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Opinion: The Contrived War Between  Battlefield 3  And  Modern Warfare 3

Opinion: The Contrived War Between Battlefield 3 And Modern Warfare 3

October 25, 2011 | By Chris Morris

[The supposed war between EA's Battlefield 3 and Activision's Modern Warfare 3 is not a zero-sum game -- both publishers can come out as winners, says Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris.]

And so it begins. After months of sniping, posing and stare downs, Electronic Arts and Activision officially went to war Tuesday, with Battlefield 3 hitting store shelves, hoping to knock the Call of Duty series from its king of the hill position in the action shooter genre.

That's how the story has been set up, at least. The battle of titans makes for a great headline, after all. And as we all learned from the movie Highlander, there can be only one, right? Poppycock.

Once you grab a machete and hack your way through the forest of marketing for these games and the bitterness that exists between the two companies, the story is a much different one - and one that likely ends with not one winner, but two.

In the matter of whether Battlefield 3 will steal audience away from Modern Warfare 3, the answer's pretty simple: It won't - at least not in any measurable amount. That's no slight against BF3, which saw pre-orders close in on 3 million units. But pre-orders for MW3 are at record highs and the player base for that game is exceedingly loyal and extends well beyond the core.

But that's not to say that Battlefield 3 can't ride that franchise's coattails and begin to build a loyal audience of its own. There's certain to be plenty of cross-pollination - with MW3 players picking up a copy of Battlefield 3 to check it out - and that could set the game up for future growth.

The sales estimates are staggering for both. Wedbush's Michael Pachter predicts Modern Warfare 3 will sell 16 million units this year while Battlefield 3 will do roughly half that. MKM Partners' Eric Handler, meanwhile, recently upped his 2011 sales estimates for BF3 to 8.5 million copies.

There's an asterisk next to that Battlefield 3 forecast from Pachter, though. His estimates call for 4 million copies to sell on PCs, with the other 4 million on consoles. However, he notes, if the game's combined review score on Metacritic stays at 92 or higher, the console number could go as high as 8 million. (Reviews based solely on the PC version stood at 93 Monday night. EA held critics to a release day embargo for the console version.)

No matter how you slice it, that's a monster hit - and it could be the shot of confidence EA needs to finally convince investors once and for all that it has turned the corner after years of less than stellar results.

Ultimately, that's where Battlefield 3 benefits EA. The company has been stuck in a quagmire with investors for years now. In 2011, though, there have been definitive signs of life and Wall Street is taking a keen interest. EA shares are up 50 percent year to date.

2011 sales of 8 million aren't a bad bet, either. While last year's reboot of Medal of Honor didn't exactly light the sales charts on fire, the last title in the Battlefield franchise had total sales of 8.5 million units. And when EA debuted the new look of this year's game, gamers quickly lined up to reserve a copy.

Preorders for Battlefield 3 were 10 times as high as they were for Battlefield Bad Company 2 as of last month - and EA has heavily marketed the game in every media to raise awareness among the mass market.

So, ultimately, it really doesn't matter of Battlefield 3 steals audience from Modern Warfare 3. Sure, it would give EA execs more ammo for the never-ending war of words between the companies, but that's background noise.

Despite EA CEO John Riccitiello's April claim that Battlefield 3 was "designed to take [Call of Duty] down," that never was the case. It's a game that was designed to boost the company's bottom line - and to put an exclamation point on the fact that the days of underwhelming earnings and marginal releases are over.

If it successfully delivers that message, EA wins - no matter how the game does against MW3. Activision, meanwhile, scores a victory of its own by once again setting entertainment industry opening day records.

Best of all, players win - with a pair of slick modern shooters. Those who are fanatical about the EA-Activision battle can pick a side in this war between multi-billion dollar publishing giants, but ultimately they're joining a fight that means very little.

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