Welcome to the FlipSide, where the good and the bad in video games collide. Every week, I will recap one positive news story, one negative news story, and then explain what I think about both. Let’s begin this week with the bad…
Jason Schreier broke news late last week that Activision Publishing has laid off about 20 employees across multiple studios. The most notable studio that received cuts was Infinity Ward. Infinity Ward is most known for its work on the first two Call of Duty games as well as the Modern Warfare series of Call of Duty games. As of late, there have been three primary studios that lead development of the Call of Duty series. This allows for a Call of Duty game every year while giving the studios a three year cycle to develop their game. It was Infinity Ward’s turn this past year with the release of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Despite Infinite Warfare being the best selling game of 2016, Infinity Ward was still impacted by the layoffs.
This news comes despite Activision surpassing their financial goals for the quarter. That’s the weird part of this. Why would a company lay off employees after a successful quarter? It turns out other games under the Activision Blizzard umbrella over-performed their expectations. One of those games is the Call of Duty game from the previous year. Black Ops III saw its in-game transactions double from the previous year, which nets the company $3.8 billion. Also, Activision Blizzard saw major success from Overwatch which has a become a darling in the first-person shooter genre. The acquisition of mobile gaming giant King Digital has also boosted numbers. Essentially, Activision Blizzard received a lot of help from its other games not named Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare this past quarter. Activision Blizzard admitted that the new Call of Duty didn’t meet expectations and because of that people lost their jobs.
The video game industry has a high turnover rate compared to other industries. However, this is not regular turnover. These layoffs happened because Call of Duty has reached it’s pinnacle. A lot of factors have gone into this, but mostly series exhaustion is the key problem for the series. There has been a new Call of Duty game yearly since 2005. That’s 11 straight years of at least one Call of Duty game. There were some unique ideas that kept the game fresh like the big change in setting with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. After so many years straight, it’s hard to keep that magic. During these years though, we had never seen notable layoffs like we are seeing today from Activision. Despite trying to change to a more futuristic setting lately, it doesn’t seem to be resonating. Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but we are beginning to see a decline in what could be the most successful video game series of all time.
The sales dip still happened even though a remaster of the first Modern Warfare was packaged in the legacy edition of the game. That version was $20 more but it did peak interest enough to have some people buy that version of the game just for the remaster. I know friends that did this and saw many Twitch streamers play only the remaster on their channels. Raven Software took the lead with the remaster but they did receive help from Beenox. Beenox is the other developer that Kotaku reports getting hit with layoffs. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the lost jobs revolve around the latest Call of Duty game. Activision has a thing for milking a franchise for all it is then moving on from it without looking back.
Remember a series named Guitar Hero? After Activision bought the series that made us all want to buy plastic guitars, they developed and released games in it at a rapid rate. Guitar Hero 3 was the pinnacle of that franchise in my opinion before EA started to produce Rock Band to rival it. Activision started publishing games in the franchise so fast that they became semi annual with specific band branded games like Guitar Hero: Aerosmith coming out earlier in the year. This killed the excitement of the franchise and ultimately led to the demise of the series. This led to the closure of developer RedOctane and layoffs to Neversoft. We can easily replace the Guitar Hero series with the Call of Duty series and see some similarities in how they are handled.
Activision has some serious decisions to make with the future of the franchise. In the sales call they said they want to take the series “Back to its roots.” Despite them sort of trying this with the legacy edition it didn’t seem to help much with the latest game. It led to people losing jobs and that’s something no one likes seeing. The Free Cheese wishes everyone affected the very best.
However on the FlipSide this week…
There have been some leaks about potential features that should have people excited about the upcoming Nintendo Switch. A NeoGAF thread has nicely summed up the leaks about the new console. There was a good mix of hardware and software leaks. What I’m most excited about are the potential software leaks, especially about some of the UI stuff.
The leaks address one of the main concerns I had about the user interface. There appears that there will be some sort of friends system on the console itself and it won’t be tied just to the smartphone application. The feature seems to be called Friend Presence. You will be able to monitor who is online on your friends list and what they are playing. It will also tell you if that friend is in a joinable state for you to party up with them in-game. Friend requests will also be possible from the console as well. These are features that you must have on a console in the year 2017. This was my main concern going into the launch of the Switch, but if the rumors are true I’m content with what I’m getting.
Staying with the online theme it seems the console will have some kind of expanded online network. It doesn’t clarify if this is behind the online paywall that will begin a few months after the Switch launches but it makes sense that it would because there seems to be some interesting stuff here. It seems rankings in-game will be stored on this network. Communities can be made and managed from this network. There will be a message wall section that seems to act similar to a Twitter feed or Facebook wall. However, there seems to be an in-game data store. This seems to be a cloud save feature of some kind which is really cool to have. I know Sony has this on the PS4, but this wasn’t something I was expecting from Nintendo, but yet I didn’t think I would ever have to pay for online services on a Nintendo console.
The leaks go into some other UI stuff as well as possible technical specifications of the hardware itself, but I was most curious about what the friends system would look like as well as what I’m paying for on the new online service. If these leaks are true, which have been correct for the most part over the past year, I’m content with the systems they are going to put in place. It’s important to keep innovating and improving the services and features, but this is a solid starting point. The last major lingering question I have about there console is the virtual console. They have to do this right for the consumers that have invested a lot of money on the other virtual consoles. I will always have concerns about the 3rd-party support for the console, but it’s nice to have some excitement about the party system and the paid online services.
I really hope the Switch is a huge success for Nintendo. It will be nice to see Nintendo back in the hardware market in a serious way competing with the likes of Sony and Microsoft. These leaks point out good direction from Nintendo and show they are serious about making the consumer happy. I didn’t think I would ever talk about Nintendo rising back to greatness, while talking about the Call of Duty series starting to decline. However, it seems that day has come and I couldn’t be more excited for Nintendo. I will be back next week with more of the good and the bad in the world of video games.