Call of Duty hasn't had a fantastic year. Neither has publisher Activision, for that matter, missing projected earnings by a nice $300 million while their premiere military FPS bled over 50 million players. In a recent investor call, the company acknowledged the slump - and blamed Vanguard. Mostly.
In a largely deflective move, the company has identified two key reasons why Call of Duty, as an IP, has been underperforming for the past year; these being the World War 2 setting of Vanguard, and the problems Warzone is facing.
As a whole, the franchise lost 50 million active users, and the publisher claims that this huge number is mostly comprised of the free to play battle royale's apparently fleeting audience - beyond a dedicated core fanbase, the free to play model invites a lot of transient players who don't stick around.
The tone of the message definitely pinned a lot of the blame on the poorly selling and poorly reviewed Vanguard, last year's mainline Call of Duty title from Sledgehammer Games that once again revisited the popular - and arguably tired - WWII setting.
The game’s World War II setting didn’t resonate with some of our community and we didn’t deliver as much innovation in the premium game as we would have liked.
Of course, the poor ratings and sales of Vanguard do come down to a bit more than that, having faced controversy over some marketing stunts being in poor taste before it even launched, only to be marred by bugs and a prevalence of cheaters in multiplayer. Most fans and reviewers weren't wild about the campaign, either.
Focusing on Warzone, the hyper-popular battle royale definitely fell from grace compared to its golden years back when players were dropping into Verdansk each match. Vanguard's Warzone integration really started to show the fraying edges of engine incompatibility, and the new map suffered from delays.
When Caldera finally did launch, it did so to similar sentiments as Vanguard itself, with many players panning the new location. Weak battle pass content and the constant nuisance of cheaters added to player frustrations, which ultimately make the loss of users unsurprising.
Activision was, of course, very deliberately dodging another factor - the various lawsuits the company has been grappling with for the past year. They actually just got hit by another one in New York, aimed mainly at CEO Bobby Kotick's actions leading up to the Microsoft buyout bid.
After widespread allegations of workplace abuse went public, many players boycotted the company and its products, which undoubtedly also contributed to this significant slump in active users for the otherwise massively popular franchise.
Even so, Call of Duty remains massively popular at the end of the day. Now that we have official confirmation that Infinity Ward is working on Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2, it is basically a guarantee that this slump is temporary and a meteoric rise in popularity will soon strike.