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Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself in the Foot with Microtransactions

In a recent financial call, Activison Chief Operating Officer, Coddy Johnson bigs up the successes of Call of Duty Black Ops 4. In his statement, he discusses the game’s player retention. He also dances around the subject of microtransactions, which Activision prefer to call “net bookings”. While Activision is content to sit in a trance, dollars in their eyes, the long term viability of Call of Duty seems to be declining. Ask any Call of Duty fan and they’ll tell you that their exhaustion is the singular result of Activison’s love of monetisation.
Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

Call of Duty Is Suffering Radical Player Loss

To suggest Call of Duty, of all franchises in gaming, has a shrinking fan base, is a bold claim indeed. Say what you will about Call of Duty’s stubbornness not to innovate this generation, it is, regardless – an industry juggernaut. So before getting into another of my staple microtransaction rants, let’s first deconstruct that juggernaut. Just how many players are losing interest in Call of Duty?  

In the prior mentioned earnings call, Johnson states proudly that Black Ops 4 has enjoyed 50% higher player retention than that of its predecessor, World War II

“We think this is the result of the increased frequency and quality and live operations including seasonal events, new game play and immersive new in-game experiences across the Black Ops environment”.

Framed like this, Black Ops 4 looks more like Call of Duty’s big whoop. The success story that Activision holds up to maintain the illusion that CoD is as strong as it has ever been. And yes, there’s a big “but” coming. Back in the day, Modern Warfare 3 (2011) was Call of Duty’s top seller and remains so today. It sold 30.71 million copies. 

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

Call of Duty’s overall sales since the successes of Modern Warfare 3 tell a bleak tale of decline

As you can see in the above graph (courtesy of Statistica.com), Black Ops 4 actually displays Call of Duty fatigue, reaching just 14.3 million. This is just a million and a bit more than the much maligned Infinite Warfare. The below graph just looks at physical copies sold but regardless of digital, there is quite the gulf here. Johnson’s point about higher player retention than World War II suddenly looks like less of a big deal when its total copies sold exceeds those of Black Ops 4. All of this serves as a stark reminder to scrutinise the wording of gaming execs with the utmost prejudice, lest they give us the wrong impression. 

Activision Confuses Profits With Success

Now we have a greater understanding of where Call of Duty sits in the minds of the player base, let’s look at why this might be happening. For those who may not be up to date with Call of Duty, Black Ops 4 has seen its share of controversies. All to do with microtransactions. Initially, a smiley face dot sight that asked for $2 fuelled the flames of outrage among Call of Duty fans. Such brazen greed for something so insignificant does not go forgotten by the community. 

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

Activision shamelessly asks players for $2 for this insignificant detail

So when Activision unveiled the Homewrecker Hammer bundle for $30 (£20), Call of Duty fans raged yet again. The Homewrecker Hammer is a rocket powered hammer which offers exactly the same melee function as not having one. The only way to get the hammer, as Activision would retort, is to buy it as part of a loot box bundle. Sure there’s lots of smaller bits and bobs in the offering here. But we all know any interested parties are going to be here for the hammer. Activision knows this. Ergo the price tag. 

While Johnson does not state specifics with Black Ops 4’s gross profits, he does say Activision Blizzard have made the most money this financial year. A crying shame that such sly monetisation practices as seen in Diablo Immortal (don’t you guys have phones?), King’s Candy Crush and Call of Duty’s brazen schemes seem to be working for them. It is the monetisation of Black Ops 4 that likely has them believing it a success but… well, defer back to that graph. 

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

This matchmaking patent outlines Activision’s plan to monetise players

Make no mistake, Activision is standing toe to toe with EA in the game of greed. It’s worth bearing in mind Activision is the very same company that flirted with a patent (above) that matchmakes veterans with rookies. The goal being a player frustration algorithm to encourage higher rates of impulse buying based on what kills you the most. 

Modern Warfare Dancing on Thin Ice

The upcoming remake of the beloved Modern Warfare is an exciting prospect for most. The general feeling among fans across online comment forums is that it will be Call of Duty’s last chance for them. For many of them, their final judgement of the franchise as it is today will be based on the game’s monetisation. Just how much will it ask of them post-release?

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

Modern Warfare will release October 25th

On release of Black Ops 4, Activision was sneaky and left out microtransactions until a few months later. The marketing ploy worked as many reviewers including myself praised the game for not having given into greed. Eventually, our fears were proven right. Black Ops 4 would later morph into the digital casino it is today, blighting an otherwise solid piece of online multiplayer. We all got duped. 

Activision may be of the opinion they can pull this consumer mockery again with Modern Warfare. They may well do, but they already fooled us once and we won’t be fooled again. The Modern Warfare Remaster locked content originally available in the game behind remastered paywalls. This only serves to wise us up to Activision’s approach to the “profitability” of such a large fanbase. 

Call of Duty Is Shooting Itself In The Foot With Microtransactions

The new Modern Warfare returns to the gritty days of Captain Price’s military career

I believe the vibe surrounding Modern Warfare today would make for an impressive spike in our revealing graph above. It will sell very well indeed as it seems for once, Treyarch are modernising with mechanics. But player retention is another game altogether. Many of us are now on the lookout for Activision’s back-handed approach to public relations. This makes Modern Warfare’s post-release chances for success questionable. If Activision puts a single step wrong in the eyes of its customers, the repercussions will be severe. More so than ever before in the history of Call of Duty. The reason being, Activision has shot themselves in the foot with a yearly reminder of their greed. I think we’ve had enough, don’t you? 

So the question remains. Is Modern Warfare Call of Duty’s last chance for you too?

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