Call of Duty is among the top 5 most successful video game franchises of all time, earning more than $425 million since its first title was released in 2003. For nearly a decade, its multiplayer set the standard for the FPS genre. It struck a balance between approachable, wide-ranging appeal, difficulty, and the wild, explosive fun necessary to attract millions of players around the globe.
Fast forward to 2023, and the franchise almost feels like it has never been held in lower regard by either fans or critics. The latest entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, holds a painfully low Metacritic user score. Despite that, however, Activision recently reported that MW3 has achieved record engagement for the most recent CoD trilogy. Call of Duty has become a franchise that is far too big to fail, and as a result, the series feels utterly stuck in the mud.
Low Rating Reviews Does Not Equal Low Sales
Call of Duty has never been a critical darling series, at least not by video game critic standards — where (rather absurdly) anything rated below an 8 out of 10 is considered a failure. Many games in the series have received mixed reception in the past, so a few low scores aren’t a new occurrence. This latest era of the franchise, though, certainly appears to be one where both the critics and the core fanbase are united under the banner that things just don’t feel right. Activision’s response to this has been to brag about how well Modern Warfare 3 is doing, even despite the negative consensus of opinion. In the end, as long as the game doesn’t flop, it doesn’t seem like there’s much cause for the formula to change, and the game certainly hasn’t failed commercially. It never will.
When watching or reading both fan and critic reviews of the latest game, many of the issues seem clearly defined. The game does almost nothing new while maintaining certain systems that players have been complaining about for years now, such as the oh-so-controversial skill-based matchmaking. MW3 winds up feeling like a $70 price tag on a game that could have just been a remaster of the original MW1 and MW2 for much less. Combine that with a lackluster campaign and a new take on zombies that has received near-universal backlash for once again breaking away from the usual round-based system, and the Metacritic scores gain some necessary perspective.
All of this does beg the question, though, why is Modern Warfare 3 still doing so well?
The Possibility of Change in the Call of Duty Series
There was a similar situation to Modern Warfare 3 back in 2016 when Infinite Warfare received heavy backlash from fans and critics. Its trailer was the second most-disliked video on YouTube at the time, yet the game still became the highest-selling of the year. In fact, since 2009, only two years have gone by without a Call of Duty game hitting the top of the year-end sales chart. This illustrates how even when Activision is willing to make some changes to the franchise over time, the fact that the games have proven themselves able to sell better than anything else on the market year after year means any dramatic shift the players hope to experience will likely never happen.
That doesn’t necessarily mean all hope is lost for CoD fans. Despite solid sales, the backlash for Infinite Warfare was still felt by Activision, and the futurism aesthetic was effectively abandoned after Black Ops 4 a few years later. Ultimately, if Activision truly feels like the fans are rejecting many of the changes from this latest era of CoD, it will likely adjust. Change just tends to happen slowly when a series has become too big to fail.