Previously, we looked at the third console curse and found it was less about numbers and more about hubris. But there’s another curse worth looking at, and one a hell of a lot scarier to publishers: The next-gen curse, wherein the biggest genre on the last generation fades or even collapses like a tissue skyscraper. And Call of Duty might well be next.
It’s pretty simple, when you think about it: Each console generation has had a genre that defines it. 8-bit consoles were buried in platformers. 16-bit consoles had fighting games out the wazoo. The PlayStation generation was the golden age of survival horror. The PlayStation 2 era was arguably when racing games ruled the roost; the Gran Turismo series has two out of the top three slots, topped only by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
And the PS3 and the Xbox 360 saw the rise of the multiplayer first-person shooter, particularly a military themed one on consoles. This isn’t to argue that there weren’t other popular genres, or great games in these genres, or that these genres ceased to exist: Just that where they once were dominant, they have faded in popularity. So what’s going on?
Generally, what happens, and this has always happened on consoles is this. In the first few years of a console’s life cycle, a game comes along that breaks out to a staggering degree, such as, in this case, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The video game industry being what it is, it throws out a few knock-offs or at least games obviously inspired by the hit, those sell to players who want more… and then we’re off to the races.
For the first few years, gamers enjoy something new and new ideas on a theme are spun out. Call of Duty marked a moment where consoles were close enough to PCs that the games could be more effectively ported. But over time, the idea starts to wear out its welcome. And sure enough, time has not told well on Call of Duty: Ghosts.
This is generally followed up with a high-profile bomb scaring publishers away. It seems doubtful it’ll be a Call of Duty game; things would have to go horribly wrong for the fanbase to abandon it in such droves that the game actually tanks. But one suspects that bomb is lurking on the release schedule, waiting to go off.
But there’s the missing part of this story; the genre that comes next. Making that is a hard call; if you’d told somebody the decently-selling but hardly world-beating Call of Duty games from the PSOne era would spawn a generation-defining franchise, you’d be laughed at. But it seems that multiplayer games are making a transition that Call of Duty can’t; games like Destiny and The Division are offering more, and more engaging, ways to play.
But make no mistake. Again and again, gamers have witnessed this story, and it’s coming soon.