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Analysis:  Call of Duty  Vs.  Gears of War  -- Behind the Data
Analysis: Call of Duty Vs. Gears of War -- Behind the Data Exclusive
January 27, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

[The eight most-played Xbox Live games of the holiday season were all sequels, according to gaming social network GamerDNA. The second part of this Gamasutra-exclusive analysis mines its userbase to glean player stats on the last two Call of Duty titles, and stacks the results against our previously published Gears of War study.]

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and its successor, Call of Duty: World at War were developed by two different Activision studios (Infinity Ward and Treyarch), and feature two disparate settings.

Their franchise label, however, is one key factor they share in common, and World at War enjoys the rare benefit of following the prior title within one year.

Gaming social network GamerDNA, which lets users track and share play time, progress and achievements on networked titles, also acts as a database that studies player trends for the benefit of developers.

GamerDNA polled some 150,000 Xbox Live users to find out which games were the most popular over the holiday season, and found that Call of Duty: World at War ranked number one.

World At War Sees Less Play Than CoD4?

According to GamerDNA analyst Sanya Weathers, who is a former Director of Community for Mythic Entertainment, 64.7 percent of its sampled members have played CoD4 since its November 2007 launch.

"At least ten million copies of the game have sold, but that figure represents sales across all platforms (Gears was initially available only on the Xbox 360, as Gears 2 is at the present time)," Weathers notes. "It too offers a multiplayer component."

Sales figures for Call of Duty: World at War are harder to pin down, although recent compiled NPD data noted that it sold 4.63 million copies across all formats in the U.S. in 2008.

23 percent of GamerDNA members played World at War title 49 days after its release. But Call Of Duty 4, at the same point in its cycle, had garnered 42 percent of the population.

The following chart shows Call Of Duty player history:

"The big drop you see for CoD4 is the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV," Weathers explains. "The little peak on the right half of the line is another map pack dropping. By the way, you can see Call of Duty: World at War got a little holiday shopping bump -– one that Gears 2 did not get."

The Habits Of Highly-Engaged CoD Users

Only 8.4 percent of GamerDNA's Call of Duty: World at War players didn't play CoD4. 67 percent of CoD4 players haven't tried the sequel yet. And out of players who own both games, half of them played CoD4 right until the launch of the next game, while the other half lapsed in the meantime.

The following chart shows "highly engaged" Call of Duty players:

Of these, 22.6 percent have stopped playing Call of Duty: World At War and have gone back to CoD4, while 25.5 percent play both games. The remainder never went back to CoD4, sticking with the Pacific theater instead.

"In short, more people had treated Gears of War like a single-player game to be consumed and then dropped," says Weathers, "but those players were more likely to go try the sequel in the first month of release."

"Call of Duty players, in contrast, were more likely to not get the next title in the first month, but of those who did, more of them were devoted players of the franchise."

Time, DLC, Played Little Role

The two-year gap between Gears titles, as opposed to the year's difference for CoD4 and World at War, might explain some of the difference.

However, this is not likely to be the case, says Weathers. To demonstrate, we can compare Gears of War against Call of Duty 4 at the same points in their trajectories:

The graph shows each title's first 420 days. "You can see that their performance was not far apart at all, despite number-boosting downloadable content from Gears and heavier multiplayer involvement and the sequel boost for CoD," says Weathers.

She concludes: "In fact, the real story is that Call Of Duty 4 wasn’t even more popular."

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