Video Games

Everyone's arguing about 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,' which probably means it will sell big

Key Points
  • This latest version will have both single-player and multiplayer modes, and it will permit cross-play between multiple platforms, so someone on an Xbox One in Florida will be able to play with a friend on a PlayStation4 in Idaho.
  • But what it won't have is "loot boxes," which are bonuses that players find within the game, but have to pay for without knowing what's inside.
  • Erik Kain wrote in Forbes that omitting loot boxes was a back-door method of getting players to part with even more money a month or so after release.
Visitors wait to try out the latest version of Call of Duty Modern Warfare during the press day at the 2019 Gamescom gaming trade fair on August 20, 2019 in Cologne, Germany.
Lukas Schulze | Getty Images

Activision will release "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" on October 25, the 16th installment in the "Call of Duty" video game series. This first-person shooter game isn't out yet, but fans who have been playing the beta version since its September debut are already embroiled in heated arguments over it.

On a "Call of Duty"-related Reddit subthread titled, "Stop requesting features a week and a half before game release," one user called another a "three-toothed slobbering halfwit" and a "wannabe alpha-beta." Another characterized the thread starter as possessing a "small brain," and yet another was described as an "angry elf."

Many other, more colorful epithets were also hurled to and fro.

It wasn't much better in the dedicated discussion, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Beta FAQ." A user there voiced his dissatisfaction at the manufacturer, saying that PlayStation4 owners were being given priority over those using other platforms, and that "PC optimization is probably lacking at launch like it has been every year."

As for the game itself, this latest version will have both single-player and multiplayer modes, and it will permit cross-play between multiple platforms, so someone on an Xbox One in Florida will be able to play with a friend on a PlayStation4 in Idaho. But what it won't have is "loot boxes," which are bonuses that players find within the game, but have to pay for without knowing what's inside. Erik Kain wrote in Forbes that omitting loot boxes was a back-door method of getting players to part with even more money a month or so after release.

"This is how Activision operates with 'Call Of Duty' and loot boxes," he said. "They release the game without any. They let the reviews and first impressions and word-of-mouth pile up. Then they release an update a month or so down the road and add all that micro-transaction junk in once the dust has settled, the Metacritic score has been secured, and the cash has been parted with."

Representatives for Activision did not immediately return requests for comment, so one can only speculate as to whether engagement from disgruntled players is part of their marketing plan. But Jordan Rooney, CEO of the Ridge Point strategic media firm, said that unless the game receives uniformly negative reviews, he expects it to sell robustly, precisely because of the negativity and denunciation.

"We are now living in a world where the only thing worse than being criticized is to be ignored," he said. "Indeed, it is the strong opinions either way, the noise, that sells it."

Michael Bonebright, a consumer analyst with the comparison shopping site DealNews, said that "Call of Duty" has benefited in the past from controversy, such as in 2009's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," in which players could massacre civilians at a Russian airport, to graphically violent effect. The game went on to make $1 billion in sales in just two months. He said that he expects the grousing and fault-finding to provide similar free publicity.

"If a player sees a new title everywhere, they're going to want to try it, just to see what all the fuss is about," Bonebright said.

Be that as it may, Kevin Kleinman, a financial advisor with Blue Haven Capital, said that the "noise as marketing" strategy is likely less effective when it comes to selling a product like a video game, and more suited to promoting a short-term experience, such as a movie. He cited "Joker," which drew audiences curious about the online outrage it had inspired and had a $93 million opening weekend as a result.

"Fans have to see for themselves to make their own judgment, but they can do so for a one-time charge of $10 to $18," he said. "'Call of Duty,' on the other hand, costs $60, and once you buy it, you are stuck with it... So 'noise' does sell, but it depends on the industry."

When the game is released on Friday, it will be possible to see the effect all the commotion has had on its sales. Alex Beene, a self-described "avid gamer" who is also a coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said that what ultimately cuts through all the chatter is the quality of the game. Online arguments and insults will raise awareness of the product, but they might also shine a spotlight on flaws that will make gamers think twice before buying.

"When you're dealing with products like games, which have a $60 up-front price or more, you don't want to cause too many questions, because consumers will often choose to save their cash," he said.