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.


  1. I had a similar experience with Arena combat in WoW, but the setup there is even more frustrating. No matter how many Arena points you gain from competing, most of the gear is not available to you unless you score better than average as a team over time. I decided that I was not interested in being fodder for people who do nothing but Arena combat, especially since there was no incentive for me to compete.

    Maybe Blizzard understands their teen male market a little too well.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. I actually threw this out as a discussion point on Kotaku.com about a month ago and most people refused to discuss further. They either dismissed the concept entirely or quickly stated there were DeathStreaks so you could get a point bonus if you, …well if you suck (which includes a fostering for the learning curve of a new player) but that’s about it.

    My argument is that is a good start, but it makes no sense to me. There should be a balance. The guy who kills 15 guys straight does not need a “Predator Drone” that flies in the sky and automatically bombs the targeted location killing 5 enemies all at once. That is the perk a poor player needs. If a player dies 7 times in a row without a single kill then he should spawn with a more powerful weapon for a limited interval of 45 seconds or something. If a player is good he can get a perk that has a large bonus, say armor that makes him tougher to kill, but makes him move slower. He can then choose when he wants to activate that perk so he can do it strategically. Concepts of that nature are what would make COD one of the best games to play ever. Alas, that market is definitely established as it is, and people who are not too keen on it are moving on to other games.

    I too enjoy Battlefield much more. There is a different concept in playing. Even if you are not playing an objective based game mode (you neglected to mention there is a deathmatch that is similar to COD) the game just plays differently. It is the squad and the team mentality, and the classes of soldier that make it different. I am consistently in Rush games where I am supporting a team or squad member doing something. Maybe it is a kill, maybe it is disabling a tank, or going for our goal and planting charges on the objective. Its a different mentality, and I would argue its a more mature one as it is not individually centered.

    I would also argue a point against you, but perhaps it is just how it came out. Your statement was that the structure of COD was not good for the beginner or casual player. I agree. But your counter point was that Battlefield is designed better in many ways, which I again agree. But really, when you compare in this context Battlefield is not an inviting game to a newcomer or casual gamer either. In fact, I think it is more brutal than COD. COD has a simpler concept and mechanics to the game. You run around, see a person, aim and pull the trigger. Somebody dies (hopefully them). That’s about it. The aim and shoot mechanic is really simple. Battlefield is a difficult game. You run (or take a vehicle) a decent distance to get to a battle, only to be picked off by a shot from somebody you didn’t see. You run back after respawning, find somebody, aim and shoot (which is a fairly slow response compared to COD), but you need to factor in the distance the enemy is, the gravity and bullet drop, and type of weapon you are firing. There is a steep learning curve on the game. That is not very forgiving for a new or casual gamer. It is a 20-45 minute intense, tactical battle that takes a good portion of patience to learn and not quit on. Repeat that many times to learn how to play the game.

  3. @Ben Pitseleh,

    Those are very fair points. There are certainly aspects of Battlefield 3 I still don’t really understand. I still cannot drive a jet without crashing pretty quickly lol. I knew there was a death match but it almost seems a nonentity–seems like not many people play it or at least that isn’t the appeal of Battlefield in my mind anyway.

    Anyway–thanks for reading–I am glad you enjoyed the article. Battlefield is not necessarily easier on the newcomer but it is certainly less degrading. It doesn’t allow other players to punish newcomers for being new. I don’t mind dying because of my own ignorance but I don’t like dying because much better and more experienced players get to drop air strikes on me the minute I enter a match.

  4. I think your last paragraph sums it up best. For me, MW3 is like digital crack. Even if I suck, I still level up, unlock something or get some trophy that isn’t real… but is. In BF3 I felt like I had to rely on my team more but I hardly got a chance to play with my buddies before MW3 hit the store shelves and everyone left BF3 to get dusty on the shelf. If you have that game for PS3 and want to squad up- by all means, send me an invite. Because I like working as a team rather than being put in my place! ;)

  5. @Chris Todd,

    Haha–yes I think Activision Blizzard understands their audience very well–thus the 400 million units sold in 24 hours–I think they understand what works all to well.

    @Generational Gamer, unfortunately I got B3 for Xbox 360–otherwise I would definitely play with you. I just seemed to have more friends interested in the 360 version and yeah that is definitely the way to play–it’s way more fun with buddies.

  6. Well, even though I like MW3, I still agree with your points! And, not to mention, your tone. Most non COD fans seem to take a immature little girl stance towards us, evidenced by their constant spamming of Mw3 youtube videos, and I am thankful your not one of them :D

    Now about BF3: I might sometime in the future consider getting it. However, I consider myself more of Single-Player guy, so upon seeing Battlefield 3’s less than stellar campain, I decided to pass. This is why I decided to get MW3 instead, which delivers an all-round quality package, as opposed to BF3, which seems to only really deliver in Multiplayer.

    Anyways, just my two cents, God bless!

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