2011’s superfight: How BF3’s war on MW3 will play out

By Johnny Cullen, Friday, 12 August 2011 12:59 GMT

While a VG247 poll suggests gamers are more interested in Battlefield 3 than Modern Warfare 3, analyst Michael Pachter reckons the Activision effort will outsell DICE’s shooter by 2:1.

Battlefield 3 vs Modern Warfare 3

Battlefield 3 is the 11th installment in the series, but the first main title since Battlefield 2 six years ago. It’s currently being made by DICE in Stockholm, Sweden. It releases on October 25 in the US and October 28 in the UK.

Modern Warfare 3 is the eighth installment in the Call of Duty series, but is the first without ex-Infinity Ward bosses Jason West and Vince Zampella since been fired last March. It’s currently being developed jointly by Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games. It releases on November 8 worldwide.

Our poll, which began in June and sampled 723 people, indicated that 51.5 percent will buy Battlefield 3 on its own compared to 8.4 percent who will only buy Modern Warfare 3. Around 27.2 percent said they were going to buy both games, while 12.9 percent said they would buy neither.

But while consumer interest seems to be in DICE and EA’s favour, pre-orders appear to be evenly split.

Modern Warfare 3 pre-orders have “significantly exceeded” those of Black Ops, according to Activision in its Q2 financials a few weeks back, with UK retailer GAME telling MCV recently that pre-orders for the game are “on track” to beat last year’s Treyarch smash.

GAME refused to give us specific figures.

Amazon confirmed earlier this week that pre-orders for BF3 were up by 2,302 percent against Battlefield 2, while pre-orders on MW3 were up by 321 percent against Black Ops.

Its pre-order chart shows Modern Warfare 3 leading the way on 360, with the PS3 version in third and the PC version a lot lower in 27th. BF3 is currently charting in second on PC, the 360 version in seventh and the PS3 version being in tenth.

An industry source at another leading UK retailer has told VG247 that Modern Warfare 3 is pre-ordering around twice the level of Black Ops at this point last year, with the platform split being in favour of Xbox 360 at 60 percent to PS3’s 40 percent.

Battlefield 3 pre-orders are around twice as many current as MW3 at said retailer. Again, platform ratio is 60 percent in favour of 360 on console. The numbers do not reflect the PC versions for both shooters, however.

“We have done significant activity with EA to drive the pre-orders, and we are very competitively priced on BF3 compared to how well we’re priced on MW3, so that could be a major reason for the current pre-order figures,” our source said.

2:1 win for Activision with MW3, says Pachter

Despite the healthy pre-order numbers for both, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter has said he still expects Modern Warfare 3 to comfortably beat Battlefield 3 in terms of raw numbers.

“No, I don’t think we will be having a post-holiday discussion over how close the ‘competition’ is between BF3 and CoD. I expect CoD to handily outsell BF3, likely by 2:1,” Pachter told VG247 when asked if Battlefield 3 was a contender against the Activision behemoth.

Battlefield 3’s ten-minute Faultline video

Pachter added that even if BF3 was to sell more than Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – pre-orders are currently 1,000 percent more than last year’s game – and MW3 sold the same number as Black Ops, there wouldn’t be too much of a shift.

“I’m not sure that EA has to ‘win’ Call of Duty customers in order for BF3 to succeed. The most likely outcome is that BF3 sells a couple of million units more than BFBC2, and that CoD sells the same number of units as last year.

“So even if BF3 gains share – the BF brand grows and the CoD brand doesn’t – that doesn’t mean you’ll see much of an impact on the CoD fan base, or any dramatic shift of popular opinion.”

Both games have seen the introduction of social networks this year: Call of Duty Elite and Battlelog. Elite, which is currently in beta, will have both features for free members and those who wish to subscribe. Battlelog, however, will be completely free. When asked if the introduction of one service spurred the creation of another, Pachter called it a “natural move.”

“If CoD Elite succeeds, I think you’ll see other publishers start to introduce premium subscription plans.”

EA to rotate Battlefield and Medal of Honor

While you can probably guess that an iteration of Call of Duty next year will be as likely as the sun rising every day – we’ve still to see what Sledgehammer’s action-adventure effort is, for example – EA is working on a new Medal of Honor title from Danger Close, as confirmed earlier this year, with the smart money saying it’ll release next year.

“I think that EA intends to rotate Battlefield and Medal of Honor every other year, and hopes that the two games will slowly capture share from Call of Duty,” Pachter said.

Modern Warfare 3’s live demo at E3.

“In fairness, the FPS category is around 25 percent of all games sold, so around $5 billion in sales in the US and Europe. There is plenty of room for all of these games to thrive, and it’s naïve to say that if Battlefield 3 does well, it will come at the expense of Call of Duty.”

While the outlook looks great for both MW3 and BF3, then it seems EA is being more careful not to overload its IP: series producer Patrick Bach said specifically recently that he believes yearly releases would damage Battlefield.

Activision, infamously, takes a more brutal approach to its successes. If the publisher extends its “strip-mine mode” with Call of Duty as it did with Guitar Hero, could the CoD bubble burst?

“Games that come out annually are far more likely to peak than games that come out less frequently. Separately, no game can see sales go up forever. CoD is bumping up against the law of impossibly large numbers,” Pachter told us.

“I expected sales to flatten or decline last year, so of course, I find it difficult to predict another increase, especially when CoD customers have a great alternative with BF3. My best guess is that the network effect of CoD multiplayer will allow the franchise to grow again, but, ultimately, I think sales will peak, and over time, fatigue from annual releases is bound to set in.”

Modern Warfare 3 launches on November 8 worldwide on PS3, 360, Wii and PC. Battlefield 3 will release on October 25 in the US and October 28 in the UK for PS3, 360 and PC.

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