Tripwire Interactive, developers of the Red Orchestra 2 and Killing Floor series, have put a lot of time and effort into the crafting of their authentic shooter experiences. Now, in the wake of some frustrating focus testing, Tripwire President John Gibson has made some pretty bold claims about the mega-popular Call of Duty franchise. While speaking to PC Gamer, he went on record claiming that, “Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players.”
But before you get out your torches and pitchforks and join the mob marching on his home, listen to the rest of his explanation and justification. When asked for his thoughts on the modern day FPS genre, here’s what Gibson has to say:
“I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown ‘I’m on a rail’ linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters,” he said. “In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, ‘Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.'”
But, even with the resurgence of RPG shooters and non-linear storytelling, Gibson is still troubled about the state of the FPS genre. “On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players.”
“I know that’s a bold statement,” he admitted, “but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode [for RO2], I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, ‘I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.’
Specifically, it appears that loyal fans of CoD had one simple problem with the game: It wasn’t Call of Duty. So, what makes the Call of Duty formula so popular that players refuse to accept any other playstyle? Gibson explains that, “one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it.”
Gibson feels this compression comes at a high cost, one his team is unwilling to pay. The game may feel fun and satisfying, “but the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up and says ‘I got a kill!’ They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much.”
“So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like ‘This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game,’ Gibson explained. “And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accessible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go… but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse.”
There’s more to the interview with PC Gamer, so I encourage you all to read through it.
Of course, calling out the single most popular shooter in gaming today is probably not the best way to garner support for your cause, but Gibson does make a few good points. The problem here is that Call of Duty is not specifically the problem, it’s only the result of a larger issue at play here. One of the few drawbacks to video games becoming more mainstream is that they’ve had to adapt to the growing market of consumers. That means, more often than not, that games have to prioritize accessibility over all else.
Unfortunately, for the gamers that grew up playing with no continues, one-hit kills, and cheap deaths, this means that games are way easier now then they have ever been before. But the thing is, they’re only easy for those of us who earned our stripes out on the no-nonsense battlefields of retro-gaming. This is something I’ll be discussing in an upcoming TL;DR feature, so I don’t want to get too deep into it, but the gist of it is that games like Call of Duty attempt to reach an audience of gamers who are only interested in playing Call of Duty with their buddies. They’re easy and accessible because gameplay mechanics are NOT the focus of their design. Instead, using addictive characteristics like instant gratification through constant medals, perks and point awards keep players constantly looking forward to the next kill and subsequent achievement (in-game achievement, not Xbox achievement).
It isn’t fair to blame Call of Duty for successfully appealing to a group of folks who wouldn’t otherwise be playing any games at all. The majority of the folks that Gibson used in his focus testing seem to be ones who exclusively play CoD and little else. So of course fans of Call of Duty that are only interested in playing games that are exactly like Call of Duty aren’t going to want to play a game that isn’t like Call of Duty. I mean, like duh, right?
So on one hand, we have a man who’s clearly frustrated over a genre that’s become so infused with compressed skill gaps that there’s little success to be found for the authentic shooting experiences of yesteryear. On the other hand, he’s making a wide-arcing generalization but only specifically targeting one franchise that really hasn’t done anything wrong, given that Call of Duty is simply just appealing to an already-existing crowd that wants exactly what CoD is offering. While I believe Gibson is partly in the wrong for shining the spotlight on the CoD franchise, his points are certainly still valid when looking at the industry as a whole. If nothing else, pointing the finger at CoD will at least get other developers thinking about what they can do and if this an issue worth considering. (Which it is.)
I’m sure you folks have all kinds of opinions about this, so feel free to let loose in the comments below. Just make sure to justify your points with tangible evidence and facts, and avoid sweeping generalizations that don’t really have any weight. Let’s see where this conversation takes us.