“Call of Duty: Mobile” debuted on October 1, 2019 as a free-to-play game. That same day it reached 1 million downloads. Nineteen days later, it had surpassed 100 million. That number increased to 500 million in May 2021, Activision announced. By comparison, the franchise’s mainline entries, which have been released steadily since 2003, have sold over 400 million copies combined to date. While that’s a staggering sum for the premium versions on consoles and PC, which have produced billions of dollars in revenue over the years, Activision’s relatively fledgling mobile game has already generated over a billion dollars in revenue before the conclusion of its second year on the market.
Driving its success is a combination of factors including the game’s strategic monetization model, the franchise’s pre-existing popularity, and the developer’s ability to deliver a comparable gaming experience on a widely accessible platform owned by billions of consumers worldwide. the world.
Work began on bringing Call of Duty to the mobile market more than four years ago, said Chris Plummer, vice president of mobile at Activision. At the time, similar shooters like “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Fortnite” had yet to be released for mobile, leaving an open question as to what a successful shooter on the platform should look like. The developers toyed with a number of possible ideas and designs for the game until other titles and technological enhancements proved that a mobile platform could support the ambitious vision they had in mind.
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The end result is a version of the game that closely resembles the Call of Duty experience on console and PC, using touch screen controls to move the player character and aim their weapon. The controls are somewhat simplified, with an option for players to automatically shoot enemies by placing them in the crosshairs, but the core experience is very similar to that of standard Call of Duty games.
Compressing a Call of Duty game, a franchise known for its massive cinematic action sequences and fast-paced, competitive gunplay, onto a mobile device was made possible in part by a rapid acceleration in smartphone technology and processing power. . Plummer also noted that gamers were more comfortable with depth shooters on mobile platforms, leading the developers to believe they could achieve their vision. These days, “Call of Duty: Mobile” offers many of the same experiences that console and PC games provide: real-time multiplayer firefights; a take on the franchise’s popular zombie mode that pits players against waves of the undead; and a last player standing battle royale held on a sprawling map.
“We tailored the game to, quite frankly, be much more on brand and much more on point as a true immersive Call of Duty experience that puts you right on the front lines,” Plummer said. “And the closer it got to the core of Call of Duty, the more it started to come to life as the game you see today.”
One of the key decisions that fueled the success of the game was to make it free to download and play. The tactic, used by several other mobile games including “Fortnite,” removes a potential barrier for users who aren’t sure they want to spend money on a game they might not like. Some mobile titles have developed a reputation for being free-to-play, but also “pay-to-win,” requiring players to spend money if they want to prevail when competing against in-game AI or other live players. “Call of Duty: Mobile” allows players to unlock new weapons and upgrade their skills just by playing the game, though paying real money can help level up your characters faster.
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“Ultimately, it’s a free and fair game, which means we don’t force anyone to spend any money,” Plummer said. “We have to earn that. And we earn that just by delivering a great game with the kind of content that they really want, but it’s their choice. You can play Call of Duty without spending a dime. And we know that if we do well with that player and continue to entertain them, eventually they’ll want to buy something. And that’s great for all of us.”
As evidenced by the game’s 500 million downloads, the free plan managed to quickly attract new players to “Call of Duty: Mobile”.
“With ‘Call of Duty: Mobile,’ the game was able to reach audiences on a global scale faster than its console and PC counterparts,” said Lexi Sydow, director of marketing insights at mobile data and analytics provider App Annie. Sydow attributed the rapid user acquisition in part to the relative affordability and accessibility of smartphones around the world compared to gaming consoles and high-performance personal computers.
Michael Pachter, a research analyst specializing in the video game industry for Wedbush Securities, estimated the market for Call of Duty console and PC games to be approximately 650 million potential users worldwide. Entering the mobile market, Pachter believes Call of Duty’s potential user base jumps to about 2.5 billion users by including smartphone gamers.
Those new players have already paid dividends and could benefit Activision even beyond spending on the game, which according to Activision Blizzard’s second-quarter earnings report is on track to top $1 billion in consumer spending by 2021. Since its launch, it has been the top-grossing app on any of the app stores (Apple or Google) for at least one day in 95 countries, according to data from App Annie. The massive surge of players newly introduced to the world of Call of Duty could also have a reciprocal effect, boosting sales of mainstream console and PC games. The next such game, “Call of Duty: Vanguard”, will be released on November 5.
“That has to expand the market for the premium version of the game,” Pachter said.
Despite all of this early success, Plummer believes the current mobile game is just a starting point.
“We’re really just scratching the surface,” Plummer said. “This is like the state of the art for the current generation. And we’re also thinking about the future and we like how all this learning applies to where we take this into the future and what the next generation experience will be like.”
To that end, the company is significantly expanding its mobile game development teams.
“We’ve increased our staff more than five times since launch,” said Matt Lewis, vice president of product for “Call of Duty: Mobile.” Lewis noted that the studio is still hiring and expects further growth for the mobile division over the next year.
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Activision Blizzard is currently facing a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges that several women who work in the game publisher’s network of development studios suffered widespread harassment, were denied opportunities to advance, and were paid them less than their male counterparts. . Earlier this month, an Activision Blizzard employee posted on Twitter saying that a recruiter for the company had contacted her saying that the articles she was sharing about the company amid the lawsuit “scare off candidates.”
Through a spokesperson, Activision Blizzard responded to a question about whether the lawsuit had affected their recruitment efforts for the mobile game, writing in an email: “Our recruitment for ‘Call of Duty: Mobile’ continues to be healthy and we are growing. actively. with our expansion into new projects, which will include the creation of a new studio team, as well as increasing our number of employees at various studios.”
Given the success of “Call of Duty: Mobile” and the video game industry’s growing interest in mobile markets, Pachter believes a model similar to Call of Duty will be applied to Activision Blizzard’s other major franchises in the coming years. years.
“The real key is to have a comprehensive offering across multiple platforms for every major brand, so we look forward to seeing ‘Diablo’ adopt this model. [which is currently in development]then ‘StarCraft’ and ‘Warcraft,'” Pachter said.
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