Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 Face off in 2011's Great Video Games Fight

02/09/2011 00:02 BST | Updated 01/11/2011 09:12 GMT

Patrick Bach, a chief developer at Swedish video game studio EA DICE, answered with a resigned air this week when asked whether or not he's out to beat Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

"We're not playing the same sport," he said. "We're not planning on being the same game as Call of Duty. They're making their game. We're making our game. If people prefer one game over the other then fine."

Bach's comments, given in DICE's salubrious central Stockholm headquarters, conceal one of the most heated battles in entertainment. The softly spoken creative went on to skirt a question from another journalist about how his views clash with those broadcast publicly from the corporate levels of EA, DICE's publisher, and his body language made it easy to believe he wants to simply forget about the politics of the games business altogether.

Because the machinations are intense: this is war. DICE is putting the finishing touches to Battlefield 3, the latest in a line of video games which stretches back to 2002, and EA's primary assault on gaming's shooter category, a genre that commands around $5 billion annual revenue in the US and Europe.

EA's facing off against Activision and the might of Call of Duty. The last game in the series, 2010's Black Ops, holds the current record as the biggest media launch of all time: the title cleared $360 million revenue in its opening day last November, beating the previous holder and series predecessor Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 with its $310 million in 24 hours on sale in 2009.

The next Call of Duty title, Modern Warfare 3, will release around two weeks after Battlefield 3, a game which has been the subject of EA's biggest ever marketing spend - the company is using $100 million for promotion.

While it was unthinkable that anything could come close to Call of Duty in the contemporary shooter market before this year, Battlefield has been shown running on high-end PCs at a technical level far beyond the ailing innards of Xbox 360 and PS3, which have now both been on the market for more than five years.

Modern Warfare 3 however, has mainly been seen running on Microsoft's Xbox 360: Activision has long-term content exclusivity deals in place which see Call of Duty expansion packs release on the Microsoft console first.

As a consequence, EA has managed to portray Battlefield as a "next generation" take on the hugely popular American-soldier-against-the-bad-guys games space.

It's a power-play in every sense. This is EA's big move on the shooter genre, and its top-tier executives have been ferociously aggressive towards Activision over Battlefield and Modern Warfare this year. EA CEO John "JR" Riccitiello said in June he wants Call of Duty to "rot from the core," a comment which caused Activision chief executive Eric Hirshberg to call for a cessation of insult-throwing and a focus on furthering games as a medium.

EA responded by telling Hirshberg to shut up.

"You've got every reason to be nervous," said EA comms boss Jeff Brown.

"Last year Activision had a 90 share in the shooter category. This year, Battlefield 3 is going to take you down to 60 or 70. At that rate, you'll be out of the category in 2-3 years."

While the likes of Brown and Hirshberg trade snips behind the lines, though, creatives like Bach and the US-based Infinity Ward are very much at the front.

Bach is doing his best to shield himself from the realities from a world where a single video game release can command revenues well in excess of $1 billion, but the commercial pressure on these studios is gigantic. As a case in point, Infinity Ward is recovering from a sensational period in which its two founders, Vince Zampella and Jason West, were fired from Activision for "insubordination": they moved to EA and set up a new super-developer, titled Respawn.

The legal fallout is expected to drag on for years. Modern Warfare 3 is Infinity Ward's first game under new management, and is now experiencing real competition from Battlefield.

Whether or not Battlefield can come anywhere near Modern Warfare's inevitably huge success is moot: Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter estimated in August that the Infinity Ward shooter will likely outsell Battlefield 3 by 2:1.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the stage is set for an epic showdown between the two games this autumn. While the real "winner" of such rivalries is always the consumer, this may well be the year Modern Warfare's stranglehold on the lucrative shooter market is broken. Just spare a thought for the likes of Patrick Bach when the nukes begin launching with Battlefield 3 on October 25.