Modern Warfare 2 Navigates A Sea Of Second-GuessersS

Incensed politicians, angry fans, boycotting retailers: What might be the biggest video game launch in history has more than its share of controversy.

But in the eye of the contentious hurricane that swirls around the upcoming launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, developer Infinity Ward appears unfazed.

"It's very exciting," said Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling, who's title changed from community manager to "creative strategist" as the buzz began to swell for Modern Warfare 2. "I'm fully expecting it to do very well. I'm expecting good things."

And he should be. Set in modern times, the first-person shooter has already broken the record for most pre-orders, according to national retailer GameStop.

And industry analyst Anita Frazier says there's a very good chance it will break Halo 3's record for 3.3 million copies sold at launch.

"The previous best-selling Call of Duty games (across all platforms) in its launch month is a tie between (Modern Warfare) and COD World at War with 2.3 million units including those generated by PC sales at retail," said Frazier, who tracks sales numbers for the NPD Group. "For the title to exceed Halo 3 first month sales, COD: MW2 would have to best its previous best launches by 43%.

"That's a big number to increase, but is it possible? Yes, with what is being reported about pre-sells and the general level of buzz that this game is generating, it's possible. There are also a number of high-interest special edition SKU's launching for this game as well."

But all of that buzz, and those millions of pre-orders, means a lot of people are paying very close attention to what developer Infinity Ward is doing this time around with the game.

Fans have been carefully tracking every bit of information dropped about the game, from the night vision goggles that will be included with some special editions of the title, to plot twists and the way the game will be handled on different platforms.

"We have come to a realization with this game that anything that can leak will leak," Bowling said. "When our night vision glasses went into production, the guys making them figured out what they were for and put them on and took pictures of them."

The leaks have reached such a fevered pitch that Bowling recently advised gamers to avoid the internet altogether if they wanted to have a pristine experience playing through the game.

Soon after, word and video hit of a level in the game that seems to involve player-controlled terrorism. Despite the game being weeks from release, Australian politicians were up in arms about the notion and eventually publisher Activision released a statement defending the game and saying players will have the option to skip it.

But that short lived controversy was nothing compared to the ire raised by the developer's approach to the PC version of the game. When news hit that PC gamers would have less control over the way they play online it ignited a firestorm of seething disappointment, online petitions and, in at least one case, a cash donation to a competing video game.

Bowling and the company defend the decisions made to make the PC game more accessible.

"We have protected what our veteran gamers love about the game, but are also catering to different play styles and rewarding those different play styles," Bowling said. "Accessibility was a major focus for Modern Warfare 2."

And Bowling denies that Infinity Ward and Activision are more focused on making the console versions of the game than a solid PC version.

"We make a fantastic PC game," he said. "Modern Warfare 2 is our most feature-rich PC game yet."

When asked if the next Modern Warfare would be on the PC, Bowling said he doesn't even know yet what Infinity Ward's next game will be.

Bowling believes that the outcry against Infinity Ward's design decisions by some PC gamers is a case of a loud minority, and not the sentiments of the majority.

"We have 14 million players on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare," he said. "The hardcore gamers make up a smaller core of that, and PC gamers are the smallest group of that core.

"It is a very vocal community and they are all online."

The outcry is perhaps also the offshoot of a game developer being so engaged with their community.

"Our community gets so invested in our games," Bowling said. "Therefore they feel, and rightfully so, that we should justify every design decision to them. I think that it's very important to understand that you should be very involved in your community and work with them, but not to be held prisoner to their demands.

"We know our game very well. Some of the stuff you have to put in there and have faith in your design. Some things don't sound good out of context. You don't see the beauty of them until you experience them for yourselves."

"It's a very fine line."

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