4:36 a.m.

    This was a good article. Love it or hate it, CoD is a gaming (and general media) institution now and a true game changer. Even if it forces all other developers into contrariety, that is still influencing the industry in a non-direct way, and one that is leading into an indie/kickstarter renaissance. Okay, maybe an exaggeration but we'll see how it plays out.
  • P0ck3tC1am - November 1, 2013 5:11 p.m.

    -First off, all the way up until CoD 4 the games were made by Trey Arc. -IW just took that concept and took it out of the lame and made it a modern war game. -TreyArc Getting tired of the modern and the "old" we remembered that OH, there were other wars than the WWI and II...so we go with The Cold war and Vietnam. -Activision fires the brains of the game and hires sledgehammer games to "make up" a multiplayer while -the rest of the IW crew work on the campaign. -TreyArc goes to the future with a New-ish concept. The Future of Warfare. Really, the only thing that CoD has influenced FPS is by turning them all into CoD in some Aspect. All I can say is that Ghost, even with its server based MP and it's new graphics engine, it's gunna be the same exact game. There is still gunna all the cheap ness, faulty hit detection ( well maybe not so much, really want to see these 360 QS work on a server), cheap dumb radar gameplay. just the same lame hold your hand game play. CoD 4 was revolutionary.....THAT was game changing bring, that experience back.
  • master11739 - November 1, 2013 8:01 p.m.

    cod 3, waw and blops are made by treyarch. IW made 1, the expansion and 2
  • mothbanquet - November 2, 2013 4:25 a.m.

    Yeah, I think you'll find 'Infinity Ward' comes up when booting up CoD 1 and 2. And far from being 'the lame', they made WWII a truly frightening affair, with 1's Pegasus Bridge and 2's Point Du Hoc levels still ranking as some of the best in any FPS, in my opinion.
  • cluckey07 - November 4, 2013 11 a.m.

    Actually Infinity War made COD 1, COD 2, then all 3 MW's. Treyarch made COD 3, COD 5, and then both Black ops. The COD franchise was developed by IW from the start.
  • JusticeSoulTuna - November 1, 2013 5:05 p.m.

    Good article. The COD series, as you put it 'for better or worse' has changed the industry. It made console online gaming a popular thing, it made people realize that multiplayer is just as important and it made people step up their standards for single player campaigns. Of course there's bad; of course there's toxic fans, mistakes made in trying to copy COD, tacked on multiplayers that aren't needed. But as an entity, COD is a series that defined a generation without even trying to. In my opinion COD is on its way out from being the top spot, simply cause it hit its peak with Black Ops 1/MW3 in terms of popularity but it's diving down slowly. I don't think the series will 'die' or go away, but it'll just be as popular as it used to be (like in MW2 days). Whatever game takes its place, i kinda feel bad for. But i just hope it can do a good job and fight against the criticism
  • cluckey07 - November 4, 2013 11:03 a.m.

    Honestly I hated BO2 (other than zombies). But its hard to say its not as popular since it is the highest selling COD game of all time.
  • JusticeSoulTuna - November 4, 2013 11:06 a.m.

    Oh of course, sales wise it was the biggest, but what I meant was that MW3 was the turning point where faith in the COD series had divided. And to this day people still hate MW3 (some say it's the worst, then again people will always say any game in the series is the worst), and think it's when COD repetitiveness got too much, when ironically Black Ops II turned that around (and MW3 wasn't that much of a carbon copy, but whatever haters right?)
  • db1331 - November 1, 2013 10:36 a.m.

    It's kind of funny how CoD actually started out as an amazing SP game with a fun MP mode, and is now a fun MP game with a SP mode nobody cares about. The first two games were almost like if the History Channel made a shooter. They were more about showing how horrible war is than glorifying it like they do today.
  • Walnnut - November 1, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    Personally, I still buy the Call of Duty games for the single player. Black Ops 2 was amazing, and I just love the cinematic set pieces in the game. However, multiplayer is great, and it is where I spend the majority of my time on CoD. I do make a point to complete single player before going online, however.
  • db1331 - November 1, 2013 11:42 a.m.

    The last SP shooter campaign I completed was the original Black Ops. I didn't even finish it because I was having fun. It was actually painfully bad. I just saw through the plot extremely early and kept playing to see if I was right. The last SP campaign I finished before that was CoD4. I only got about 2 levels into Ops II before losing all interest. The writing was just painfully bad. The bit in the intro cinematic about, "You're leaving again, just like after mom died!" about made my eyes roll to the back of my fucking head.
  • Walnnut - November 1, 2013 12:11 p.m.

    I'm not saying that it's for everyone. I know a lot of people don't like the single player. I'm just glad that they are still making single player campaigns rather than going the Titanfall route of making the game exclusively multiplayer.
  • mothbanquet - November 2, 2013 4:29 a.m.

    I'm with you. I always found CoD's campaigns to be enjoyable at worst, utterly exhilarating at best. It's still something you can sit down and play through without thought, grinding, strategy or anything beyond getting sucked into the noise and lights.

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