Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 Wage Cold War of Words
In a pair of recent interviews with Kotaku, head honchos from gaming’s two biggest franchises danced nimbly around the question of competition. Despite their subtle differences, the two games’ similar settings, release dates, and audiences will pit them head-to-head this October — just don’t ask the developers involved to slag off their opposite numbers. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is always ready with an incendiary quote — stockholders like that — but the guys who actually work on these games are a little more circumspect, like Soviet generals who saw the horrors of Stalingrad firsthand.
Naturally, Battlefield 3 brand manager Kevin O’Leary is confident that his game can hold its own against the most popular first-person shooter in existence: “Our game focuses on the battlefield experience. Even if it’s not a big map it feels like a big map.” This quote is part of a pattern — everything’s about what you do well, never about what the other guy doesn’t do. To wit: “We give you so many tools; you can choose your vehicles, your weapons, your class” (emphasis added).
More magnanimously, when it comes to the two games, O’Leary “expect[s] that a lot of people will go for both.” Then he delivers a subtle backhand, the equivalent in this conflict of a secret arms shipment to the Viet Cong. Modern Warfare 3, he explains, has an advantage in “Ultra-Hit Buyers,” defined by O’Leary as gamers who only buy games because they’re popular, or because their friends have them. Even if Modern Warfare 3 outsells its rival, in other words, it’s only because it appeals to a bunch of trend-following philistines.
Another segment of the audience appeals more to the EA flack: “We want to win over the hardcore guys who may be on the fence,” says O’Leary. “We want to do that with Frostbite 2. It’s 30 frames per a second on console, but we have destruction, vehicles, a new animation system. It’s not about a number. It’s about the full experience.” When your competitor is running at twice your console framerate, its obviously not about a number.
The public face of that competitor is the ever even-tempered Robert Bowling, who refused to be drawn by Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo on the question of Battlefield fans and their penchant for flame-heavy comments. Operating from a position of immense units-shipped strength, Bowling deployed euphemism like an American diplomat cabling the State Department from Bucharest in 1963. “They are passionate.” Quite the understatement from a man who must have thousands of rage-filled keyboard cowboys abusing his Twitter account every single day.
Bowling made the most conciliatory gesture of the entire saga, when he admitted that he would buy Battlefield 3. This kind of extremely public niceness is what really defines the impending showdown between the two games — if anyone gets a reputation as the “bad guy,” they lose. The narrative changes. One side is cast as the insecure aggressor, the other as high-minded and noble. That’s why everyone eschews the word “competition.” Neither game is better, you see. They’re just different. Meanwhile, you can bet there are teams of smart people working behind the scenes at both publishers to undermine the competition’s every effort, and huge swathes of each design team praying to every god available in the hopes that they’ll win first-week sales, even if its only by a thousand units.
Just don’t expect the public discourse to sound like anything other than this: