With almost 3 million dislikes on its official trailer and allegedly one of, if not the lowest number of pre-order sales to ever grace a modern Call of Duty game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is setting all kinds of new records for the franchise. According to VGChartz.com, the console versions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare are cumulatively selling significantly less pre-orders than Mirror's Edge Catalyst, OnePiece: Burning Blood, and Homefront: The Revolution—games that would normally not be considered competitors to one of the largest franchises to ever exist in gaming.
Of course, had the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare trailer been a legitimately bad or offensive trailer, such dire forecasts for the game would not be surprising, but the trailer itself is not necessarily out of the ordinary for a Call of Duty trailer (or for that matter, any FPS trailer). Sure, it's a bit generic, filled with explosions and gunfire and radio chatter about surprise attacks, but it showed off what may be the most innovative Call of Duty yet. Putting aside the huge number of dislikes, the trailer has almost 8 million more views than all of the Overwatch animated shorts combined, so it's not like there's no interest in the Call of Duty brand anymore.
One could speculate that such a poor public reaction to Infinite Warfare could be attributed to the upcoming release of various "COD Killer" games, but the only upcoming game that can be considered a direct competitor is Battlefield 1. Even so, Battlefield games have historically sold less units than Call of Duty games, although the Battlefield 1 trailer does have roughly 10 million more views than the Infinite Warfare trailer.
Live by appealing to the masses, die by appealing to the masses
At its core, Call of Duty's gameplay is very simple: you run around and shoot people with little to no regard to range, map positioning, and pretty much anything else. This means that virtually anyone can understand it within a couple of minutes, from your most seasoned FPS aficionado to someone in third grade to a 40-something year old father who has never played any games before. Any major change to this relatively simplistic formula could potentially cause the game to lose its pick up and play nature, which is obviously something that is integral to the franchise. On the other hand, a very vocal portion of Call of Duty's audience has been clamoring for a change to the gameplay, claiming fatigue from seeing the same game year after year, despite the fact that they probably grew attached to the series for its gameplay in the first place.
Naturally, fairly simply mechanics leads to a larger audience, and a larger audience means that there's a higher chance for an e-sports component to form around the game. Unfortunately, this also led to an intense social stigma against the franchise, spawning such lovely phrases like "COD kiddie" along with an endless amount of references to Mountain Dew, Doritos, and montages. If anything, such a public perception of the series has done more to hurt the series than anything else, as people are actively going to the trailer and disliking it in droves; a spiteful move to be sure, but not an insignificant one. At this point in the franchise though, Call of Duty and the biases associated with it go hand in hand, and it's not like someone can just make such stigmas go away.
This leaves the Call of Duty franchise stuck in a very unique, yet unenviable position: you can't change what makes Call of Duty what it is without drastically altering the game and potentially losing the "casual" audience, and you certainly can't change people's biases against the franchise, so what can one do? No other game has such problems, but then again very few other games have reached such a level of popularity. Like a giant ship that is full of tiny holes, the Call of Duty franchise can either rush to respond to each and every unique flaw, or at least go with what they know works and hope that they didn't inadvertently sink their boat.