What Does the Microsoft Activision Deal Mean For Call of Duty?

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On January 18, 2022, Microsoft announced that it had acquired Activision Blizzard in a multi-billion dollar deal, much to the surprise of the gaming industry. Home to the likes of Overwatch, Diablo, and Hearthstone franchises, the past few months have been far from smooth sailing for the publisher as it attempts to improve its practices.

Perhaps the biggest franchise under the Activision Blizzard umbrella is the Call of Duty franchise which has also been in the firing line due to several issues impacting Vanguard and its battle royale, Warzone Pacific. In addition to the poor in-game performance, sales figures are significantly lower in comparison to the 2019 reboot of Modern Warfare, leading to reports that the annual releases could be scrapped to enable developers to refine the product before it releases across the globe.

Alongside a potentially seismic shift in how new Call of Duty titles are launched, what other changes could Microsoft make to the immensely popular first-person shooter (FPS) franchise once the deal has been finalised in June 2023?

Call of Duty Microsoft Activision Deal
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Xbox Exclusivity

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Arguably the biggest talking point following on from the deal is the possibility of the biggest console FPS franchise becoming exclusive to the Xbox platform, a move that would almost certainly prove to be hugely controversial and one that could pose significant regulatory hurdles if the acquisition gets investigated for a possible breach of anti-trust laws.

To ease concerns from PlayStation players and the wider community, head of Xbox Phil Spencer has confirmed that Microsoft has a "desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation," meaning the likelihood of it disappearing from Sony's consoles in the near future is unlikely.

While future titles won't be subject to exclusivity, specific pre-order bonuses such as early access to betas and exclusive cosmetic items are likely to transition to Xbox once Activision Blizzard's current deal with Sony runs its course which is a significant change in itself.

Call of Duty Microsoft Activision Deal
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New Game Pass Additions

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The Game Pass has been a huge money-spinner for Xbox and it's easy to see why when there's such a wide variety of games available to play for a reasonably-priced monthly subscription. With access to all of Activision Blizzard's previous releases, the Game pass is going to become hugely popular for fans of classic Call of Duty titles once the entire back catalogue is added onto the platform.

The franchise is packed with some iconic levels ranging from 'All Ghillied Up' from Call of Duty 4 to Modern Warfare 2's 'Cliffhanger.' Who wouldn't want to take a trip down memory lane and relive those amazing single-player stories from years gone by?

It's not just single-player campaigns that will appeal to franchise fans. In theory, Microsoft could go a step further and add further remasters to its extensive library. The first two of the original Modern Warfare trilogy have already received remasters and a remaster of Modern Warfare 3 has been heavily rumoured for several months. Game Pass would be the perfect place to release it.

Call of Duty League Play
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A Competitive Focus

A feature seen in most FPS titles when they release is some kind of ranked playlist complete with a standalone progression system and ranks separate to casual multiplayer. Ranked play is an often controversial topic within the Call of Duty community, with some developers opting to support it while others choose to ignore it completely.

2017's World War 2 set the benchmark for Call of Duty ranked play, featuring a fully-functioning MMR progression system similar to Overwatch and all of the official rules and regulations used by professional players. Since then, developers have missed the mark, releasing new ranked playlists with convoluted structures that make little sense, much to the annoyance of the community.

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With Activision Blizzard now under the watchful eye of Microsoft, Call of Duty may take a leaf out of Halo Infinite's book and release with a ranked playlist which would be music to the ears of competitive Call of Duty fans. With the possibility of annual releases being a thing of the past, there would be no excuse for Call of Duty games to release without some kind of competitive playlist.

Change For The Better

Based on the mixed reception received from the launches of Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard in amongst the lawsuits, it's clear that some kind of change needs to take place. With Microsoft at the helm, there's every chance that a change in workplace culture combined with an increased timeframe for developers to create a polished product that doesn't need daily updates to fix fundamental flaws, the Call of Duty franchise could look slightly different following the launch of COD 2022, the final release before the tech giant adds to its massive portfolio.