Ah, Call of Duty. One arrives each and every year like clockwork, delivering a quick adrenaline shot of shooter action for millions of us worldwide. Usually, that shot is pretty polished, as publisher Activision Blizzard pours resources into its creation. However, development struggles, and a pandemic, meant Vanguard didn't quite hit as normal — and now it's been suggested that CoD might be ditching the yearly release cycle. So, is CoD's development sustainable? If not, did Microsoft swoop in at exactly the right time for the series? Let's ponder.
Once Call of Duty exploded in popularity with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Activision saw the opportunity to annualise the series. What followed, for years, were one-two punches from developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch, namely in the form of Modern Warfare and Black Ops. It was hard to argue with the results, this was the absolute height of Call of Duty as far as we're concerned.
As the eighth generation of consoles rolled around though, things got muddy. Game development became a more complex process, in part due to new possibilities from new hardware. Call of Duty couldn't escape this reality, so Activision formed Sledgehammer Games to slot in and give each developer three years on Call of Duty. The publisher also began to draft in other teams to support development, especially as DLC became a major part of the cycle.
At this stage, things were still relatively smooth. Advanced Warfare and Black Ops 3 ushered in a new, futuristic era for Call of Duty. Whether that was the right move or not isn't that relevant. The games launched on time, in fairly good shape and retained strong playerbases. Not all of Activision was working on Call of Duty yet either.
Guitar Hero Live, Skylanders SuperChargers and the Prototype remasters all released the same year as Black Ops 3. However, they weren't blockbuster launches, and that began to trouble Activision. So much so that in recent years, almost all of the company's developers, outside of Blizzard, are now working on Call of Duty in one form or another.
The need for new $60 games annually, seasonal updates, Warzone content, microtransaction packs and near-constant online patches has led Activision to pour almost everything it has into Call of Duty. When another new console generation came around in the middle of a pandemic, quality started to slip. It had done a few years prior, namely when Black Ops 4 didn't even have a campaign, but Vanguard is the roughest Call of Duty in a long time and it still isn't properly fixed.
These issues have even led "high-level employees at Activision" to talk about "moving away from the annual release schedule" according to a Bloomberg report. Some of these developers feel that taking a little more time over each release would lead to better quality games and happier communities. We're inclined to agree.
So, the question stands. Will Microsoft finally let the series breathe? Will Xbox pull Activision teams away from Call of Duty to work on other games? After Vanguard's reception, and more importantly for Microsoft, its sales, it might be in the company's best interest to do so.
Remember, Xbox Game Pass is becoming the core of the Xbox strategy. That alleviates some of the need for a $60 game every single year. Sure, having a CoD on Game Pass every year would be ideal for Xbox, but it's not like they don't own enough other franchises. Looking at first person shooters alone, Microsoft now owns the rights to Halo, DOOM, Wolfenstein, Quake and then Call of Duty and Overwatch, if the deal goes through.
When you factor in the ever-present Warzone, surely that means Xbox doesn't need a new Call of Duty every single year. There's the financial incentive to do so, yeah, but when the quality of the game begins to slip, problems arise. Especially when you're competing against PlayStation, which strives to put out really high quality games from its first party studios. Xbox is trying to change its own first party narrative, and releasing rushed Call of Duty games each year probably won't best its cause.
If the Activision Blizzard deal is successful, Microsoft will own so many franchises that cramming them all into Game Pass will become a hard enough task as it is. In that case, we hope that the brakes are applied to Call of Duty, even faintly. It could do wonders for the narrative around Xbox, and it'll free up some of the many Activision studios that are currently working on Call of Duty.
What Activision Blizzard series would you like to see revived by a Call of Duty studio? Let us know below.