With reports that Call of Duty 2021 is already going poorly and only had two years of development, it’s clear Activision is rushing Call of Duty.
Call of Duty is one of the biggest IPs in entertainment history, it consistently rakes in considerable sums and is a huge event each holiday season. With epic blockbuster-esque campaigns, chaotic co-op modes, and a multiplayer component that delivers a quick rush of adrenaline, it’s typically a great bang for a player’s buck. Only that’s becoming a problem for Call of Duty, and could end up being its downfall. Activision has figured out how to continually milk Call of Duty more and more, which appears to be leading to the risk of implosion for the series.
With one mainline game releasing yearly for the last 18 years, a successful mobile game, and a free-to-play battle royale, there’s a lot of micromanaging of the IP. It’s hard to blame Activision, especially following the franchise’s heyday back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But as time goes on, these tactics may be unsustainable. Back in 2009, Modern Warfare 2 had immense production that stretched into the tens of millions and beyond, but those costs may seem like a drop in the bucket when considering that Activision generated $3 billion in revenue in 2020 from CoD alone. Yet it can also be surmised that costs have only increased every year as games get bigger and more detailed, and Activision has increased the teams on each game to meet the annual yearly deadline.
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Fifteen years ago, Activision may have been in a better position to delay a Call of Duty game because it could rely on a new Spider-Man game, the 007 series, or a number of its other franchises to help with financials. It never did this given it never really needed to, but now that developers like Toys for Bob are on Call of Duty instead of the franchises they’re better suited for, it doesn’t have that leeway. As the years have gone on, Call of Duty games have had messier and messier productions.
The cracks really began to show in 2018 with Black Ops 4. It was an odd game for the series as it was the first with no campaign, opting instead for a battle royale that felt haphazardly put together, and a multiplayer component that felt like an Overwatch clone that borrowed bits from Black Ops 3. Black Ops 3 had a rough development as well, though more closely resembled a full new entry with all of its modes intact. Kotaku shone a light on the troubled productions of these two games and also broke a story about Sledgehammer being quietly pulled off of Call of Duty 2020, later named Black Ops – Cold War after Treyarch took over development a year prior to launch.
Although Black Ops 4 largely got away with being a more unusual entry in the series since it was followed up by the very successful Modern Warfare, Treyarch was backed into a corner on Black Ops – Cold War. It was taking over a game that was already having issues, giving the team only a year and a half to figure it out while also subsequently dealing with a pandemic, resulting in a game that many series veterans are unhappy with. A quarter of the game’s maps are old Black Ops maps with little to no changes, the new maps are arguably not as good, and Warzone is likely pulling attention away from the multiplayer experience.
Now, Sledgehammer Games is developing Call of Duty 2021 and insiders like Tom Henderson are suggesting it’ll be quite rough, which wouldn’t be a big surprise. Activision is already reportedly mapping out some sort of recovery plan as a result, and is likely hoping 2022’s title will turn things around. Part of the way Activision has sustained Call of Duty is through its three-year development cycle for each entry thanks to a rotating trio of developers, and that seems finally to be unraveling.
With Call of Duty 2021 reportedly in trouble and heavy competition between the massively anticipated Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite, this could be a year where Call of Duty begins to lose its position at the top of the holiday charts. If the rumors of Call of Duty being a mess with only two years of development are true, it’s unlikely Activision will stand much of a chance against all of the competition. The day was always going to come when Call of Duty couldn’t maintain its momentum, but it may be coming sooner than Activision would like.
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