Medal of Honor: Warfighter vs Black Ops 2: B-team bore?

By Brenna Hillier
24 February 2012 08:18 GMT

While Activision struggles with leaks, EA put its shooter cards on the table yesterday with Medal of Honor: Warfighter. This holiday will once more pit MoH against Treyarch, as the publisher’s go head to head with their “off year” teams.

Will Medal of Honor take down Black Ops when the two face off for a second time? Highly doubtful. Will it carve off a nicer hunk of cake than the first Medal of Honor? Now, I’ll give you decent odds on that.

You’ll never hear an EA executive say they want to kill off Activision’s Call of Duty franchise – not in anything but trash-talking jest – because as the leading seller of our industry it opens a huge number of doors. EA talks about taking Call of Duty’s market share, but what it really means is capitalising on a market which is growing at a staggering pace, in large part thanks to the phenomenal success of Call of Duty.

That said, 2012’s Medal Of Honor release, rejoicing in the awkwardly adolescent title of Warfighter, demonstrates that EA really wasn’t kidding about its plans to foster shooter franchises to stand alongside Activision’s juggernaut. Not only is EA giving its disappointingly-received revival of a much-loved shooter property another chance to grow (a strategy it has used repeatedly when developing franchises), but the existence of Medal of Honor means big brother Battlefield can relax into a rest year while EA sends another bucket out to scoop up some of the enormous pile of cash Call of Duty generates every holiday season.

Succumbing to the annualisation cycle – something the industry has seen destroy franchises time and time again – is too great a risk to take with the massive financial weight thrown behind DICE’s shooter. Although Battlefield 3’s sales didn’t approach Modern Warfare 3’s, the game was inarguably successful. The market Call of Duty has helped create for shooters is so enormous that a guarded but bold investment in Battlefield 3 and its inevitable successors is almost certain to pay huge dividends.

Strip-mine savvy

Call of Duty’s seeming immunity to the strip-mining of yearly sequels stems from its own embrace of the rest year; Activison fields two teams – original developers Infinity Ward and latecomers Treyarch – and interrupts the massively successful Modern Warfare with different kinds of experiences – a new setting, with different characters, maps and weapons.

This year, we’re expecting to see Treyarch produce a sequel to Black Ops, which many gamers did not expect to become a series launchpad. Last year was supposed to be Call of Duty’s “off year”. Coming off the back of the massive success of 2009’s Modern Warfare 2, Treyarch had a lot to live up to, but Black Ops ticked every box there is, smashing its precursors’ records and setting new ones which would stand completely uncontested until, lo and behold, Modern Warfare 3 turned up to blow them away again.

All this despite early perception of Treyarch as the “also ran” Call of Duty team subbed in to churn out an annual sequel and keep the brand in the game. When Treyarch joined the franchise with Call of Duty 3, it was almost immediately dismissed and disparaged. In later years, this decreasingly popular attitude has begun to look historically ill-informed, even as it is now demonstrably false.

Those who held that Infinity Ward was the secret of the franchise’s success ignore the fact that the developer has seen constant, massive staff turnover including the loss of two of its main creatives, has shared development duties with other teams, and yet has gone from strength to strength. Arguing that Treyarch’s titles are less successful is a mug’s game; Call of Duty has become our touchstone for blockbuster sales, and it must be noted that every successive release since the first Modern Warfare has out-performed its precursors. Every second step of this journey since Call of Duty 3 can be laid at Treyarch’s door – and beyond it, to Activision. Black Ops 2, if that is indeed what Call of Duty 9 is, is almost certainly going to expand the shooter market even further, just as all its precursors have.

Activision has been extremely clever with its careful management of the brand, keeping it alive in hearts and minds with annual releases but managing – to this point, at least – not to exhaust its core talent or ignite franchise fatigue. This is a strategy EA is no doubt carefully eyeing off with its management of DICE and Danger Close. If it succeeds, we may see Medal of Honor grow beyond being the “off-year” shooter, just as Treyarch has moved past that designation into part of the most important team in shooters today.

Will Medal of Honor take down Black Ops when the two face off for a second time? Highly doubtful. Will it carve off a nicer hunk of cake than the first Medal of Honor? Now, I’ll give you decent odds on that.

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