On February 22, 2022, reports began to emerge that Call of Duty would not release a new installment in 2023, breaking the annual cycle that has existed for almost two decades. Despite popular sentiment, this could turn out to be a disaster for the franchise.
Call of Duty has been on an annual release cycle ever since Call of Duty 2 was released in 2005. Since then, it has gone on to be one of the best-selling titles of each year, if not *the* best-selling title.
It’s a gaming franchise that few could ever even dream of competing with, and that’s due in large part to the annual release model, with each new iteration raking in literally billions each year in recent years.
So while the sudden change of heart might seem confusing to players — as well as being celebrated by those who have been calling for this for a long time — it’s hard not to see the glaring issues this will present if a longer development cycle becomes commonplace.
FWIW, Activision executives never felt the need to stop yearly Call of Duty releases cause the games would make $1 billion in a few weeks, until Vanguard.
— CharlieIntel (@charlieINTEL) February 22, 2022
A large section of the player base, particularly competitive fans, have long clamored for Call of Duty to step away from the yearly cycle that sees a new game dropping each October/November.
This is particularly prevalent during the lifecycles of games that players particularly love. The casual fanbase, for example, were generally fans of Modern Warfare 2019, citing it as the best CoD game in recent memory.
While the competitive players disagreed vehemently, with the pros largely considering it to be a low-tier Call of Duty title, they too have often argued for CoD to let their games play out over a longer span of time.
I’ve been one of those people, too. Imagine a world where the Call of Duty League, or formerly the Call of Duty World League, played Black Ops 2 or Black Ops 3 for several years, rather than having to hand the reins over to Ghosts and Infinite Warfare respectively?
Call of Duty isn’t what it used to be
The issue is, that world no longer exists. The CoD titles of recent years have been divisive at best, or downright hated at their worst, by sizeable pockets of the community. This dates back to Infinite Warfare (and in many instances even further than that) in 2016, and each year since then has split the player base massively.
This has led us to the last couple of years. Modern Warfare was perhaps the most fractured the CoD community has been in terms of enjoyment of the game, though many still play it to this day. Black Ops Cold War failed to offer much more to the franchise, and while a sound competitive game, definitely failed to capture the attention of casual players as much as MW.
Now, in 2022, Vanguard has struggled to really capture the attention of much of the player base. But imagine you had to play Vanguard or Cold War for two years? Many players dropped those games after a matter of weeks, let alone years.
The games simply aren’t currently in a state where players would want to endure them for two years. They aren’t Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops 2 anymore. Sure, some games since then have been enjoyable, and solid competitively, but enough to keep players engaged for that long?
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As a result, the yearly cycle has been the only glimmer of hope in some cases. The boredom or dislike of the current title gets players anticipating the next, and they’re inevitably left chasing a nostalgic feeling that just isn’t coming. By taking away that excitement, Activision could be shooting themselves in the foot and allowing players to detach from the series completely.
The Money Conundrum
Something many players may not have considered is the fact that losing that insane 10-figure revenue will be costly to Activision, and the company’s shareholders. That’s earnings they won’t be generating through pure game sales, so they’ll no doubt be looking to make it elsewhere.
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It’s only in recent years that Call of Duty stopped charging players for DLC, and this would be one of the first options Activision could consider should they wish to make up the shortfall.
Renowned reporter Jason Schreier even suggested as much in a recent tweet. He said that plans for 2023 are “nebulous” but “will include DLC for 2022’s Modern Warfare game among other things.”
When asked whether that means paid DLC or the ongoing, seasonal content we have now, he wasn’t able to give a clear cut answer.
That's what's nebulous
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) February 24, 2022
There are clearly merits to dropping the yearly cycle. Game devs, who already have to work overtime and more to get these games finished by the deadline, will be able to put out a polished product with enough time to do so.
Professional players can really establish themselves in the game and learn it on a much deeper level than in years past. Casual players who love the game won’t have to worry about losing a large percentage of the playing population come November.
But with that all in mind, it’s easy to look past what could possibly signal the slow demise of the franchise we’ve all come to love, should they decide to remove the annual release completely.