Success is relative. Many gaming companies would kill for a blockbuster franchise that’s an annual top-seller like Call of Duty. But for embattled publisher Activision anything short of top billing month after month isn’t enough, and Call of Duty has recently been falling short more and more.
The publisher revealed in its latest earnings report that its games lost over 30 million players in the last year alone. While Activision has published games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled in the past, the bulk of its monthly active users (MAUs) come from Call of Duty. By the end of March 2021, that number was 150 million. Yesterday, Activision revealed it had fallen to 94 million.
That speaks to broad struggles across the franchise, but especially in Vanguard, the newest Call of Duty game released last fall. Its campaign was a brief and underdeveloped hodgepodge of WWII globetrotting, and the multiplayer didn’t fare much better. In June 2021, the previous year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War was the second best-selling game. In June 2022, Vanguard didn’t even make the list.
Activision’s monthly active user count more than doubled after it released Call of Duty: Mobile in 2019 and then Call of Duty: Warzone in 2020, but growth in those areas seems to be backsliding or flat at best. Warzone in particular has struggled, in part because of delays, bugs, and crossover updates tied to Vanguard earlier in the year.
The company’s solution to all this is simple: more Call of Duty. The company confirmed in its report that it’s doubling down on every facet of the military shooter, claiming the end of the year will “usher in a new era” for the franchise. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II comes out October 28. A Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 “experience” will be spun off of that. And Call of Duty: Warzone mobile is also still in the works, though Activision didn’t deny Bloomberg’s report that a major Call of Duty planned for 2023 had been delayed.
And if none of it works, well, that’s no longer CEO Bobby Kotick and the rest of Activision Blizzard leadership’s problem. Unless it hits regulatory snags with a newly emboldened Federal Trade Commission, the company will be sold to Microsoft for $69 billion by next summer. The current executives will be on the hook for millions in bonuses, even as many current employees still call for greater accountability on discrimination and other reported workplace issues at the publisher.