Seems every time you turn around, Call of Duty's "on its way out". Like a disobedient child, hovering on the stairs after you've packed him off to bed. Such is the loathing the franchise attracts in certain quarters of the internet, that the most infinitesimal of commercial wobbles prompts trumpet blasts and vulture-like cackling.
Yesterday, US analyst Macquarie Equities claimed that sales of Modern Warfare 3 are lagging somewhat behind those of the previous instalment, Call of Duty: Black Ops. In North America, at least, the game's total sales volume is apparently down 4.2 per cent. As we wrote in the associated news piece, the findings probably don't make for all-that-pleasant reading at Acti Towers. But to claim, as some have, that Call of Duty's death knell has been sounded is ridiculous. Here's why.
1. The figures don't tell us much
There's nothing decisive in the Macquarie Equities report - we're talking about two pieces of data, and figures that suggest the contrary aren't exactly in short supply. If Modern Warfare 3 did fall behind Black Ops in March, that has to be seen in the context of, among other things, Call of Duty's most successful launch sales period ever, rocketing to $1 billion in 16 days despite competition from Battlefield 3 among other heavyweights.
There's some additional evidence of slippage: over at GI, Johnny Minkley writes that total boxed sales of Modern Warfare 3 in the UK to date trail Black Ops by 7.6 per cent. But the game has actually out-performed its predecessor on these shores in the past four weeks. The only conclusion we can draw from the data itself is that Modern Warfare 3 hasn't trumped prior Call of Duties in every respect - worth a bit of calculating introspection from Bobby Kotick's end, but no indication of terminal decay.
2. The market as a whole is struggling
It's been an incredibly bad year or so for the boxed console game. With GAME Group out of the picture, the UK industry took a big hit in March, selling a mere 2.7 million games - 34 per cent - of the 4.1 million games sold in 2011. Sales in the entire first quarter are also 30 per cent down on Q1 2011. It was a similar story last month over in the States, where the NPD reported software sales drop-offs of 26 per cent and a hardware decline of 35 per cent. If Modern Warfare 3's on the downer, this may owe as much to fluctuating market fortunes as those of the franchise itself. And guess what - Activision's already taken steps to soften the fallout.
3. Call of Duty: Elite is Activision's new World of Warcraft
Call of Duty: Elite encountered high-profile upsets at launch, but only because so many people wanted it, in spite of months of calumny surrounding the utterly undeserved stigma of a "separately sold multiplayer component". Last we heard, the service had seven million users, one and a half million of whom pay $49.99 for a yearly subscription.