Rumors about the next-generation Xbox have been swirling since about four seconds after Sony announced the PlayStation 4 over two months ago. Some seem more valid than others, but we’ll finally know the truth come May 21st. Meanwhile, the last couple of weeks saw rumors and leaks about what the next Call of Duty title would be, and Activision finally confirmed that, yes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a game that you’ll be able to buy in November, for both current and next-gen consoles. There’s also a live-action teaser trailer, but not much else. As it turns out, we’ll find out more about Ghosts during the very same next-gen Xbox reveal later this month.
While this particular moment of synergy will work tremendously for Activision, it’s a tremendous waste for Microsoft. Allow me to explain.
Come May 21st, millions will be watching the next-gen Xbox reveal across Spike TV, Xbox.com, and Xbox Live. Whether you currently plan on buying the new hardware or not, it’s something every gamer will want to see to either sway or reinforce their position. As a result, millions of eyes, whether they care about Call of Duty or not, will be upon the latest entry in Activision’s megaton franchise. We’ll all get to see what a next-generation Call of Duty looks like — built on a new engine, no less — garnering the kind of focused attention that EA can only dream of for a Battlefield game.
Microsoft has little to gain from any of this, though. For starters, many people already associate the Call of Duty and Xbox brands with each other. Between the timed DLC and Xbox logo splash at the end of most CoD trailers, that’s just how it is. This will reinforce that mentality, obviously, but it won’t do much, if anything, to sway people in Microsoft’s direction.
More important, however, is the fact that the game isn’t exclusive in any way that truly matters. Xbox will still getting timed exclusive DLC for Ghosts as part of a previous arrangement with Activision, but the game will still release on PS3, PS4, and PC. Even though the Xbox 360 versions of Call of Duty are the best-selling, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that they’re less than half of any given CoD title’s total revenue. Most Call of Duty fans get their fix elsewhere, and many will be watching the next-gen gameplay reveal on May 21st and think, “Boy, that’ll be great to play on PS4” or “I’m definitely upgrading my PC for this.”
Ultimately, Microsoft is going to help push more PlayStation and PC sales for Call of Duty: Ghosts than Xbox.
Suppose that someone watching the reveal does end up associating Xbox and Call of Duty. They’re excited by what they’ve seen, and they head over to GameStop or Amazon to preorder a copy of Ghosts. When they do, the clerk won’t assume they’re talking about an Xbox version. They’ll be asked to specify because each store will have to push hundreds of each version, and suddenly that Xbubble pops. “Oh, there’s a new PlayStation coming, too? What’s the difference?” Whatever those differences may be, they’ll be explained and suddenly the chances of going Xbox are lessened. Hell, maybe they’ll bypass next-gen altogether and stick with whatever they have for the time being.
Third-party support is important, of course, and you don’t have to look further than the Wii U to prove it. With Sony having announced unanimous third-party support for the PS4 going forward, though, it’s a certainty that Microsoft has been working to ensure that same support for their next-gen machine. As such, it’s never been more important to show off quality first-party games to convince those watching the reveal that they need to buy into the system. That’s not to say that Ghosts won’t impress — a new engine holds a lot of potential, just like the current engine did when it was introduced in Call of Duty 4. However, it’s not something that you can’t get elsewhere.
Microsoft will need to come out swinging with in-house game reveals at this event. We’ve heard rumblings of a new Forza and Ryse going next-gen, but they’ll need more. Halo 5 as a next-gen exclusive would go a long way, and Peter Molyneux has also alluded to a connection between 22cans’ Curiosity iOS app and the Xbox reveal on May 21st, so maybe there’s something there. They must also endear themselves to the indie scene again, as more of the smaller developers are lured away by Sony and Nintendo’s less restrictive digital platforms.
Just about everything that Sony has revealed about the PlayStation 4 has garnered positive reaction from the gaming press and public. If Microsoft wants to get some of that mindshare back, they’re going to have to do more than serve as an advertising platform for multiplatform games and bad pizza.