In a bold strategic move dating back to 2018, Activision Blizzard decided to exclusively release new Call of Duty games on their own platform, Battle.net, effectively ending their partnership with popular gaming platform, Steam. However, this strategy appears to have been less fruitful than hoped, leading to a return to Steam in 2022 with the release of Modern Warfare 2.
According to legal documents from Microsoft’s lawyers related to the tech giant’s pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the shift towards Battle.net exclusivity was deemed a “resounding failure.” The lawyers pointed to the relatively static Monthly Active User (MAU) count on Battle.net during the four-year period of exclusivity as a key indicator of this underperformance.
Despite the global pandemic driving a surge in online gaming and the launch of Call of Duty: Warzone in March 2020, which culminated in a “record year” for the franchise with 100 million MAUs by year-end, Battle.net’s user base did not see a corresponding growth. Industry experts suggest that this flat trajectory may be linked more to a decline in the active user base of other Blizzard games than to Call of Duty’s performance.
Blizzard games saw a significant drop in MAUs, falling from 35 million at the close of 2018 to 22 million by the end of 2021. However, a recovery was seen with MAUs bouncing back to 45 million in Q4 2023, then dipping again to 27 million in the first quarter of 2024.
In a strategic pivot, Activision launched Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2 on Steam. The return to the beloved platform, heralded as a homecoming, also served as a tacit admission that Battle.net had not grown significantly during the period when Call of Duty’s PC versions were exclusive to it.
As Microsoft’s attempts to acquire Activision Blizzard progress, both companies are keen to emphasize that they won’t make Call of Duty exclusive to the Xbox platform post-acquisition. They also expressed regret over the decision not to release Call of Duty on the Nintendo Switch, suggesting a more inclusive platform strategy in the future.
The return to Steam has proven beneficial for Call of Duty. More than six months after its release, Modern Warfare 2 remains one of Steam’s top-earning and most frequently played games.
In related news, Microsoft’s bid to acquire Activision Blizzard appears to be moving forward. A judge recently dismissed an injunction request from the FTC that would have temporarily blocked the deal. This development has opened up potential compromise discussions with a UK regulator that had previously opposed the acquisition.
With this series of events, it seems that gaming industry giants are continually learning and adapting their strategies in a rapidly evolving market. As gamers worldwide wait with bated breath, the future of Call of Duty and the outcome of the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal promise to reshape the landscape of the industry.