Cowen & Co.: Call Of Duty Has Become "Review-Proof"

For the last 11 years, 2005 was the only year that passed without a Call of Duty main title; not to mention spinoffs and handheld titles. Naturally, game critics and hardcore gamers are getting bored with the series that's been increasingly stagnating with each new annual release.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is the 10th and latest title in Call of Duty main series and that's showing in its review scores are showing. Currently, the game has a Metacritic score of 75 from professional reviewers and 1.8 (out of 10) from user reviews. Nonetheless, Doug Creutz of Cowen & Company believes that Activision has nothing to fear from those scores as they came too late to influence pre-orders and pre-sales figures.

"We think CoD has become such an embedded franchise that it is somewhat review-proof," he argued. "We think of CoD as being like EA's Madden NFL, which continues to sell similar unit numbers year in and year out, regardless of reviews; Madden's Metacritic has ranged as low as 78 in recent years."

"Given that CoD changes only incrementally from year to year, we think reviewers have become increasingly less likely to give very high review scores due to a certain degree of ennui with the franchise."

Call of Duty's main contender, Battlefield 4, isn't much better with a Metacritic score of 82 on PlayStation 3. But then again, Creutz believes that reviews would have marginal impact on its market performance.

The biggest threat to Call of Duty and Battlefield duopoly is new shooter franchises such as EA's Titanfall and Activision's Destiny.

"Our concern lies more with next year, when Call of Duty will face competition from several new next-gen shooters, including EA's Titanfall and Activision's own Destiny," explained the analyst.

"To the degree that Call of Duty may become a bit of a 'been there done that' experience for gamers, we think it is vulnerable to losing share as new product enters the market; even if a lot of that share goes to Destiny, as a third party title it will carry a lower margin for ATVI, and we think bullish 2014 EPS estimates assume Destiny will be more incremental than cannibalistic."

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