Call of Duty, often abbreviated as CoD, is one of the biggest and most successful game franchises in the world. As of April 2021, the Call of Duty franchise had sold over 425 million copies. With these numbers, the Call of Duty franchise is the fourth best-selling video game franchise in the entire world, behind Mario, Tetris, and Pokémon. That’s more, the franchise’s mobile versions have accumulated over 500 million downloads since inception.
You don't hit numbers like that overnight, and while Call of Duty isn't quite old enough to count as vintage - or rival the three other franchises ahead of it in line - it's definitely been running for quite a long time now. Let's take a closer look at the history of this modern military shooter series that took the gaming world by storm and never let go.
What is Call of Duty?
Call of Duty is - usually - a first-person shooter video game published by Activision. Over the years, it's taken on many different faces through spin-offs and side projects, but the mainline has stuck firmly to the FPS formula.
The game’s first installment was set during the Second World War and it combined single-player missions with a highly successful multiplayer mode. However, it has since explored other settings, including the Cold War, outer space, and technologically advanced worlds.
Before Call of Duty came along, there had already been several first-person shooter video game titles. The most notable one of these was Medal of Honor, which CoD borrowed heavily from. However, what set CoD apart was how it revolutionized the genre.
For example, gamers had a squad of AI-controlled soldiers helping them even when they were in Solo play mode. As a result, players could immerse themselves in the feeling of camaraderie. Other concepts that the franchise pioneered include:
- Use of in-game iron sights which enabled players to aim their weapons before firing.
- Use of shell-shock whereby players were temporarily stunned by nearby explosions.
- Improved and better organized UI.
- The ability to relive the last moments of a dead comrade.
How many Call of Duty titles exist?
Activision has released more than 20 Call of Duty titles since the first game in 2003. The video game publisher releases a new title every year, alongside spin-offs and re-releases, except for 2004 when it only published an expansion pack.
Below is a complete list of all Call of Duty titles that have ever been released.
Call of Duty
Release date: October 29, 2003
Sales: 4.5 million
Infinity Ward developed the first Call of Duty video game to the acclaim of both fans and critics. At its initial release, Call of Duty was made available for PC only, although it eventually found its way to Nokia N-Gage, macOS, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
Call of Duty featured a story mode with three different campaigns, each of which presented multiple plots for the British, American, and Soviet Union armies, and multiplayer modes.
Call of Duty 2
Release date: October 25, 2005
Sales: 5.9 million
Call of Duty 2 was developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. It marked the start of releasing CoD on both consoles and PC. It also had core multiplayer modes, including Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Search & Destroy, and Headquarters.
Call of Duty 3
Release date: November 7, 2006
Sales: 7.2 million
CoD 3 was Treyarch’s first game in the Call of Duty franchise. It stands out as being a launch title on the Nintendo Wii, despite Nintendo's tendency to skew family-friendly. Following on from the success of the first two games, Call of Duty 3 would stick to the WWII setting.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Release date: November 6, 2007
Sales: 15.7 million
Modern Warfare was CoD's first hugely successful installment, and it made the game mainstream. It features modern-day combat, instead of the World War era of previous chapters.
Call of Duty: World at War
Release date: November 11, 2008
Sales: 15.7 million
World at War revisited the World War II era. However, it featured an incredibly successful Nazi Zombies mode that was repeated in later installments.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Release date: November 10, 2009
Sales: 25.02 million
Modern Warfare 2 was another incredibly successful CoD installment that sold more than 25 million copies. It was with this game that the trend of alternating "sub-series" within the Call of Duty franchise would run for multiple years, jumping to and fro amongst each other across the annual launches.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Release date: November 9, 2010
Sales: 30.72 million
Black Ops was another highly successful entry, shifting the battlefield once again, this time exploring a Cold War conspiracy. Here, the developers expanded the Zombie mode and introduced a few campaign favorites like Alex Mason and Frank Woods.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Release date: November 8, 2011
Sales: 30.71 million
Modern Warfare 3 was the final part of the original Modern Warfare trilogy, taking players on a blockbuster thrill ride through a fictional depiction of World War 3, triggered by the events of the previous two games in the sub-series.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Release date: November 12, 2012
Sales: 31 million
Black Ops II is the most successful entry in the Call of Duty franchise of all time. It also further expanded the Zombie mode and introduced a new set of mechanics and features. This game also took players further into the future than previously in the series - but this would only be a stepping stone for even more sci-fi entries to come.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Release date: November 5, 2013
Sales: 28.98 million
Ghosts was the first Call of Duty installment to introduce a dog that players can actively use. While a financial success, Ghosts is widely derided by fans and was panned by critics. It is often remembered among the fandom as a low-point for the franchise.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Release date: November 13, 2014
Sales: 21.76 million
Advanced Warfare introduced exosuits to the CoD franchise. Exosuits allowed a player to jump in any direction, providing a unique gaming experience. This installment put more focus on aerial combat, but ultimately gained recognition - or so you might say - for the infamous "Press F to pay respects" meme.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Release date: November 6, 2015
Sales: 26.72 million
Black Ops III introduced specialists – characters with a certain set of personalities and abilities – into the franchise, pushing it closer to the Hero Shooter genre that was all the craze at the time. This entry also did away with single player modes entirely in a move that would not be repeated; with good reason.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Release date: November 4, 2016
Sales: 13.6 million
Infinity Warfare introduced CoD to space. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well received by the gaming community initially, but gained a cult following in later years. Infinite Warfare notably starred Kit Harrington, famous from Game of Thrones.
Call of Duty: WWII
Release date: November 3, 2017
Sales: 19.82 million
WWII reintroduced the gaming franchise to its roots: the second world war era. Despite what was supposed to be a grand return to where it all began, a number of microtransaction controversies muddied the water. Other WWII FPS games releasing around that time - to greater critical acclaim - didn't help.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Blackout
Release date: October 12, 2018
Sales: 14.3 million
Styled as "Black Ops IIII" to the annoyance of literally everyone, this entry in the series officially made Black Ops the longest running sub-series in the franchise. Blackout took the franchise into the battle royal genre with mixed results. If only gamers knew that Warzone would knock it out of the pack not soon after...
Call of Duty: Mobile
Release date: October 1, 2019
Sales: 500 million downloads, $1 billion in revenue
CoD: Mobile introduced the game to those who have longed for handheld Call of Duty gaming. The mobile game continues to go strong worldwide, and has become a streaming sensation in its own right. In recent years, the game mostly gains players with its battle royale mode.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reboot
Release date: October 25, 2019
Sales: 30 million
What's a better marketing tactic than reusing a name fans associate with the golden age of the series? The Modern Warfare reboot is the return of the Modern Warfare storyline. It featured some new characters and the reintroduction of some old, popular ones, like John MacTavish and Captain John Price.
Call of Duty: Warzone
Release date: March 10, 2020
Sales: 100 million downloads
Having learned plenty from their experiences with Blackout, the developers went back to the drawing board and cooked up a CoD battle royale that really clicked with players. Warzone is a highly successful battle royal game with more than 100 million downloads in about two years. Nearing its end of life, the publisher is gearing up to launch Warzone 2 next.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Release date: November 13, 2020
Sales: 30 million
Continuing the sub-series' penchant for annoying titles, Black Ops Cold War was the direct sequel to the first Black Ops. It reintroduced multiple characters in the campaign mode, including Alex Mason, Jason Hudson, and Frank Woods.
Call of Duty: Vanguard
Release date: November 5, 2021
Sales: Unknown, but lower than projected
Vanguard brought back the World War II setting yet again. However, it did not impress fans, and Activision is yet to provide the number of sales it made. It just seems that modern CoD can't do WWII all that well anymore.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Reboot
Release date: October 28, 2022
The Modern Warfare 2 reboot is a highly anticipated upcoming CoD game. The campaign will reintroduce characters like Sergeant Kyle "Gaz" Garrick, Captain John Price, John "Soap" MacTavish, and fan favorite Simon "Ghost" Riley.
Not included in this lineup are the dozens of spin-off games released alongside the main entries across a bevy of platforms, including handheld consoles and pre-smart phones. The Call of Duty franchise has a long and storied past, and is definitely looking at an exciting future.