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Activision turns to Infinity Ward to address declining Call of Duty player numbers

Reinforcements have arrived.

Activision has confirmed Infinity Ward is leading development of this year's new Call of Duty game as well as new Warzone offerings while announcing declining interest in the shooter series on PC and console.

Call of Duty net bookings (sales) on console and PC declined year-over-year in the fourth quarter of Activision Blizzard's financial year, which ended on 31st December.

Activision put this down to lower sales for Call of Duty Vanguard, which was led by Sledgehammer with a multiplayer and Zombies offering built by Black Ops developer Treyarch, versus 2020's Black Ops Cold War.

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Perhaps more worryingly for Activision, battle royale behemoth Warzone has seen "lower engagement", which means fewer people are playing it.

Activision didn't announce sales for Vanguard, nor player numbers for Warzone, but insisted fourth quarter in-game "player investment" on console and PC remained "well above" the level seen prior to the March 2020 launch of Warzone.

Could Call of Duty fatigue be setting in? Following Microsoft's astonishing $69bn purchase of Activision Blizzard, executives are reportedly considering ditching the franchise's annualised release schedule. Doing so would take the pressure off Call of Duty's many, many developers, but would also perhaps give players a much-needed break.

That monstrous deal isn't expected to go through until summer 2023, however, which means baked-in releases are still in the oven. In its financial statement, Activision confirmed development on this year's premium and Warzone "experiences" is being led by Infinity Ward, which kickstarted Call of Duty back in late 2019 with the successful Modern Warfare reboot, and then propelled the franchise into the stratosphere with the lockdown-fuelled Warzone in March 2020.

This year's Call of Duty game is expected to be a follow-up to 2019's Modern Warfare, and Warzone 2 is reportedly in the works.

"The team is working on the most ambitious plan in franchise history, with industry-leading innovation and a broadly appealing franchise setting," Activision said.

That's a not-so-subtle dig at the World War 2 setting of Vanguard, which has quite clearly flopped. I doubt we'll see a return to that oversubscribed era of gaming from Call of Duty for a while.

In contrast, Call of Duty Mobile is doing very well indeed for Activision, with sales growth year-over-year driven by a surge in popularity in China. Worldwide consumer spending on Call of Duty Mobile is now over $1bn, Activision said.

Activision's answer to declining Call of Duty numbers, then, is to double-down on Call of Duty, with a new game due out this year, Warzone 2 near ready for deployment, and another brand new premium Call of Duty game set for 2023. Perhaps there's more Call of Duty amid all that - and will the series become Microsoft-exclusive?

"Studio expansion has continued to add development resources worldwide as plans continue for ongoing live operations and new, unannounced titles in the Call of Duty universe," Activision said.

Activision's Call of Duty plan comes amid a turbulent period for Activision Blizzard, following numerous reports of employee misconduct and toxic workplace conditions and intense pressure on the company's hugely controversial boss Bobby Kotick. For now - at least until that 2023 date - Kotick will stay in place, but he is expected to leave the company afterwards.

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