Is Call of Duty the Most Hated Franchise in Gaming History?

Is the most popular franchise in history also the most hated? And if so, how is that even possible?

It has sold a bazillion copies. All right, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.

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The strange part is that quite possibly the most popular video game franchise in the industry’s history – going exclusively by sales – is somehow the most hated. Or at least, it earns countless negative headlines every year.

But why? How does this happen? Are there legitimate reasons behind this rampant hatred of the series? Or is it just one childish, petulant attack piled atop another, the result of so-called “purists” hating everything Call of Duty stands for?

Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to explain to someone that, yeah, CoD is the most popular gaming franchise on earth and yet, going online makes it look like a permanently outcast Pariah.

1. It’s hated BECAUSE it’s so popular

This is one of the easiest explanations and one that possibly applies to the majority of complaints. When something becomes this popular, it’s bound to have its fair share of detractors, for the express purpose of proving – to themselves and to others – that they’re above the masses.

“Everyone else falls prey to the siren song of that evil series, but not me.”

Yeah, that’s common. It has happened many times in the past, with everything from Grand Theft Auto to Final Fantasy. It’s a frequent occurrence in all forms of entertainment and all walks of life. The movie that rakes in all the Oscars? “Meh, it’s overrated.” The music album that blows up the sales charts? “Just popular trash.” Now, I’m not saying such comments are never true (in point of fact, very often they are true), but the point is that it’s an easy thing to say. It sets you apart but more importantly, it elevates you.

That’s only part of the explanation, though.

2. The hardcore have always despised the influx of mainstream gamers

They may not want to admit it, but most long-time hardcore gamers aren’t big fans of the “mainstreaming” this industry has undergone over the past 10-15 years. It’s a big reason why you’re seeing such a retro resurgence these days. Indie developers know full well that hardcore vets have bemoaned the loss of a certain purity – along with beloved game mechanics like turn-based combat – and they’re taking advantage.

Call of Duty isn’t the game that initially brought this industry into the mainstream limelight, but it has become the name that most outsiders associate with video games. In short, it has become the Mario of a new generation. When I was a kid, every parent thought every video game system was a “Nintendo” and every video game was a “Super Mario” or “Pac-Man” of some kind. These days, Call of Duty is first on the lips of non-gamers everywhere, and that drives hardcore “purists” absolutely insane.

Not just because they’ll say CoD is overrated, but because they really wish a repetitive shooter wasn’t the poster-child for the gaming industry.

3. There ARE some legitimate points to be made against Call of Duty

Despite all of this, there’s something to be said for all this CoD hate. It can be argued that Activision’s “annualization” approach to this series spawned the same practices in other developers. And of course, producing a new entry every year makes people think that less effort was put into the production. Most don’t know – or don’t care – that each CoD installment last generation actually took two years to create (as Infinity Ward and Treyarch traded off), and this generation, there will be three-year development cycles with the addition of Sledgehammer Games.

They may not care because it still means we get another entry in a franchise at about the same time every year. Even if it feels fresh and new (and in the case of CoD, that isn’t always the case), it still seems superfluous. Annualization is not a practice most die-hard gamers embrace, and many will say it hurts innovation and originality. Well, by default, it kinda does.

Furthermore, given the popularity of the series, other developers and publishers have made attempts to model their products after Call of Duty. This is a definite sticking point among gamers, because it resulted in games with unnecessary multiplayer and more shooters – or more games styled along fast first-person action – than ever before. In other words, some will argue that CoD helped to cause a decline in freshness and originality.

Lastly, the behavior of the CoD crowd when online, as experienced by many, is often so detestably immature and over-the-top hostile, that older gamers cringe when they hear it. “That’s how outsiders know our industry, and that’s what they think all gamers are like,” they say bitterly to themselves. I can’t blame them, either.

In the end, as always is the case with such questions, there’s a little of everything to consider.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.