Call Of Duty: The Rise and Fall of an Iconic Franchise

In its 17 year history, Call of Duty changed arenas and eras and both thrilled and disappointed fans.

Connor Hogan, Staff Writer

Due to worldwide COVID-19 closures, we now have time to devote to activities and projects that we previously had little time to do. Everybody has time to do something new–be it a hobby, a garden project, or getting in shape.

While playing Call of Duty was not new to me, playing it is something I have not done in a while. So I found my favorite one and popped it into the disc drive.

Exactly what about Call of Duty made this franchise so popular? Let’s go back in time to see.

Call of Duty was developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, and released on October 29, 2003. This game focused on making the player feel immersed in battle with fellow IA soldiers throughout the single player campaign mode as opposed to many first person shooters of the time that had the player complete missions on their own.

Call of Duty also brought along an online multiplayer that was received very well by those who played it. The game mode featured many maps, or small landscapes where online players were placed on teams and faced off in first person shooter combat. While it was very simple by today’s standards, this multiplayer mode was the building block for the best online first person multiplayer franchise in the brief history of gaming.

This game was the first of many Call of Duty games that would be released within the next few years. Activision, the franchises publisher, hired many small development teams to create games for the PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3. One of these development teams was Treyarch Studios, which would go on to become a cornerstone development team along with Infinity Ward in the franchise.

Fast forward a few years, after the release of Call of Duty games that were notably similar to the franchises first, Infinity Ward developed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Released in November of 2007, this was the first Call of Duty game to move from the World War 2 setting and take place in the modern era. 

The game’s single-player campaign was innovative and well received, but the online multiplayer experience COD 4 has to offer was what set this game apart from every other first person shooter game on the market. 

The game featured a complex rank system where the player had to earn Experience Points, or XP to rank up. In game rewards would be earned for the players success in each match. Players could also complete challenges over many games, which would require the player to complete a certain task and be rewarded for doing so. This feature made the game fun and replayable, as players would have a reason to keep coming back and playing.

The games that followed would not disappoint. Treyarch Studios Call of Duty: World at War offered a new take on World War 2 with updated graphics, and was received very well for the brutal, yet realistic campaign mode that took the player through World War 2.

Additionally, a new zombies game mode featured in Call of Duty: World at War quickly became incredibly popular, drawing its own fan base and forging a whole new unique community of gamers.

One year after the release of Call of Duty: World at War, Infinity Ward struck gold with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The game received universal acclaim, and within the first 24 hours of going live the game sold over 4.7 million copies in North America alone.

The campaign featured more fast paced and dramatic action designed to exhilarate the person playing. The online multiplayer took all the great features of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and made them even better by adding more in game challenges and giving players even more creative control with loadouts.

Then, Infinity Ward suffered a tragic blow.

In March 2010, Jason West and Vince Zampella, founders of Infinity Ward and creative minds behind all of Infinity Wards Call of Duty games, were fired and sued by their publisher Activision. 

Although the exact circumstances remain unclear to this day, the effects of Activisions decision to do this would be very clear in a matter of years. West and Zampella were gone, and half of the other developers at Infinity Ward left the studio in protest. It was an event from which Infinity Ward would never recover.

November soon came, which saw the release of another great Call of Duty game. Treyarch Studios Call of Duty: Black Ops was another record breaker, selling 4.2 million copies in the United States alone within 24 hours of launch.

The game was met with positive reviews. But it was another year, another Call of Duty game.

In November 2011, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released. The game was jointly developed by Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software.

While the game, once again, broke even more records than the game before it, it was met with a little bit more criticism for its similarities to past games, specifically Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The criticisms were fair, as the game was not different in any meaningful way from Infinity Wards’ previous entry. But with that said, it was still well received by the community.

Call of Duty: Black Ops ll a year later, which brought the iconic franchise to the future for the first time.

Treyarch Studios did a great job creating an emotionally engaging campaign mode. Various improvements and shake ups to the multiplayer as well as more unique challenges gave players more to accomplish and create.

Additionally, the zombies game mode, unique to Treyarch games, was improved as well. Players could now build items and weapons that added to the experience of surviving against hordes of the undead.

This was when the franchise was at its peak. At the time, the game had made more money with 24 hours of launch than any other entertainment launch, ever. The game is also regarded by many long time Call of Duty fans as the best game in the history of the franchise.

Call of Duty was the best selling first person shooter, in terms of sales, ever. 

Then, Call of Duty: Ghosts came out in November 2013.

The game’s multiplayer was, quite honestly, boring. I played it for about 30 minutes with my brother before we took it out of the Xbox and put Black Ops ll right back into the disc drive.

Despite the lackluster multiplayer, the game still sold very well. The campaign featured interesting missions, like one in the International Space Station. However, the storyline it features is, well, boring. 

Call of Duty: Ghosts is boring in a way that makes it forgettable. As a matter of fact, more people were playing Call of Duty: Black Ops ll, than Call of Duty: Ghosts. 

The online multiplayer player count revealed that there were more players playing Black Ops ll on the Xbox 360 than players playing Ghosts on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One combined!

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was actually even worse.

Sledgehammer Games first shot at making their own Call of Duty game went over so horribly they had to hide the amount of players playing in the online multiplayer. 

Unfortunately, the game also featured supply drops; an item that can be purchased or earned in game. It was designed to increase player interest and retention as a result of so few people playing Ghosts. The items available in these random crates could be cosmetic or game altering. But they were all permanent.

Many items in the drops gave players significant game advantages, and these items could be purchased. The game quickly gained a reputation as pay to win, which turned people off to it.

Many gamers were still playing Black Ops II despite the fact that the game was over two years old. While Black Ops II was great, the amount of people still playing proved that the player base did not like the last two released games.

Make it the last two.

Treyarch Studio’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III was released in November 2015 and met with mixed reviews.

The Campaign seemed unfinished and rushed, which it was. The developers, for some reason, reworked the entire campaign very deep into the 3 year development cycle. When the product was released, it was of poor quality.

The supply drop system infested the otherwise fun to play multiplayer, making very high value items difficult to get. In short, these supply drops were centered around the concept of making the player spend money, not rewarding them for playing. And for this reason, many people just did not like the game and even stopped playing it.

Sadly, the developers at Treyarch Studios opposed the introduction of the supply drops because they knew the players would not like it. But Activision only cared about making a profit. So they implemented the supply drops anyway.

This supply drop system was brought back the next year in one of the most infamous games ever released.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was set for release in November 2016, but even before that it was the laughing stock of the gaming industry when the reveal trailer received about 4 billion dislikes on YouTube in large part because the franchise was going to the distant future for the 3rd straight year.

The game was horrible. It looked and played like crap, and felt like a watered down version of Black Ops III, according to fans and critics.

I would not have bought the game, but I had to to get Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered.

Call of Duty was back! How exciting!

Except Infinity Ward brought supply drops back. That’s right. As soon as I discovered that, I was done. I did not care anymore. Why would they put items in a remastered version of the game that were not in the original? On top of that, they were ridiculously hard to get.

I stopped playing the game, but I did not care about the franchise anymore.

Ever since then, I have only purchased one of the four Call of Duty games (Black Ops IIII) that came out since then. Many other gamers feel the same way according to sales numbers.

This once proud and unbeatable franchise has shot itself in the foot repeatedly with blunder after blunder, descending into an inert mush. Even the once beloved zombies mode in Treyarch games eventually met their end with the fans.

According to Activision, over 50 million users play a free-to-play Warzone gamemode which was developed by Infinity Ward. But the game mode is full of so many hackers and cheaters that it is almost unplayable.

While the franchise is selling and will continue to sell for years to come, there is no doubt that sales have dropped. But I’m not sure if that matters to the publishers; they will still make tons of money for a very long time.

Call of Duty was once popular because the product was great and fun. Now, it is famous for the name on the box and for what it used to be.