Battlefield or Call of Duty? As Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 approach, it’s hard to avoid this debate. As a longtime Battlefield player, I’ve always been perplexed why these two franchises are even compared.Sure, they’re both first-person shooters with loyal multiplayer followings, but that’s about all they have in common.

Anyone who’s spent a considerable amount of time playing Battlefield and Call of Duty can tell you that the games are very different. That became even more apparent last June when we had a chance to sit-in on a focus group showcasing Battlefield 3.

Unknown to the participants, the focus group was run by EA to help gather objective, un-biased feedback on Battlefield 3. The participants were all hardcore FPS gamers, many of which had never played a Battlefield game before. In fact, most of the participants were huge Call of Duty fans.

The gamers arrived at a nondescript office building outside of LA only knowing they would be playing a game and asked some questions afterward. They didn’t know what game they’d be playing and they had no idea the whole session was arranged by EA.

Apparently such deception is standard operating procedure when running focus groups in an effort to preserve objectivity. Gamers filed in and out of the office for nearly two whole days, arriving at their scheduled time to play.

Upon arrival, the participants were ushered into a room filled with high-end PCs. Since we were guests of EA, we were allowed to sit behind a two-way mirror and watch as the players worked their way through an early build of Operation Metro’s Rush mode; probably the most CoD-friendly map.

While everyone seemed to figure out the controls, within a few minutes of each session, it was easy to spot the few gamers who had played a Battlefield game before.

They took a more methodical approach to attacking and defending the M-COM stations. Also, they seemed to have a better grasp of how to use the classes, dropping medkits and ammo boxes for their teammates. Even more impressive was how some Battlefield veterans took leadership roles, helping their teammates understand the nuances of the game mode. Before long a room full of strangers were playing as a team, utilizing the spotting feature, squad spawning, and other supportive actions.

After playing two rounds of Rush, approximately eight gamers were selected out of each group to participate in a group discussion. Once again, we were allowed to watch one of these discussions from behind a two-way mirror. A moderator asking a variety of questions directed each discussion.

To my surprise, some of the most energetic feedback came from CoD players. Although they admitted they weren’t familiar with everything in the game, they were definitely intrigued by the unique pacing and teamplay elements offered by Battlefield 3. They came away realizing there’s much more to succeeding in Battlefield than just racking-up kills and kill streaks, allowing for a greater variety of play styles.

The discussion we witnessed went on for more than an hour before ending with a two-part question: how many would consider buying Modern Warfare 3? Most of the gamers raised their hands, one even admitting he wasn’t enthusiastic, but felt a sense of loyalty to Infinity Ward. Then the moderator asked how many would consider buying Battlefield 3…every hand shot up.

This only confirmed something I’ve always believed: CoD and Battlefield offer very different gameplay experiences and there’s room for both to succeed, even in a crowded shooter market. CoD emphasizes fast-paced, twitch gaming while Battlefield takes a more tactical approach, where a fast trigger finger isn’t the only way to rise through the ranks.

Given the popularity of CoD, Battlefield definitely has an uphill fight. But I was surprised by how warmly Battlefield 3 was received by hardened CoD players looking for a change of scenery. Hopefully more CoD players will discover the depth and variety offered by Battlefield 3. With so much quality, there’s no reason why gamers should limit themselves to just one online FPS shooter this season.