Call of Duty: WWII is SledgeHammer’s second full ownership Call of Duty title and the third time period they’ve set a game in. This review will be focused on the Campaign and Multiplayer segments, with no attention to the Zombies mode as it holds little interest for me, and I lack an appropriate knowledge of the previous iterations to comment on how it compares. Continue reading
This post will likely be very dry, and at an extremely high view as it concerns the business of games as a commodity and how it pertains to employment, budgeting, and forecasting. Do not take me as an authority on this, rather an impassioned individual who has been burned by the lackluster business acumen of the game industry first hand. I will always defer to hard numbers which are not anecdotal on this subject.
The game industry is very much that, an industry, and an industry must profit. This is oft forgotten and overlooked because we enjoy it as an art, a sport, a social event, a tool, and a puzzle, so it comes as quite a shock when a studio shuts down. This post is not to defend any particular action, but rather to provide a little more detail to the overall financial situation of a game studio, with some topical anecdotal exploration in the conclusion.
Games are not made in a vacuum, but rather part of a larger studio budget. This budget includes the administrative staff, facilities and IT staff, HR staff, legal counsel, and the many other positions we take for granted that are part of any company. Their salaries and benefits, as well as the cost of the office space, utilities, hardware, software licenses, and more, are part of the base budget. Within that we have the game team(s), which has a similar structure but is comprised more so of the people you think of when it comes to game development.
The largest portion of any budget is the cost of the labor, and that is a factor of the local cost of living. Where your favorite game is made is a substantial factor in its profitability. The higher the cost of living, the tighter the margins, and even if a game is profitable, more work on that same scope is risky because of the location. I’ve written about this before with The Costs of Kickstarting in Expensive Cities and it still applies here, as many games are made in California, which is in general expensive.
An aside to that is the subject of outsourcing, as the reason outsourced labor is so much cheaper is typically due to cost of living differences, and in many cases, the outsource is located on the opposite side of the globe, Poland and India both being common locations, which is very convenient to tight deadlines as it allows for around the clock work on the project, though due to the difficulties of time zone differences, this labor is usually constrained to QA, art, and isolated engineering components that require little synchronization with the primary developer.
Already we are looking at a large amount of expenditures to overcome with sales of the game, but people won’t buy your game if they don’t know about it, and thus enters marketing. Marketing is never cheap, but always necessary. At a minimum, take the game’s budget, and allocate it all over again as a baseline for marketing, though it can easily go higher, say, four times as high for a large project like Call of Duty, or something akin to Blizzard’s partnership with Yum Brands. It isn’t cheap to get Soldier 76 on your large soda at Taco Bell, and the game is going to have to recoup that as well. Continue reading
There is a lot of faith in the gaming internet community, faith in persons, companies, and technologies. A lot of faith in the technology, such that any explanation as to why an outcome was arrived at is handled with a zealous response.
If you lost a gunfight, to explain what happened is to be a whiner. A response of qq would be had, no matter how reasoned, or accurate your explanation was. If you won it, to explain it beyond a claim of supremacy is to get muddled and take the game too seriously. In both cases, you are supposed to simply accept what has happened. The game has spoken, and that is the way things are, and any suppositions that the networking could have been structured differently, or the gameplay balanced in a way to overcome the flaws of a particular structure, are heretical. Continue reading
Rock Paper Shotgun would like to inform you that Call of Duty getting a third dedicated developer to the annual cycle, meaning each game has a three-year development cycle instead of two, a 50% increase in the scheduling budget, is worth mocking. They posit that this can be used to watch more Roland Emmerich films to do research on making monuments fall over. An interesting attempt at mockery, though I’m hard pressed to think of any scenes regarding a monument outside of Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3. It also relies on the idea that the development primarily goes into the single player campaign, but you can commonly find people mocking the single player saying people only buy it for the multiplayer. Which is it?
Three hours earlier, Rock Paper Shotgun wanted to inform you of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive adding stickers. Yes, stickers. To your gun. Like a middle school trapper keeper. These posts were made by the same person, who is apparently severely lacking in self-awareness, or awareness of the games he is posting about.
We have a game that is developed by two (now three) studios, each one with their mechanical differences which shapes the gameplay and molds the audience who have their preferences across the releases. We also have a game that is developed by one studio, still relying on the same primary maps, releasing once in a while with iterative updates. But it has stickers!
It is fine to dislike something, but please, dislike it within the scope of things it actually does wrong. Especially when you are publicly writing about games.
Things the genre has but only this franchise gets criticized for.
Individual release ignorance.
Misunderstandings of marketing schedules.
Double-standards for advertising.
Okay, I guess that is enough. It isn’t that Call of Duty isn’t worthy of critique or even lampooning, it has plenty of issues, its mechanics are far from perfect, its community leaves much to be desired, and it can be samey. But what of this separates it from similar games which get treated much more considerately? Dog puns and fish AI jokes? This is akin to reviewing Full Throttle on the basis of five o’clock shadow rather than the story. Ghosts has a rather different perk system, it has a strike package system, it has contextual leaning and smoother object traversal to keep the player flowing in a fight rather than going through clunky state changes. It has been stated the PC version is receiving higher quality assets than any of the console releases. Your character classes persist as AI while you are offline, earning XP which reduces the grind of the game. The single player abandons all safely established characters from the franchise, and yet none of this ever gets brought up. Instead people point and laugh at the action game having explosions and showing the most cinematic events in the trailer. Continue reading
A common attitude about Call of Duty in recent years has been that being an American made title, with its military themes, that it is jingoistic. That is rather false, but before diving in to that we should first call out when the franchise follows history, and when it writes its own story.
Not to suggest that writing its own story is rewriting history, when it goes fictional, it is blatantly fiction. I’m not looking at revisionist cases, and where it does cross with history in its fiction, the process is one of integration to the lore, not revising what is believed to have happened. Until Call of Duty 4, the game concerned itself with specific World War 2 battles from the perspective of the American, British, and Russian forces. In more recent titles, some of the scenes of fiction took place in the context of historic events – the Black Ops franchise is more known for this in its use of the invasion of Panama, and the Vietnam War, as backdrops for what was happening in their stories.
Let’s take a look at the presence of the American military when Call of Duty writers are determining events, rather than the history books – the following is spoiler heavy: Continue reading