It's Time To End The Yearly Call of Duty
“Well, it’s officially that time of year again” is the introduction of one of Jump Dash Roll’s Call of Duty reviews, and “improving what it’s done time and time and time and time again” is the conclusion of another. Can you guess which Call of Duty review each quote belongs to? Of course not, and that’s a problem.
Although Call of Duty may have first debuted in 2003, it became a staple of the gaming industry in 2007 with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the entry that revolutionised the shooter genre. It added things like level progression, perks and weapon customisation to multiplayer, and it provided one of the best single-player shooter campaigns in FPS history. Game Informer called it “solid gold”, Cheat Code Central gave it a 96/100, and IGN said that it was a fantastic game. It’s the first-person shooter, it’s the game that many of the readers of this site likely grew up playing, and it’s the game that changed what the gaming industry thinks about multiplayer.
The problem is that, since 2007, the franchise hasn’t changed much. Although there have been 14 mainstream Call of Duty titles released since Modern Warfare, you’d be hard-pressed to notice a real difference between the titles. Each new game may add new guns, change up the setting or even update the graphics a bit; each installment in the franchise (except Black Ops 4) uses the same exact formula. There’s a 3-6-hour campaign, some sort of co-op and a multiplayer mode that’s designed to keep you hooked for exactly one year. You shoot other players, level up your guns, level up your character and repeat until the next Call of Duty game comes out.
It’s become repetitive, and it’s this repetitiveness that’s started to affect Call of Duty’s sales numbers. According to data compiled by Statista, Call of Duty sales have been on a downward trend since 2010. Black Ops sold over 30 million copies, Black Ops II sold just under 30 million copies and 2017’s WWII sold under 20 million. Although the more recent Modern Warfare has reportedly been the best-selling game in the franchise’s history, it’s also been reported that the painfully forgettable Black Ops: Cold War didn’t sell nearly as well as the previous year’s title.
These sales aren’t just numbers on a web document, either. According to an IGN article, Activision Blizzard, Call of Duty’s publisher, is already starting to lay people off, and it’s far from the first time that this has happened. Although whether disappointing Call of Duty launches are responsible for these layoffs is yet to be determined, Activision-Blizzard’s habit of laying employees off almost every year is far from a good thing.
And unfortunately, this isn’t the only human cost of the yearly Call of Duty grind. A 2019 Kotaku article described what it was like to be a quality assurance tester for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Insane hours, low pay and poor treatment of testers were a staple of the title’s development, which although managing to sell passively well, still resulted in abused employees doing a thankless job.
“It’s just a culture of not being cared about,” a tester told the gaming website anonymously.
It’s this abuse of employees that has, in part, also led to Call of Duty’s rollercoaster of review scores. Although early on, the franchise reliability received high marks on Metacritic, with Call of Duty 4 earning a 92 Metascore, the franchise’s Metascore has dipped as low as 71 with the recent Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered, or for mainstream titles, 73 with Black Ops 3.
And, when all of these things are combined, it has made consumers hesitant about buying the next yearly Call of Duty.
Sasha Kane, who has been playing Call of Duty since he was a kid, said that he’s yet to buy Black Ops: Cold War because he just doesn’t see the point in buying another Call of Duty when he already has Modern Warfare.
“Call of Duty being yearly is dumb,” Kane said.
And he isn’t alone in thinking that this is a bad idea. Since the launch of Call of Duty Warzone, a 2019 free-to-play battle royale game, the franchise’s player base has swarmed to that game instead of either one of the franchise’s mainstream titles that released in 2019 and 2020. According to data collected by Statista, the free-to-play mode had over 60 million players, which is presumably more than the best-selling game in the franchise or the poorly-selling Cold War.
It’s safe to assume that Warzone will continue to be updated even after Call of Duty 2021 launches, so when combined with everything else, it’s safe to say that the franchise should take a break for a year. When Assassin's Creed, another staple of the gaming industry that had yearly releases between 2009 and 2015, took a year off between 2015’s Syndicate and 2017’s Origins, sales for the franchise doubled. Review scores for the game jumped from 74 in 2015 to 84 in 2017, and three years after the franchise took a break, it managed to sell the most copies that any Ubisoft game has ever.
If Call of Duty takes a year off, then, it’s possible that the same will happen to the stagnant shooter franchise, especially given the aforementioned success of Warzone. Plus, doing so will give Activision Blizzard employees a year without crunch time, it could increase the franchise’s now-middling review scores, and if nothing else, a year without another Call of Duty will mean that my editors won’t have to edit another review that reads exactly like the one they published last November.
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