Walk around the E3 2015 video games conference in Los Angeles and it becomes immediately clear why this once-niche industry is now snapping at the heels of Hollywood.
It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The biggest video games will now easily pull in more revenue than any Marvel film, while equivalent publishers like Activision, Bethesda and EA all churn out the latest sequels to everyone’s fan favourites.
Activision’s stand for example is massive. The size of a small office building, yet placed inside the even larger LA Convention Centre it towers above the other stands with giant depictions of its biggest franchises plastering the walls.
While its game line-up is actually relatively small, Activision holds the keys to three of the most popular gaming franchises in the world: Call of Duty, Destiny and Skylanders.
As a testament to their success the chance to play just 30 minutes of Call of Duty results in a queue of fans that stretches around the entire stand and then off into an elaborate network of cordons.
People will often wait hours, and in a conference that only lasts a few days, it quickly becomes clear that many fans will only get the chance to play just a small handful of the games on show. For video gamers though this is still more than enough. Many of the titles here are months, even years away from release so having the chance to try it before anyone else is irresistible.
I am not what you would describe as an ardent Call of Duty fan. I’ve played every one so far, enjoyed every one and in particular found the games iconic multiplayer to be something that, while I love, will always be a mystery to master.
As a journalist that covers games it’s hard not to be fascinated by the series as a cultural phenomenon that has become such a massive part of so many people’s lives.
Its multiplayer is considered world-class, and in almost every case it is this feature that draws people back time and time again. Fast-paced, unforgiving and utterly addictive CoD’s multiplayer is the golden formula that makes people queue for hours.
To try and find out why, I spent an hour playing multiplayer with the very people that queued. Now when I say ‘playing’, I really do mean that in the loosest possible sense.
Ushered into a dark room filled with glowing 32-inch TVs, PS4 controllers and headsets myself and another journalist quietly perch ourselves in the far corner. It seems out of the way while also having the handy side-effect of giving me a good vantage point to observe how people react.
Neither of us are particularly good at CoD, by which I mean that we both love playing it but simply don’t have the lightning quick reflexes that make it a regularly viewed piece of content on YouTube.
A group of enthusiastic young gamers sit down on the opposite side, it seems they’re friends and indeed from the matching t-shirts it becomes clear that they must play together regularly. On my side is a mixed bag of enthusiasts who don’t seem to know each other but clearly are here for one thing, and that’s to play CoD.
I stare at weapon and character loadout. At first glance it seems as convoluted as recent incarnations, however once you start digging it becomes clear that this is a more streamlined Call of Duty experience.
Yes there are a plethora of weapons, and yes there’s an even bigger selection of accessories, but what underpins it all is the hardpoint limit. You can only have so much nonsense attached to your body, and so I found myself easily working out what I wanted to be good at and then picking accordingly.
In this case it was being stealthy, I’m useless in open ground and even worse at speed, so I figured that if I made as little impact on the map as possible, I might just stand a chance.
With my silencer and ‘slippers’ attachments selected (they’re not actually slippers, I just call them that because it seems ridiculous that an attribute is being able to walk silently) I was ready to take on my first game.
Returning to Call of Duty after a brief spell is actually pretty terrifying at first, you nervously edge around like someone who’s just been given a blindfold and told that somewhere, there might be a open mineshaft.
This inevitably ends in death, repeatedly in fact, until finally I pluck up the courage to actually go out into the game.
Almost immediately, it starts flooding back. OK so it wasn’t an ’80s montage’ transformation, but improvement did come, slowly.
I went from being last in the timetable to being a solid second from last, this stellar improvement continued the more I played until by the end I was proudly middle of the table.
My improvement came as a result of my enjoyment, and my enjoyment came as a result of the fact that I was actually playing and talking to real people.
The CoD where you just jump in on your own has, to me, always felt like a Mad Max style wasteland where you’re either hopelessly outnumbered by ‘clans’, or stuck as the fifteenth wheel, holding a bunch of pros up and appearing sullenly at the bottom of the table.
In almost all of these situations I find I’m so impressively awful that I’m actually helping the other side.
This is where Black Ops 3 helps you. Treyarch’s versions have always felt like more of a team game, whether it was doing split-screen zombies in World at War or tackling the multiplayer in Black Ops.
The style of play, the maps all favour the idea of a team being backed into a corner, or bottle-necked, resulting in a game that naturally brings people into a team.
I don’t play CoD because I like violent video games, I play it because I like doing something competitive with my mates and in this respect, Black Ops 3 feels like one of those games.
It doesn’t feel necessarily innovative, but just by sitting in a darkened hot room surrounded by two groups of friends who had queued hours to have a laugh together, it seemed to me that my initial concerns about CoD’s ability to innovate were unfounded.
If it ain’t broke…