Just like the millions of other people across the globe, I picked up my copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I have a lot to say about this new game but I’ll save that for my next post. Right now I thought I should take a look back on the series. I am not going all the way to the first Call of Duty but to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare where the game really became the giant that it is today.
There are plenty of reasons to why Call of Duty is the number one selling franchise on Xbox 360 but lets look specifically at it’s ad campaign. Ads do not get the final say if a game is good or not, but they can show consumers why they should buy in.
Lets start off with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This was the first time in the series that the developers took a modern approach to the game. Before this the Call of Duty series focused on the events of World War II and gamers were fed up. This was the face lift that Call of Duty needed to become more relevant in the video game market. The commercial for this version reflects this new ideal by showing you new weapons and technology. The simple phrases that pop up “weapons change” and “soldiers don’t” drove home the idea that the core values of Call of Duty would still be there.
The commercial plays out like a montage featuring the best of today’s weaponry and has as many explosions as a Michael Bay Film. The next year it seemed that they took a step backward to World War II. The commercial’s over the top action made it seem like a World War II explosion orgy. Call of Duty: World at War didn’t try to push into new marketing ground but pushed the status quo that was set by Modern Warfare 4.
It wasn’t until Modern Warfare 2 (the sequel to the first Modern Warfare) that they really figured out their market. This is the first time we see an actual person rather than a montage of in-game footage. An old man pops up on the screen and simply talks about people “doing it.” What you don’t know is until the end he is talking about Modern Warfare 2. This commercial plays on a couple of new key points in the franchise. First is that the developers finally realize how big the franchise is and that everyone is playing it. The line “doing it” makes it seem like second nature to pick up the game since everyone in the world already has it. The second point is that they are focusing more on the player rather than the game. Before this the game separated the player experience and game experience. This commercial marries the two together and makes the claim that the player experience is just as important as any other aspect.
Then one year later, in Call of Duty fashion, we take another step back to the Cold War era with Black Ops. This is where the commercial really hits the mark with its fans. The commercial is live action but plays out like an online match. People of all different ages and sizes carrying guns are not featured in military uniform but in their regular work uniforms. It even features some famous faces such as Jimmy Kimmel and Kobe Bryant. Why is this commercial a turning point in recruiting players? First it acknowledged that everyone plays this game. Call of Duty had large numbers of female players which the video game industry likes to forget about at times. It even crossed economic lines by featuring the burger flipper and the Wall Street executive. This commercial drove home the fact that this game was the uniter in life not the divider. In a world filled with conflicting issues it is hard to find a game that could possibly even bring so many people together. Second the focus was less about being the actual solider but being yourself in the game. The player takes full ownership of their skills in the commercial and no matter what gender, race, or economic background you come from everyone is on the same playing field.
Finally we come to the most recent release, Modern Warfare 3. In a slightly different fashion the commercial stars actual actors rather than the common player. The commercial stars Sam Worthington who plays “The Vet” and Jonah Hill as “The Noob.” This commercial goes back to Call of Duty’s roots while still keeping the flavor of the live action. You are taken on a montage through the games most memorable locations as The Noob learns more skills from The Vet. At the end, The Noob transforms into a Vet. This commercial is important because it shows that all players start off as a Noob and work their way up to become a Vet. The commercial shows though that you need the guidance of another player to make this progression. With diligence you can make it to the upper levels and become a Vet. This new focus is on both the game and the player. All the actors are in military outfits rather than normal clothes but act as if they were in a game.
The progression of Call of Duty’s commercials reflect the players they are attracting. Activision has learned it takes more than a simple montage of explosions to get players to want more. Advertising the game as a social experience between fellow gamers has moved the game into pop culture. Even though the game takes criticism for its linearity and addictive nature, no other game comes close to its accessibility. The commercials paint an accurate picture of Call of Duty as being the game that anyone can jump in and play. The propaganda has worked to make Call of Duty the number one selling game on Xbox 360. Whether you like Call of Duty or not it has forever changed the landscape of the console market.