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Herd Mentality

It is “the most anticipated game in history”, touts Activision, eight seconds into the October trailer for their upcoming release, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (hereafter abbreviated “MW3”).

Netizens are quick to harp onto the blatant over-exaggeration:  how can a company verify that something is more “highly anticipated” than something else?  Why would anyone, really, be sitting on the edges of their seats waiting for something that is, in their terms, pretty much the same thing as the 7 other Call of Duty games, except with prettier graphics, and a different story?  (And yet, why aren’t there more people playing such and such an indie classic, it’s so much better, gameplay-wise?) However, there is one thing they cannot dispute:  the pre-order numbers for MW3 are astronomical – over 3.4 million units in America, as of October 29th.  That’s an all-time high, the largest numbers in, you guessed it, history.

But, as non-fans are quick to point out, “history”, in terms of video game preorders, means something along the lines of twenty to thirty years.  In addition, a money-farming, rehashed game is a money-farming rehashed game, regardless of how many “idiots” decide to buy it.  So the question is, why do people care?

That network effects are applicable to social media websites, and social gaming sites, is obvious.  However, network effects are found everywhere in daily life, in the form of herd mentality.  Even in areas where uniqueness is encouraged, like fashion, the perceived social value of a certain brand or a certain item is heightened when a lot of other people value that item.  This is undoubtedly true of console games.   After all, console games seem to be a bit of a slowly dying breed.  Ours is a generation of mobile and social games – after all, why pay $60 for a game (and $200+ for a console), when one can just as easily pay $1.99 for a mobile game, or play one of very many extremely involved free-to-play online games?  Why should the sales of every new Call of Duty title break records set by the last?

The answer lies in the fanbase.  With a fanbase as large and as extensive as Call of Duty’s (many of whom have followed the earlier, non 18+ games,) Activision can continue to crank out games using the same formula.  They can continue to charge $60 per game just  because the fans have come to expect that this is what these games cost.  They’ve already surpassed the initial numbers – the lower equilibrium, so to speak.  And, even if each title seems to fall short of expectations, as many over-hyped games seem to do, people keep buying them, because they’ve simply always been buying them.

Does the perceived value of the game go  up if the commercial tells you it’s highly popular?  Of course.  If a people believes that all their friends are going to be playing a game, they’re going to want play the game too, regardless of the multiplayer social aspect that is slowly creeping into nearly all high-budget console games.

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