Sunday Thoughts: Building a Franchise

Today’s Sunday Thoughts come to you from the one and only Lewis Gaston who you may know from the podcast or from ScreenDemon, our sister site for films.

Wall Street is a war zone. The skyscrapers that line the streets are burning, glass is everywhere and total collapse is imminent. But there, in the middle of sheer chaos, is you, armed and ready to defeat invading Russian forces. Adrenaline rushes, blood pumps and your finger squeezes the trigger of your military issue assault rifle for the first time. Blood spurts from the foe in your sights and he drops to the floor in an instant.

This are the opening moments of Modern Warfare 3 and, as someone who has never really enjoyed the CoD franchise, I found myself becoming surprised at how much I immediately began to have fun with the latest instalment. The guns feel weightier, enemies react and fall a lot more realistically and there is so much going on around you that it creates a great atmosphere to get lost in.

[drop]Technically, however, there was nothing really exciting me. The game looks dated, plays exactly the same as previous instalments (bar those few exceptions just mentioned) and, despite a change in scenery, the level design still follows the same overly guided and linear path.

A week or so later I found myself playing Battlefield 3 and, once again, there was an instant connection. It has a lot of things in common with MW3: It kicks off in spectacular fashion, the guns are punchy, enemies attack and die in a fairly realistic fashion and the game follows a fairly linear path. However, there is one massive difference; Battlefield 3 looks stunning. The Frostbite 2 engine is working its magic and makes the whole experience of Battlefield 3 immediately unforgettable.

That’s when it hit me.

Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest selling entertainment release of all time. I’ll reiterate: The biggest selling entertainment release of all time. Why is it then that Modern Warfare 3 has seemingly made no attempt to improve upon its massively successful predecessor? It obviously can’t be a lack of money.

To me, and I realise not everyone is going to agree, this shows a complete lack of interest and/or dedication to making video games and providing fans with an ever evolving experience. Sure, you could use the old adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but can you honestly say that you don’t mind paying £30-£40 (or more for certain editions) for a game that basically hasn’t changed or offered something new?

If we’re looking at this from a business perspective, which both EA and Activision are, then obviously MW3 has done the best job possible and you can’t argue with figures that run into the billions. Even with the shake up at Infinity Ward and several developers having a hand in the game’s construction it achieved record sales levels, which is to be commended. But this industry is about more than just business; it’s about the fans, the experience and the legacy.

Whilst it has created a legacy, I feel almost insulted by the fact that it appears none of the money earned has been ploughed back into the franchise to make it an experience to remember. I can safely say that, despite liking Modern Warfare 3, it is not a game that I will be talking about in a few months time, let alone years down the line.

[drop2]Battlefield 3 didn’t do badly in the sales department either but, as well as creating something new for their franchise, EA have possibly set in motion the process which could see them finally equal or even out-do the success of Modern Warfare.

When the next instalment of Battlefield hits our shelves it will already have a stunning and technically brilliant engine in place and the brand, thanks to the level of advertisement Battlefield 3 received, is already in a very strong position. If there are to be any more additions to the Modern Warfare series then it has to feature a new engine and new mechanics surely, otherwise even the most ardent fan would feel cheated.

As always with Sunday Thoughts, these are purely my opinions and I’m sure that those who don’t agree will be just as vocal, but if you’re being honest with yourself do you not feel the slightest bit patronised, for want of a better word, by the lack of growth in such a massively successful and popular title?

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17 Comments

  1. To comment on you suggestion that we dont really want the same game under a different skin i would like to point you towards Killzone 3 that tried to freshen up their franchise and failed, imo.

    I would have much preferred Killzone 2 2.0 than Killzone 3. Broke my heart to find it horrible to play online after I lost my soul to 2 which I have never done before to an MP.

    I like to think that, as you say, if it aint broke dont fix it is a very good philosophy. MW sold so well for a reason, and that reason is because its skeleton attaches to the masses, it works.

    • Can’t fault your argument.

    • I agree, but only to a point. I mean, even making the game look better should be pennies to Activision. I feel slightly insulted that they can’t even be bothered to change that..

  2. The COD engine definitely needs not just a revamp; but built again from scratch. Although when you consider it can run pretty much fine at 60fps, it’s not doing too badly performance wise, it’s just it graphically looks like its behind. I think the reason that since COD4, the engine has just been modified rather than remade is that IW and Treyarch only have 2 years to make an AAA title.
    Now I know that they have massive teams in each studio, but they need to be simultaneously supporting their previous game (at least for the first 8 or 9 months after release) and also start work on their next game. IW are also currently patching their previous games, MW2 was done a couple of weeks ago, and they’re working on a COD4 patch, whilst also doing the post-development support for MW3, as well as the map pack releases that are to come.
    I’m willing to bet Treyarch’s next game will still use the same engine, but I’m not so sure about IW’s next game. I think they’ll be forced to remake the engine now, especially after BF3’s graphical power.

    Although that said, they could just be hoping to continue modifying the engine until the next gen consoles, which is only probably a couple of years away.

    • How do you know that MW2 and MW are being patched?

      I hope so – would be great news!

  3. i thinks its quite a hard one for developers actually, IW care about the product they push out but they are in an impossible position between online gameplay that millions love and a graphics engine thats looked awful for 2 years.
    A new graphics engine is serious work and no matter how hard you work on it you still run the risk that you will lose that special something that makes the online component work so well.
    The differences between the antique MW engine and the new Frostbite is jaw dropping and will have a definite impact on the future battlefield titles, modern warfare is look rather shaky at the moment.

  4. I have both and have played both extensively. I think both are great games, but it just goes to show how important gameplay is. I can see why mw is so popular, its got a pick-up-and-play style to it whereas bf is a little more difficult to get into. Bf just isn’t that immediately user-friendly and it takes a good while to get to grips with how everything works, plus running for 3 minutes to get near your objective only to get sniped could potentially be a deal breaker for a lot of people.

  5. I’d rather they sort out the online lag. When I kill someone, and I aim where they just were, I feel bad, and when it happens to me, I rage… Make it look a bit prettier and fix that, and everything else is dandy.

  6. After DICE/EA decided that they were unwilling to fix the broken stat system on Battlefield: BC2, I have decided that I am unwilling to support this franchise.

    • what exactly was broken about it? it was fine for me.

      • also you can hardly say dice didn’t support there game (bc2) after release, there were five big patch’s, 16 extra free maps!, dlc co-op mode and the huge Vietnam expansion pack.

      • It is broken in that everytime I tried to play it I was level 1 and would have to pplay a few games before it would remember what level I actually was which is unacceptable.

  7. So right about the feel of battlefield. It is intense. Cod is a rehash. Reasonable campaign, where as bf3 is awesome.

  8. I used to care about developers not innovating with their franchises, but then i took an arrow to the knee.

  9. Rinse and repeating is no strange tradition in any medium. You only have to look at film as a whole as many plagiarise elements from each other. I agree with your argument and there will be a point in which COD will be criticised widely for its same procedure before it falls into overhaul.

    Its all entertaining but should it get the nod over new bold games? Both MW3 and Heavy Rain have the same metascore…kinda says it all really unfortunately :/

  10. Nice article. I’m a fan of the Modern Warfare series but I also found BF3 to be far more impressive, I can’t stress enough how amazing the audio is, no other game (whatever the genre) has sound like BF3. My only gripe is hit detection and spawning in multiplayer.
    I do feel IW have not put much to any effort in improving the graphics with MW3 but I didn’t have high expectations anyway – the way they handled the MW2 hack situation was a joke, and their website hasn’t even been updated in like 2 years or something, so I didn’t think the engine would see much attention. Plus, Robert Bowling said that they would be using the MW2 engine some months ago. It’s almost like IW have lost their way – MW raised the bar for military FPS at the time, and they seemed to want to make an awesome game. But now is does seem like they (or Activision) are more interested in making money, than making a decent game – and this will show, eventually. EAs FIFA slowly chipped away at Pro Evo and is now better, in my opinion.
    This is all technically speaking though, as I personally enjoy MW3 and it gets away with using the old engine since it’s part of a trilogy using the same engine, it runs more smoothly than BF3, and has (an over the top) story with interesting characters. In comparrison the BF3 campaign is pretty weak, I’ve not even gone past the 4th or 5th level, it’s created no desire for me to see how the story unfolds.
    With multiplayer BF3 is definitely for the fans, its not that its incredibly good, its just not eaccessible enough that I, being new to the series, can just switch it on and play it for an hour – I need a good session to ease in to the pase. That’s not a critacism, just perhaps why they aren’t taking sales away from MW3.

    • edit: its not that its NOT incredibly good (it is!)

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