"In its first five days alone, the game sold an estimated $550 million worldwide, outpacing five-day worldwide theatrical box office gross figures for such films as Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Dark Night," Activision crows. Those numbers are taken from internal estimates and boxofficemojo.com.
They only tell half the story, however. A ticket to a movie costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $10, depending on where you live. Avatar's box office records owe a bit to the higher price of 3D and IMAX tickets. A copy of Modern Warfare 2 costs $60... at the minimum. If you bought the Prestige Edition, you paid much more for your copy of the game. While PC versions of games are usually only $50, Activision went ahead and charged $60. Why? Because people will pay it.
When the cheapest way to get a product is $60, of course you're going to beat sales of something that costs $15 or less. If you look at how many people each property reached, you'd have a very different view of things.
PC gaming doesn't matter
The launch of the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 was met with disdain, boycott groups, and petitions. The angst was mostly due to the lack of support for dedicated servers, a fact that has done much to harm the community around the game and limit its reach as a title used in competitive circles.
But who cares? The majority of gamers will experience the game on consoles, and PC gamers don't need things like a console for tweaking the game or support for mods. Infinity Ward and Activision locked down the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 to make sure it was played how and when they want. New content is coming for the game, buts let's hope that the Microsoft exclusivity doesn't extend to the PC. It's bad enough that Modern Warfare 2 snubbed the modding community completelyâ€”although not before taking all its best ideasâ€”but making PC gamers wait for the only add-on content available until Microsoft decides it's OK for Activision to sell it to you is the worst kind of middle finger.
You can shove the gaming press around
There was only one way to review Modern Warfare 2: on the Xbox 360, in Santa Barbara, under the watchful eye of Activision. Accepting the paid trip, along with room and board, was the only way you were going to get a review before launch. Joystiq noted that this broke their ethics policy, but they went anyway. Who can say no to a review destined to bring in traffic? Shacknews refused to call their coverage a "review" because of the ethical issues inherent in the situation, but that stance was unique.
The vast majority of news outlets didn't disclose how the review was conducted, or added a disclaimer after the nature of the review was made public. This proved to Activision that if you're big enough, you can dictate the exact terms of any review, and no ethics policy will make news outlets turn you down.
Why spend all this money on flying journalists to a resort in Santa Barbara? Because it works. Activision refuses to comment on the review situation, and the Metacritic score for the game stands at 94 percent.
When it comes to Tony Hawk: Ride, Activision just took things to their natural conclusion, held a three-hour event where the press could review the game, and refused to ship it to anyone. We've heard that for its next blockbuster title Activision is planning to simply visit game reviewers at work, punch them in the kidneys, and then write the review for them.
The gaming press, to its eternal credit, will thank Activision for the readers.
Microsoft giveth, and Microsoft taketh away
Playing Modern Warfare 2 online can be a frustrating experience, with hacks, cheats, and exploits popping up as quickly as they can be squashed. Unfortunately, Microsoft owners got the short end of the stick with the December update.
"There was a full five-day lag between patches on the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360; certainly, there's more to test on the 360, but that's no comfort to the millions of people whose purchases have been warped into something unrecognizable," Tycho wrote on Penny Arcade. "Microsoft's sloth on this matter approaches disinterest if not out-and-out neglect."
What's annoying about this situation is that Microsoft gamers are paying to play this game online, and the PS3 version of the game received the patch first.
It's OK though, since Microsoft paid for timed exclusivity for the upcoming Modern Warfare 2 content. You may get patches a little late, but at least you'll get the for-pay content first. Can some of the money earned from that downloadable content go towards more patches? That would be great.
Modern Warfare 2 can be a fun game. The single-player is short, but intense. It's not a $1 billion game in our opinion, however, and the precedents set by its release and success aren't pointing towards good things for the industry.
Of course, after selling all those games, why should Activision care?