It's appropriate that the new Call of Duty: Ghosts advertisement stars Megan Fox. Like Fox, Call of Duty could do no wrong back in 2007. Since then, though, Call of Duty has become a fashionable thing to hate.
Like any long-running series, Call of Duty has a long list of controversies to its name. Modern Warfare 2 alone had game-breaking multiplayer bugs, a homophobic commercial and a campaign mission where you gun down hapless civilians. This article isn't about those incidents, though. I'm sure you can find plenty of "Top 10" lists that catalog them.
Instead, I'm more curious about how a series with fair-to-good reviews and amazing sales manages to invite such lasting scorn. It's a hatred that's bigger than just the controversy of the week. The title Call of Duty just pisses people off. You probably already wrote "Fuck Call of Duty" in the comments section, didn't you? If not, do it now and then come back because this is a long-ass article.
It's tough to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong. However, the legal dispute between Infinity Ward and Activision is a good place to start.
Activision Vs. Infinity Ward
INT. ACTIVISION PLEASURE PALACE
ROBERT KOTICK, Activision CEO, lounges on a pile of pillows while being fanned by two interns. JASON WEST, Infinity Ward co-founder, approaches.
WEST: Bobby, can we talk?
KOTICK: Where did you learn to speak the language of publishers, Call of Duty Worker Ant #54?
WEST: My name is Jason West. I run the most profitable studio your company owns?
KOTICK: I was watching a movie called Wild Wild West last night. Any relation?
WEST: I'm not related to that movie, no. I'm a person.
KOTICK: (sighs) Too bad.
WEST: Okay. Anyway, I was just talking with Vince and we were thinking that maybe we could make something, you know, other than Call of Duty games?
Kotick waves his hand at his servant girls. They stop fanning him.
KOTICK: Something other than Call of Duty...?
WEST: Yeah, I mean we've made four of them so far and we were thinking maybe it was time to do something else.
KOTICK: (hopefully) Like a reboot of Call of Duty?
WEST: No, like a new series.
KOTICK: Or an alternate history where rocket launchers are twice as big.
WEST: Not a Call of Duty game. A completely different series.
Kotick sits back in his throne, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
WEST: Also, we'd like our royalties for the last game.
Kotick remains silent for several seconds. Eventually he leans forward, smiling.
KOTICK: You know what, you're right. I think it's time for a change.
WEST: I'm glad we're in agreement.
KOTICK: Guards, please give West his royalties for Modern Warfare 2.
Two security guards approach West.
KOTICK: Oh, but before you do that: throw him out and don't give him his royalties from Modern Warfare 2.
The guards grab West by his arms and drag him away.
I'm exaggerating the situation obviously but many gamers believe some version of that scene. They think that Activision cheated Infinity Ward out of Modern Warfare 2's huge profits and fired the founders because they weren't content with IW becoming a cheap factory for Call of Duty games. Activision obviously disagrees with this interpretation. In their version of the events, West and Vince Zampella were insubordinate opportunists looking to cut a deal with rival publisher EA.
In any sort of developer/publisher dispute, though, gamers' default position is to side with the devs. The developers, after all, are the ones actually building the game. They want to make a fun product while the publishers want to make sure it's efficient, too. If they were parents, the developer would be the mom who lets you ride on the cart at Home Depot while the publisher would be the dad arguing with the clerk about the cost of galvanized screws. You need both mentalities to get the job done but if you've got to choose one or the other, who wouldn't pick the fun parent? Everyone sympathized with West, Zampella and all the Infinity Ward staffers who left with them and criticized Activision for being unimaginative bean counters.
Call of Duty was the collateral damage of this dispute. It became a symbol of Activision's seeming obsession with the bottom line. Rather than being perceived as what it is - a series of pretty good shooters - it's seen by many as a loveless product hawked every fall for maximum profits.