When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, claims that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the most financially successful launch of a media product ever–outpacing both books and movies. While I am not sure the comparison to other mediums is fair, I think he is probably right. In just 24 hours of being on store shelves, MW3 generated over $400 million in revenue. I did not contribute to that revenue nor am I planning to.
I understand why MW3 is popular–it offers a very solid multiplayer platform and a “visceral” and “intense” single player experience. I have recently written and talked about why I am generally disappointed with the way in which war tends to be depicted in such experiences, that, however, is not what turns me off about MW3. What I find most disappointing about MW3 is it’s dedication to a multiplayer features that predominately reward individual skill-based game play and punish the casual gamer.
To be fair, I have not yet played MW3. I have, however played every previous Modern Warfare game and I have read enough about MW3 to know that it does not represent a significant departure from the basic CoD formula. In short, the Modern Warfare games reward skilled players and punish new players. There is something brilliant to this approach that has aided Activision in creating the most profitable action franchise to date–they have come up with a way to retain their players. The more you play the game, the more you will be rewarded with better perks and equipment. The better you perform in a single match, the more likely you are to score “killstreaks” or, in the case of MW3, “strike packages”–bonuses given to players who can successfully take down a number of opponents without dying. These bonuses allow already successful players to be even more successful, giving them added advantages over struggling players. This can be incredibly frustrating to the newcomer or casual player.
There is, of course, a simple solution to this problem–play more Call of Duty. For me, the pay off of getting to the point where I can compete with the average CoD player is not worth the time commitment it would require. I feel like Call of Duty is saying to a casual shooter fan like me, this game isn’t for you. That is fine–I am perfectly happy not playing MW3. However, I was surprised by how rewarding an experience I found a similar game to be–Battlefield 3.
Despite the fact that Battlefield 3 is MW3’s biggest competitor and boasts of a similarly “visceral” war experience, the multiplayer of the two games is quite different. Battlefield employs a similar leveling system to that of Call of Duty minus the kill streaks. However, every Battlefield match has an objective–you attack or defend certain points on the map. Combine this with B3‘s squad system and the result is a very different multiplayer experience. There are four different roles you can choose from inside your squad–some are designed to fix and destroy vehicles while others are designed to scout out the enemy or give healthy bonuses to teammates. If you play within your role, whether you kill a tremendous amount of players from the other team or not, you will score well at B3. In fact the more you play within your role, the more likely you are to score well. In this way B3 rewards teamwork, foresight, and planning as much or more than pure individual skill. In the games I have played it is quite common for the best player not to be the one with the most kills.
I understand the appeal of MW3, but at the end of the day it really is just another shooter that emphasizes putting other people in their place. I settled on B3 as I appreciate games that welcome creative styles of play and encourage cooperation in an overly competitive environment.