“Medal of Honor,” the revival of one of Electronic Arts biggest franchises, has been taking a lot of fire lately. But now the publisher is ready to go on the offensive.
For the past month, several parties have targeted the title after it was disclosed that gamers could play as the Taliban in the game’s multiplayer mode.
EA has aggressively defended the move, noting that the series’ hallmarks have always been authenticity and respect for soldiers. Since the game is set in modern-day Afghanistan, the enemy is quite clear.
The reasoning hasn’t done much to silence critics, though. Now the company is hoping to quell the controversy by letting anyone who wants to play or observe the divisive aspects of the game, to do so for free.
On Oct. 4, the company will launch a four-day open beta of “Medal of Honor’s” multiplayer components — letting critics see what it’s like to play as the Taliban.
“We … hope that by offering the multiplayer open beta, we can clear up any misunderstanding about the patriotism and respect that are the foundation of this game,” said Frank Gibeau, president of EA Games. “The ‘Medal of Honor’ franchise has always shown extraordinary reverence for American and Allied soldiers — this game is no exception.”
At the same time, EA is also speaking directly with military officials in hopes of clarifying any confusion about the game. (Army and Air Forces bases will not carry “Medal of Honor” because of the ability to play as the Taliban, it was announced earlier this month.)
“We’ve had some conversations with retailers,” said Jeff Brown, senior director of corporate communications with EA.
“Our CEO has sent a letter to AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service), the purchasing agent for military] requesting an opportunity to explain our intentions and explain more about the game. I should note, though, that we have not appealed their ruling. We respect their ruling on that.”
AAFES did reply to the note and the decision will stand — though other EA games will continue to be sold on base.
It’s not just the controversy that’s weighing on Medal of Honor, however. Analysts fear the game’s release window — set squarely between two of the year’s most anticipated games — could prove harmful to sales.
“We are increasingly concerned about the prospects for ‘Medal of Honor’," says Kaufman Bros. analyst Todd Mitchell. "The game is not developing the level of buzz necessary to knock ‘Call of Duty’ off its perch.”
In September, Microsoft launched “Halo: Reach,” which has proven to be a tremendous hit. The game generated sales of $200 million in its first 24 hours and within four days of its release, fans had spend the equivalent of over 2,300 man-years playing.
Meanwhile, in November, Activision will release the latest installment of its hit “Call of Duty” franchise — which is the odds-on favorite to be the year’s best selling game.
Both titles feature rich solo-player campaigns and even more in-depth multiplayer components, which creates a lot of overlap for “Medal of Honor.” As shoppers continue to be more conservative with their spending, industry observers suspect they might forego buying all three titles.
Launched in 1999, the “Medal of Honor” franchise was initially hailed as an instant classic—recreating scenes from the Normandy Invasion that were on the same level as “Saving Private Ryan”. Early sequels got high marks as well, but the quality of the games faded over time.
EA put the series on a three-year hiatus, hoping to bring the quality back to higher levels. In that time, though, the “Call of Duty” and “Modern Warfare” games have become the industry’s most popular (and lucrative) franchise. EA is hoping to steal back some of that pie with this release.Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com