Gaming Analysis

'Call Of Duty' On Game Pass Is The Service’s Make Or Break Moment

If gaming’s biggest franchise can’t budge Game Pass numbers, it’s hard to imagine what will.

Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video game and Microsoft's Xbox One video game co...
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Xbox could launch gaming’s biggest franchise on its monthly subscription service Game Pass, in the ultimate Hail Mary-type gambit to finally drive up subscriber numbers.

In a Thursday interview during a Bloomberg conference in San Francisco, Xbox President Sarah Bond told the outlet that players will “see some more really big games going into Game Pass later this year.”

When asked if that would include games under Activision-Blizzard, the Call Of Duty publisher that the tech giant acquired for $69 billion last year, Bond seemed to confirm.

“Across the whole slate,” Bond said. “You're going to see some really amazing things. And keeping that is something that is really special for Xbox players.”

While it's not an outright announcement that Call Of Duty coming to Game Pass, “across the whole slate” would include the mega-popular shooter’s 2024 entry, which is rumored to be another Black Ops game, this time set during the 1990’s Iraq and U.S. military conflict. If Microsoft does pull the trigger, however, it sets up the ultimate litmus test for their vision for the future of gaming. Xbox did not immediately return a request for comment.

“It is not a test of Call of Duty’s popularity but of widespread consumer appetite for subscription-based services in gaming,” Joost van Dreunen, CEO of the games data platform Aldora, and a lecturer at NYU Stern School of Business told Inverse.

It’s worth noting that as recently as Wednesday, The Verge reported that Microsoft was actively discussing whether Call Of Duty would be added to the service or not. But considering how stagnant the Xbox Game Pass subscription numbers (and most subscription-based gaming services) have been for two years now, Microsoft could certainly use the boost that adding a franchise like Call Of Duty would spur on.

A day one Call Of Duty debut on Game Pass could be the biggest development for the stagnant subscription service.

Activision-Blizzard

As the company continues its shift away from hardware in favor of pushing software and subscription services to consumers, it makes little sense to spend all that money acquiring North America’s biggest game publisher and not at least try to leverage its lucrative IP to bolster those business plans.

“Team Xbox is on the hook to show both commercial success after spending all that cash and prove out the overall subscription model in gaming,” Van Dreunen said. “Launching Call Of Duty as part of the Game Pass offering will tell us whether interactive entertainment is going to follow music and video services like Spotify and Netflix.”

There’s no getting around Game Pass being a great value for most gamers. When I dusted off my Xbox One and jumped back into gaming after 18 months of grad school, Game Pass was the perfect way to catch up on everything I missed. Trying games like Star Wars: Fallen Order, revisiting titles like Batman: Arkham Knight, and trying out newer indie titles like The Outer Worlds, all for an affordable price instantly turned me from a skeptic to a monthly subscriber. I even upgraded to an Xbox Series X within a couple of months.

If Xbox Game Pass can’t keep the lights on at talent studios like the recently shuttered Tango Gameworks, then what exactly are players subsidizing with they subscriptions?

Tango Gameworks

But that honeymoon phase has been reaching its limit. Xbox’s continued failure to support Game Pass with a more consistent stream of exclusives and an untimely price increase has scuffed the service’s shine. The fact that Game Pass hasn’t been enough to prevent a trillion-dollar company from abruptly shutting down the talented, award-winning development teams has made more industry-minded gamers wonder what exactly they’re paying for.

With Microsoft’s Game Pass bet looking more vulnerable than ever, adding Call Of Duty is the equivalent of going all in at a high-stakes poker table in Vegas. For millions of Call Of Duty players, the military shooter is practically a hobby in itself, as it dominates their total annual playtime.

It’s not to say there isn’t risk involved. Call Of Duty players may not see the value in paying more than their annual $70 for access to the primary main game. And unless Microsoft incentivizes playing COD through Game Pass with cosmetics or free battle passes, spending more than $200 a year for Game Pass could prove to be a hard sell.

Call Of Duty is the needle mover Xbox Game Pass needs.

Activision-Blizzard

But Van Dreunen believes Microsoft has built a strong enough platform to realistically attract players who are reluctant to pay more than their allotted Call Of Duty budget.

“Platform exclusivity has migrated to service-based models like subscriptions,” he said. “The top franchises have annual releases anyway, so they’ve been operating like a subscription for years. For an extra few bucks a month, you get a slew of additional content [on Game Pass]. It’s ‘Come for Call of Duty, stay for the rest of the catalog.’”

Call Of Duty on Xbox Game Pass has been the moment most players have braced for since Microsoft announced its plan to acquire Activision-Blizzard. It would seem that at this point, Microsoft has little to lose if they at least tested out launching Call Of Duty’s newest game on their service. But if gaming’s biggest franchise can’t budge the numbers that Xbox has been trying so hard to grow, it’s hard to imagine what will.

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