'Modern Warfare 3' An Invitation To Non-Gamers

While DVD sales plummet in the U.S. and book publishers fear for their futures, pre-orders for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 totaled some nine million copies. Jamin Warrren of Kill Screen Magazine talks about how Modern Warfare 3 is extending an invitation to non-gamers to belly up to the console.

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NEAL CONAN, host: As DVD sales fall and book publishers fear for their futures, the videogame industry thrives. Pre-orders for "Modern Warfare 3," the latest installment in the "Call of Duty" franchise, totaled about nine million copies. That's three times more than its main competitor, another first-person shooter called "Battlefield 3," also released this week. In a moment, whether this latest iteration lives up to the "Call of Duty" standard. If you're a fan of the series, what have you come to expect? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Joining us now from our bureau in New York is Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen magazine. It's nice to have you with us today.

JAMIN WARREN: Hello.

CONAN: And some reviewers say, great franchise. This one, not so different from "Modern Warfare 2."

WARREN: Well, that certainly depends on who you ask. One of the most significant approaches for this game is a big shift, I think, in the way that Activision is thinking about their audience. "Call of Duty" as a franchise is one that's really thrived on its multiplayer environments and situations where large groups of people play against each other, kind of capture the flag-like environments.

One of the things that happened with those particular games is that they've really favored a particular type of gameplay style, most notably, the type of gameplay that teenagers and college students like to play - which is it thrives on precision and shooting people, frankly, in the head. And one of the things that Activision did was try to find ways to include a much, much wider audience of people who would be interested in the "Call of Duty" franchise, recognizing that those hardcore gamers who love that series since its inception, will always be there, but that there's this larger game market out there that's actually interested in the franchise as well.

CONAN: And that involves incorporating a bit more of a narrative and a few more options other than kill shots as the way you rack up points.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WARREN: Yes. So on the campaign side, the game's separated into two different types of game play. One is a single-player campaign, which is a continuation of "Modern Warfare 2" which - in which the Russians have kind of invaded the United States in a "Red Dawn"-esque scenario. Really, in the multiplayer environment, what's changed is, in the past, the type of game play - the points were calculated by something called a kill streak, which is just a number of people that you shot in play. And they blew it to something called the point streak, which really favors team-based play.

So for someone like me who maybe isn't the most precise shot, I can accumulate points for my team, based on diffusing a bomb or protecting my flag or other sorts of things that don't necessarily thrive on minutia or, you know, single shot kind of game play.

CONAN: Or the reaction to time of a flea.

WARREN: Exactly. Exactly. You know, I think what's interesting here is that this is emblematic of a larger industry shift, which is noticing that these excessive games like "Farmville" or "Angry Birds" on iOS devices, there's this larger movement towards understanding that. It's not just kids and college students who play video games, but it's everyone else as well. There was a report that was done by Deloitte that said that the fastest growing demographic of people who play games are those in their 30s and 40s. In part, these are people who've grown up on video games that are interested in adding consoles to their everyday regimen.

And you really see this in Activision's marketing campaign. They have been pushing this tag line, we are all soldiers. And their latest thought featured Jonah Hill and Sam Worthington - Jonah Hill playing a newb, sort of a new character in the environment, and Sam Worthington playing a vet. So again, you know, in gamer culture, being a new player to an environment is not something you'd be proud of, but Activision is attempting to reposition this property and say, hey, look, we welcome new players as well. We're not just, you know, kids in the basement with all the lights off, kind of shooting each other in darkness, that there are parents, there are uncles, and everyone should be a part of this game-playing environment, not just teens.

CONAN: We're talking with Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen Magazine, about "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get Steve on the line. Steve's with us from St. Louis.

STEVE: Hi. I'm a bit older. I'm calling in regards to my kids' responses. They tell me that Activision is - limited some features within the game, from the previous company that released "Modern Warfare 2." Also, I had a curious response when I preordered the game. I was told that the sooner we preorder the game, "Modern Warfare 3" that is, the more free downloadable content we would receive. That is to say that those who waited until the date of release would not receive this downloadable information, this downloadable content.

When I picked up the game, I expected to see a special code number that we would input, via our live connection, and I didn't receive that. I asked the sales associate why we didn't, and they told us that, in fact, there was no free downloadable game.

CONAN: You got scammed, in other words.

STEVE: Well, that's the word - actually, the exact word that they used. They said, you know, Activision has scammed everybody.

CONAN: Jamin Warren, got a response for that.

STEVE: Just a comment. I was a little bit disappointed in that.

WARREN: Sure. Well, I'll take the first one first. You know, again, it's a matter of perspective. One of the things that's hard about long-running franchises, it's a bit like "Star Trek" or "Star Wars," is that people who have been accustomed to a particular play style, they like keeping things exactly the same. You find this a lot with Electronic Arts' popular "Madden" franchise. They need to find a way to make the game fresh, year over year, so they'll make minor tweaks. And there's always a mixed result from hardcore players who say, oh, I want things to go back the way they were before. But there's obviously pressure on Electronic Arts, in this case, to introduce new players to a system.

The same is true for Activision. They're always going to be making changes, particularly in the multiplayer side, to try to track new audiences. But that often comes with a cost, in that some of the folks who've been playing the game for years and years and years often complain. As far as the downloadable content situation, you know, I guess that would be something to take up with the retailer. I guess we need more details.

CONAN: Or maybe the attorney general.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WARREN: Or the - perhaps yes. I think a letter writing campaign might be appropriate as well. But I think that does point to something very interesting, which has happened elsewhere in the video game industry, is that they're experimenting with different ways to get video game purchasers to be there on day one and purchase from retail as opposed to used games - from a used games or gray market or borrowing from their friends. And so - go ahead.

CONAN: Oh, I was just going to say we just have a minute left. But I wanted to say, you know, they - all those units that were pre-sold under whatever basis, this is a game expected to make over $1 billion. Its predecessor made over $1 billion. There's been one movie in history that even approached that number.

WARREN: Absolutely. And, you know, frankly, as someone who writes about the industry, it's amazing that more people aren't talking about that this is a front-page business story, not just a video game story or entertainment story. You would be hard pressed to find any other entertainment property that generates as much revenue as something like "Call of Duty" does. It really speaks to the ubiquity of video games and what a commercial and cultural force they've become in our everyday lives.

CONAN: Jamin Warren, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

WARREN: Thank you so much for having me.

CONAN: Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen Magazine. He joined us from our bureau in New York. Tomorrow, the growing problem of homeless veterans. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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