In a perfect world, Activision’s next war-based first-person shooter would be called “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2: The Sequel: The Game.” Then, we could laugh even more heartily at the contrived nature of this video game title.
Instead, the once-proud Modern Warfare 2 is being renamed to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a change that stresses the game’s roots in the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise. For reference, the game’s predecessor was dubbed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, so it’s just a numerical switcheroo.
Activision hasn’t said this flat-out, but it seems to me like a branding issue, and that seems more obvious considering an apparent loss of name awareness that occured. Besides, when you’ve got a name brand that’s six titles strong and gaining new audiences every year — not counting expansion packs and console ports, but counting last year’s Call of Duty: World at War — why mess with it? Call of Duty’s got the mainstream appeal that few first-person shooters enjoy, thanks to its recognizable real-world settings and popcorn action.
But changing the upcoming sequel’s name carries baggage. Instead of spinning Modern Warfare into its own successful franchise, it remains shackled to an existing, and rather old, series. In addition, this makes it harder for Activision to grow both series independently.
I’m wading into wacky prediction territory here, but don’t believe there can’t be a holiday season with Modern Warfare and Call of Duty games selling side-by-side. The upcoming glut of “Hero” music games — DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero: Van Halen are all coming this year — shows Activision’s willingness to exploit successful franchises. Call of Duty games could be next, and while part of that will entail making Modern Warfare different enough to stand alone as a game, it all starts with the name.