‘Titanfall’ ready to dethrone Call of Duty

Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts are primed to take on the crowded first-person shooter market in March when “Titanfall” releases for PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. There is a lot riding on the success of “Titanfall.” Electronic Arts finally gets a legitimate Call of Duty competitor and Respawn founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella, get to show there’s life after their messy divorce from Activision and Infinity Ward.

“Titanfall” was easily the most popular game on the trade show circuit in 2013. The lines at PAX Prime 2013 for a 15 minute demo were easily two hours long. I got the chance to try it once, and I couldn’t believe how fresh and invigorating it made the stale first-person shooter genre feel. Players were running all over a close quarters city map with Titan mechs deploying everywhere. I managed to destroy a Titan by jumping on its back and shooting its vulnerable spot. It was a thrill that I hadn’t experienced with Call of Duty in years.

 

 

It’s important that “Titanfall” is a success. Call of Duty has become an annualized gaming event. Every publisher wishes they could have games that recorded $1 billion within two weeks of its launch. Even though “Call of Duty: Ghosts” numbers have declined because of the split between current generation and next generation consoles, it was still the best-selling game last November.

The numbers don’t lie, and the recent releases have dipped in sales with franchise fatigue setting in, but the series still generates so much revenue that Activision recently added a third developer into the annual development cycle for Call of Duty games. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that Call of Duty will do anything drastic with their direction, it does give Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games three years to hopefully try some fresh ideas instead of consistently iterating on the same tired formula.

No one knows the real story behind the mass exodus of Infinity Ward employees in 2010, which included West and Zampella who were let go by Activision. It makes for a great Hollywood story with plenty of drama, lawsuits and settlements. Ultimately, most of the ex-Infinity Ward employees joined with Respawn Entertainment and began work on “Titanfall”.

“Titanfall” hosted a recent invite-only beta test for PC and Xbox One, and to say that it went well would be an understatement. The game was marketed brilliantly by allowing a select number of entrants in the beginning. As the hype gained momentum, Respawn opened the beta to the public. The four-day beta registered around 2 million players. Two things can be taken away from that number. For one, there should be phenomenal sales next month when it releases on March 11. The servers were stressed, and by the last day, they continued to hold up — something that surely has EA breathing a sigh of relief after the troubles it had with launching online playable games.

What will be most interesting to see is how a full retail, multiplayer only first-person shooter will fare in comparison to the annual fall competitors. “Titanfall” will have a good head start and will surely build upon its player base as word-of-mouth spreads and Respawn continues to support it with new content. This could be a for better or worse watershed moment for the video game industry.

“Titanfall” will prove that multiplayer-only games can sell in an industry that traditionally has to market single player experiences to attract fringe consumers. If Activision was to respond by developing multiplayer-only releases of Call of Duty for full retail, gamers would leave the franchise in droves.

“Titanfall” is the next evolution in the first-person shooter genre that many of us have wanted. It will sell Xbox One consoles. It will sell massively on PC and Xbox 360. My fear is that it will go on to become exactly what EA has always wanted, an annualized Call of Duty killer.

Reach the reporter at michael.jerome.martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NefariousMike