Spread-bet: EA’s shooter play may stymie Black Ops 2

By Patrick Garratt, Monday, 7 May 2012 13:07 GMT

EA will announce results today, likely confirming Crysis 3 for the current FY behind Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s October release. The publisher’s vertical strategy could cause problems for genre-straddler Black Ops 2.

While Black Ops 2’s risk-taking and promise of pro-action in the face of stagnation is to be applauded, “traditional” Call of Duty fans may well look outside their communities for a new modern genre fix this year. The obvious buy will be Medal of Honor.

Whatever the softness in the current HD market, one aspect of it will remain true in the later quarters of this financial year: first-person shooting will be a big deal. EA will announce its full-year results later today and will no doubt signal base intent for the coming year, but we’ve already seen how it plans to stand up to Activision’s Call of Duty over the following 12 months. Electronic Arts will spread its shooter bet.

EA’s stake in this year’s contemporary warfare genre is covered by Medal of Honor: Warfighter. It’s in a prime, triple-A slot of late October and will, no doubt, be one of the hottest games of the year. The straight forward “soldiers with guns” theme has shifted for the Q4 big fight this year, however, as Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 announcement has signalled the franchise’s move into the future setting. The future is, apparently, the future, but Medal of Honor is very much in Modern Warfare territory, what with its global terror threat and Captain Price-alike.

Isn’t this old news? Did EA’s shooter ambitions just get outflanked?

Crysis management

Not necessarily. While EA has said only that Crysis 3 will release in 2013, the fact we’ve already seen the announcement and a significant amount of PR suggests we’re going to get a launch inside this fiscal year. As is likely to be confirmed tonight, Crytek’s next game will release in the first calendar quarter of 2013, following Warfighter’s Q4 release. This means EA will be able to cover off both the modern warfare and sci-fi shooter categories, with separate triple-A products, in the same year. EA is about to offset its weaker contemporary shooter with sci-fi FPS Crysis, and the publisher’s vertical strategy could soak up disenfranchised elements of the CoD community.

Activision has no such luxury. While there are signs that it may manage another Call of Duty sales record out of Black Ops 2, we’ve seen definite signs of a franchise peak. This year may be particularly telling. The release of Halo 4 and the obvious creative fatigue in Call of Duty generally has pushed Activision into a future setting for Black Ops 2. While the risk-taking and promise of pro-action in the face of stagnation is to be applauded, “traditional” Call of Duty fans may well look outside their communities for a new modern genre fix this year. The obvious buy will be Medal of Honor.

Similarly, it’s likely the hardcore sci-fi market will look to Halo 4 rather than Black Ops 2 for its thrills this Christmas. And thanks to Microsoft taking the heat out of the shooter situation for a year, EA will be able to sail Crysis 3 into the first-quarter schedule and away from the biggest guns, essentially guaranteeing it won’t get blown out of the water.

While at first glance it may seem as though EA will be the triple-A struggler with a potentially behind-the-times release with Warfighter, in reality Activision faces greater challenges in the 2012 holiday rush.

EA has doubled down on both modern warfare and sci-fi, while Activision has been forced to place all its chips on a product which spans both. Call of Duty is incredibly strong, yes, but is it infallible? Is the contemporary shooter genre bled out entirely? If it isn’t, gamers will be faced with old CoD or new MoH this Christmas. That’s one hell of a gamble for the most valuable property in core gaming.

The EA results will go live at 10.00pm UK time tonight. We’ll have live coverage.

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