[19 November 2009]
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)
Could you take your finger off the trigger for a minute?
If you’re like millions of other people, you’re already deeply engaged in the furious firefight that is “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”
On the day it was released last week, the video game raked in $310 million in North America and the United Kingdom, selling more than 4.7 million copies.
That amounts to a record launch for any form of entertainment, eclipsing the one-day mark set by “Grand Theft Auto IV” last year.
Compare that, for instance, to its movie industry equivalent, “2012.” Hollywood’s hottest ticket opened in those same regions with $76 million. For its first three days.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” is a first-person shooter set in the near future in which players sprint through varied terrains — from Rio to Afghanistan — with their weapons blazing.
Imagine “24’s” Jack Bauer in camo. You’re trying to prevent a Russian villain from instigating an intercontinental war. To do that, you have to wade through the waves of armed hostiles waiting around every corner.
Sounds like ... well, any number of other action games on the market. So why is “MW2” the year’s must-have acquisition?
For one thing, quality.
“It’s contemporary; it’s very realistic and it’s very intense,” says Morgan Webb, the host of “X-Play,” the video-game show on cable’s G4 channel.
“MW2” is an immersive experience with a vivid cinematic feel, down to the music by Hans Zimmer, composer of dozens of film scores, from “Rain Man” to “The Dark Knight.”
There’s also the fact that “Call of Duty,” which began as a WWII infantry game in 2003 and is in its fifth iteration, has established a pretty good record.
“People really like the franchise,” says Webb. “This has been a popular game for a while. ‘Call of Duty’ aficionados will buy the next installment the day it comes out.”
Herd mentality also helps explain that first-day frenzy.
“The gaming community tends to rally around games where their friends are,” says Gus Mastrapa, contributing writer to Game/Life, Wired.com’s video game blog.
“Sometimes a title like ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘World of Warcraft’ will hit this plateau where almost everybody in gaming is interested. Then it just snowballs. You have to get on board to play with your friends.”
Ah, but “Call of Duty” also employs an insidious design that rewards itchy buyers.
“Every time you finish a match, even if you lose, you get points. You spend them to get a better gun or to pick up tricks to use on the battlefield,” says Mastrapa. “That’s the carrot that keeps people on board.”
In other words, play early and often and you can become quite formidable. And you can maintain and even build on that advantage provided you continue to put in the hours.
Joey Rumolo, a Drexel University sophomore who bought the new game last weekend, is glad the acquired edge isn’t as pronounced as it was in the previous version, 2007’s “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.”
“It’s a little more friendly to the average consumer as opposed to ... the type of people who are playing 20 hours a week,” he says. “You can jump into this one knowing you have a chance to survive or compete.”
Available in Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC formats, “MW2” sells for $59.99 but enhanced versions are also being marketed, right up to the Prestige Edition, which goes for a budget-busting $499.99.
There are three ways to engage: single-player mode (you against the game), Special Ops (teaming up with a designated friend), or the most popular option by far, multiplayer (online combat where you are randomly assigned to fight with or against a large squad of other players).
“MW2” carries a Mature rating (suitable for 17+) from the Entertainment Software Rating Board for “blood, drug reference, intense violence and language.”
The designation has a minimal impact on sales.
“In games you can have an M blockbuster. It happens all the time,” says Mastrapa. “Your average gamers now are in their 30s. Movies still have to appeal to a much broader audience.”
“MW2’s” multimillion-dollar debut would seem to represent a boost for the gaming market, which has been slumping lately. Last month, sales were down 19 percent from the same period a year ago.
But industry experts question the significance of this windfall.
“In the short term we might see an increase,” says Jesse Divnich, director of analyst services for Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.
“But ‘Call of Duty’ won’t revive sales; it will cannibalize them. It isn’t adding new consumers, it just appeals to the existing base. You’re taking a dollar from one pocket and putting it in another.”
It takes truly innovative products like Wii in 2006 or the musical games (“Guitar Hero,” “Rock Band,” et al.) first introduced in 2007, to bring in new costumers, the “casual gamers.”
“‘Modern Warfare 2’ is off to a great start,” notes Divnich. “The key question is: Was it all front-loaded? Will we see a huge drop in sales in week two? Let’s hope sales last through the holiday season.”
Lock and load, Santa.