COD XP: The Bug and the Windscreen

From the archive: A true story about guns, money, Kanye and the biggest game in the world.

Every Sunday we dig an interesting article out of our massive archive for you to enjoy again or perhaps read for the first time. With a new Call of Duty out on Tuesday, this week we thought we'd take you back to Call of Duty XP, the 2011 event Activision put on in Los Angeles to celebrate the series. This article was originally published on 14th September 2011.

"The way I see it, sometimes I'm the bug and sometimes I'm the windscreen.

"I'll have a night when I'm unstoppable. I hit every enemy and every enemy misses me. Win after win. You ever get a night like that? I love a night like that.

"And then, you know, the next morning I can't shoot for s***. It's weird how that happens, right? I guess that's life. Some you win, some - you know what I'm sayin'. Still, if there were that kind of money on the table... Well I'd be praying pretty hard for a night like that. Who wouldn't love a night like that."

"So, you're not competing then?" I ask.

"Nah. They don't give me a ticket. But I get to drive those that are competing from the hotel. That's the closest I get to the inside. You're from the UK, right? I can hear it in your accent. Anyway, I had one of your teams in the back of the limo this morning. They seemed pretty excited with how it's going. How much must those guys have to play to get that good? I can't even imagine. How is it in there anyway? What's the atmosphere?"

1

Camped out.

The 28 acres of Westside Los Angeles airfield known as the Hercules Campus was deliberately left off the map during World War II. It was here that the American business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes established his headquarters, designing and building planes, helicopters and his giant water-plane folly, the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the aircraft with the largest wingspan in history.

Eleven of the original campus buildings remain from the 1940s. For 25 years they have been left largely vacant, occasionally used by movie studios (85 per cent of James Cameron's Avatar was filmed here) but otherwise offering little more than a drafty testament to bygone glories.

It's inside these cavernous hangars that Activision has chosen to host the multi-million dollar monument to modern warfare that is the inaugural Call of Duty: XP event. Where once the hangar's patrons deliberately shielded their activities from watching eyes, Activision hopes the event will cement its biggest franchise to the map, ensuring that no pretenders will be able to push it from sight.

Make that one pretender.

EA's headquarters are not more than two miles from the hangar. Battlefield 3 developer DICE may rarely leave the confines of its Swedish office but it's on the publisher's Hollywood turf that Activision has chosen to make its show of strength (home too to Infinity Ward, whose offices are based on the north slope of the Santa Monica mountains nearby).

Be it for the lights, the cameras, the action or drama in the hills, Los Angeles is a suitably high-profile locale for what is the highest-stake game in the industry. This holiday season, Activision's Modern Warfare 3 will do battle with EA's Battlefield 3.

It won't be a battle to the death. Regardless of who sells the greater number of games in 2011 it's rather a battle for hearts, minds and market share, one whose repercussions will only truly be felt in the 2012 and 2013 holiday seasons when the inevitable sequels indicate who won the war.

While nobody will say how much this all cost, one spokesman admits the two-day event has a budget comparable to a US television advertising campaign. A conservative estimate would put that at $15 million. So this is an event, a game, that is all about establishing hierarchy.

Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windscreen.

COD: XP is a 28-acre, $15 million windscreen.

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