The big picture: Next year will be an unusual, transitional one for the Call of Duty franchise. As Microsoft acquires the series' publisher, Activision won't put out a new mainline entry in the series and will instead focus on paid content. The company confirmed this while reporting a significant revenue decline.
This week, Activision Blizzard announced plans to release "premium content" for Call of Duty in 2023, likely to compensate for the absence of a new full release that year. The news is part of the company's Q2 2022 financial report which indicates declining user engagement with the franchise.
In February, Activision revealed that it won't release a mainline Call of Duty title in 2023, delaying Black Ops studio Treyarch's next game. The absence will mark the first year since 2004 without a new entry as the franchise reaches its 20th anniversary.
Activision didn't say what form the new premium content would take, but it could represent a shift or backtrack for Call of Duty. The series formerly expanded upon mainline games with paid map packs but ended the practice with 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, turning to battle passes and other microtransactions to ensure all players had the same maps. The 2023 content will likely be for Modern Warfare's sequel, which launches on October 28. The sequel to Activision's free-to-play Call of Duty Warzone releases later this year.
The Q2 financial results containing Activision's announcement show overall revenues declining by almost 30 percent year-over-year, likely due to a significant drop in Call of Duty players. Over the last year, Activision's reported monthly active users steadily fell each quarter from 127 million in June 2021 to 94 million in June 2022. Active player numbers haven't fallen below 100 million since 2019. In contrast, Blizzard's and King's user numbers saw much smaller shifts over the same period.
The decline in Call of Duty users could stem from frustrations with the franchise's most recent release – Vanguard – which saw some of its content delayed earlier this year. Another possible factor is Warzone players waiting for the sequel, which will reset all progress from the first game.
As Microsoft prepares to purchase Activision Blizzard, Sony told Brazil's competition regulator that it is concerned about possible aftereffects. The company thinks that if Call of Duty games stopped supporting PlayStation, it would affect many consumers' console purchase decisions and that no one else could replicate the series' brand. So far, Microsoft hadn't indicated that it's making Call of Duty exclusive to its platforms.