Call of Duty: No Sign of Decline

I've been trying to wrap my head around Call of Duty: Black Ops' staggering sales, which outperformed every other game in the series on its first day and set records for the entertainment industry.

Activision's claim of 5.6 million copies sold shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose; last year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 set entertainment records, with 4.7 million sales in the first day. Still, I didn't expect Black Ops to come out on top. Treyarch, the studio that developed Black Ops and 2008′s Call of Duty: World at War, was living in the shadow of Infinity Ward, which developed both Modern Warfare games. Also, video game sales as a whole are on the decline this year, suggesting less fertile ground for a yearly refresh.

So why did Black Ops prevail? Simple: Call of Duty is the blockbuster first-person shooter that no other developer is making.

At its core, Black Ops is like any other Call of Duty -- simple, twitchy, smooth, with loud guns and big explosions -- but lately the series has become less of a war shooter and more personal, like an 80s action movie. Black Ops, and both Modern Warfare games, spend much of their time away from war zeones.

A few years ago, when everyone was doing war games with vaguely similar titles (Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms, Call of Duty), Activision wisely changed direction with an emphasis on secret agents instead of foot soldiers. It even considered dropping the Call of Duty name from Modern Warfare 2. Criticize Activision, if you will, for spitting out the same fundamentals every year, but thematically, the series has grown far from its roots, and now has broader appeal than ever. The same isn't true for other war shooters, like Medal of Honor.

What's next? Call of Duty is at a major crossroads. There have been rumors of a massive multiplayer game, which would likely convert Call of Duty's biggest fans into recurring subscriptions. Stranger still, Gamasutra reported a rumor that the series could go futuristic, with space marines. Those seem like logical expansions for Call of Duty, but until other publishers catch up with their own modern, blockbuster first-person shooters, Activision needn't change its winning formula.

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