Modern Warfare is an unmitigated success. Call of Duty games usually are, but Infinity Ward’s 2019 entry is different. And not only does it feel different, Activision has the numbers to back it up. The publisher revealed today that Modern Warfare has sold more copies than any other entry (at this relative point after release), garnered more online players, and generated almost $956 million in microtransactions alone so far. Showing no signs of slowing down, COD 2020 is going to have one hell of a time trying to take center stage this fall.
The circle of COD
Passing the torch is the part of the cycle for Call of Duty games. They release in the fall and enjoy a few months of support from the typical gaming crowd before “fading” into the background. “Fading” is in quotes because they usually sell well throughout the year, but don’t quite invade the news cycle or the systems of more hardcore players. Its decline is relative to itself since most Call of Duty games probably have larger playerbases than many games at their peak.
This “fade” (again, big quotation marks there) makes room for the new Call of Duty since it is an annualized series. But Modern Warfare hasn’t begun to fade at this time like previous entries. Warzone has had 60 million players (up 10 million from last month) and it’s not even two months old. Modern Warfare’s Season 3 is still trucking along and showing that the game still has substantial updates in the pipeline.
Activision bragged in December that Modern Warfare was the most-played multiplayer Call of Duty this generation but that has continued in an unprecedented way. The aforementioned statements from Activision point to this being true, but it also feels like it has stayed in a more permanent way. It’s not uncommon to hear about it on a podcast or find multiple players on your friends list playing it, most of which are people who would not still be regularly playing a Call of Duty title in the beginning of May.
To put it into perspective, Modern Warfare was announced on May 30, 2019. It was rare to find people speaking about Black Ops 4 at this time last year. It was “only” the 13th best-selling game of that month. Blackout didn’t seem to hit in a way that a Call of Duty battle royale should have. It was already leaving a hole for a new Call of Duty to fill.
And now that new Call of Duty doesn’t seem to want to leave that hole. Given the reveal dates of past games, we’re probably a few weeks away from a full unveiling of the next title, which, according to the rumors, is likely Black Ops 5. But it’s hard to care since Modern Warfare has seemingly only picked up more steam as time has gone on with its large and consistent content updates and battle passes. There was a strong base that the teams have only improved and added to over time.
The amount of microtransactions money also makes the proposition of a new entry even more difficult to swallow. Modern Warfare feels like an investment so it’s a tough sell to get players to ditch all the stuff they’ve accumulated in a game that hasn’t gotten stale (and it’s likely there won’t be much that carries over). If Activision has squeezed almost $1 billion out of players purely through microtransactions, there’s a chance that people won’t want to immediately migrate to the new shiny thing.
People will pay attention to the new shiny thing and it’s not like everything is perfect with the current thing. Modern Warfare’s subreddit surely makes its problems known, which are likely echoed by others, especially if you delve into the dark cave of replies and angry forum posts. But regardless of those commenters, it’s going to be tough to get people to move off Modern Warfare, the best-selling game of the year so far, as it only builds momentum in these weird times and sucks up all the oxygen that the next entry might need to breathe. Warfare doesn’t usually stay this modern this far after release, but this entry has changed that up, creating a healthier game that might potentially come at the cost of the next one.