Call of Duty: Warzone, despite still being one of the top dogs as far as the battle royale genre goes, is rapidly bleeding players. According to Activision, the free to play game has lost over 50 million active users in the past year. The publisher, which reported these stats in an investor call, is blaming the poor performance on Call of Duty: Vanguard.
While Warzone has been struggling with other issues as well, the poor reception of Vanguard definitely contributed to this slump. As the battle royale game has been integrated with each mainline release since its own launch in 2019, Vanguard left its mark on the game most notably with the introduction of the Caldera map, moving the action to an island in the pacific theatre of World War II.
Warzone's Vanguard-fueled woes struck almost immediately, as the map was both delayed and poorly received when it finally launched. Many player testimonials ring similar, stating that daily log-ins from when the Verdansk map defined Warzone became sparse and spare until they quit outright after Caldera was introduced.
Call of Duty: Vanguard as a whole underperformed. Yet another return to the World War II setting, the game failed to field any innovations or interesting angles that could have made this often-explored era in video games interesting to the general public yet again.
A marketing campaign with some tonal misfires, a campaign that failed to captivate most fans and a multiplayer rife with bugs, cheaters and poor design decisions resulted in poor reviews and sales. The game's zombies mode also recieved criticism, and Activision addressed these issues - and their earnings short of predictions by roughly $300 million - in an investor call.
While Call of Duty remains one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, our 2021 premium release didn’t meet our expectations, we believe primarily due to our own execution. 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.
The publisher is also pinning the rapid bleed of players from Warzone on Vanguard's poor performance, as well as the overall woes of the IP. Since details from the investor call became public, this tactic has drawn ire towards the company that spent the past year embroiled in one of the worst and biggest industry scandals about workplace mistreatment we've seen.
Sledgehammer Games doesn't have the best track record when it comes to developing well received mainline Call of Duty titles, but the studio was also working under grueling circumstances to satisfy an annual release schedule amid pandemic restrictions, all the while more and more reports of abuse towards employees from Activision surfacing.
Meanwhile, alongside Infinity Ward and Raven Software, almost everyone involved with Call of Duty was fighting a desperate battle against cheaters in Vanguard multiplayer and Warzone. Cheaters in the battle royale were a major issue since launch, and contributed to dipping player counts as well.
News that fan-favorite developer Infinity Ward is working on this year's Modern Warfare 2 as the mainline Call of Duty game, while also cooking up a fully fledged Warzone 2 aiming at a 2023 release indicate that the franchise will soon reverse its fortunes - however, the issues of mismanagement and toxic workplace conditions remain.
Now as Activision is trying to shift blame for the current Call of Duty slump, yet another lawsuit has targeted the controversial company, itself facing a Microsoft buyout. While the latest lawsuit, specifically aimed at CEO Bobby Kotick's motivations for negotiating the buyout do not directly relate to Call of Duty, it serves as key underlining context showing the pervasive issues at the company.
While there were enough technical and holistic problems with both Vanguard and Warzone to answer why 50 million players quit, it's also important to consider that many simply chose not to support the products of a company like Activision anymore - they certainly gave players plenty of reasons to boycott in the past year.
Even amid this historic slump for the leading military FPS, Call of Duty remains a headline IP and one of the most successful and popular media franchises on the market. With Modern Warfare 2 on the horizon, we suspect there will be a major rebound.