What you need to know
Microsoft now owns Call of Duty, the world's most popular FPS franchise.
Call of Duty's next instalment, Modern Warfare 3, is set to launch this November.
Whether you're into Call of Duty or not, Microsoft has been sending our mass take-over ads on Xbox Series X|S consoles, to the surprise and annoyance of many.
Microsoft now owns Call of Duty, and they really want you to know it.
On November 11, 2023, the next installment of Call of Duty will arrive. The world's most popular first-person shooter franchise will launch Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) for the second time, as a reimagining of the original MW3 from 2011. To say Call of Duty has been a bit thin in the innovation department is perhaps a bit of an understatement, but it remains one of the world's most popular and profitable video game franchises in history, generating billions in revenue even during its off years. One area the game seems to be capable of innovating in, however, is marketing, especially now that Microsoft is on board.
In what may be the first sign of Microsoft putting its mark on the popular franchise, players on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles were today greeted with this massive, take-over ads for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 preorders when turning on their devices. Thankfully, it appears the ad only appears once and is easily dismissed, but I can't help but wonder if it'll pop-up again tomorrow once enough time has lapsed.
UPDATE: I just want to add, in our testing, we found that the pop-up does at least respect account age restrictions. If your console automatically signs into an under-18 account, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 pop-up will not display.
Ads on the Xbox dashboard are often a bit of a sore point for Xbox fans. The Xbox dashboard does help subsidize the console platform, given that the hardware itself does not make money owing to wafer-thin margins. The business is not selling consoles, it's selling software and services — i.e. games and in-app purchases such as Call of Duty skins. Xbox fans argue that subscription fees paid such as Xbox Game Pass Core or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate should reduce or even totally remove ads on the dashboard, given that we're paying a fee to use the box already. Microsoft has released updates to the dashboard in recent months to reduce the prominence of ads on the dashboard, but this huge takeover piece for Call of Duty preorders feels a bit more intrusive than usual. It should be noted that this isn't the first time Microsoft has done this, but the frequency does seem to be increasing.
What will Microsoft's Call of Duty look like?
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It's perhaps ironic as I sit here writing this, fully aware that ads are appearing on this article. Our ads provider will probably even inject Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 ads on this article if we have a deal with them (if we do, I have no idea, since we aren't involved in how that is handled as editorial). The key difference of course, is that using this website is free. An Xbox Series X|S costs a bunch of money, and then you have subscription fees on top of that. So it's perhaps understandable that some users find this practice irritating, particularly if they were never interested in Call of Duty as a franchise, or even as part of its genre.
With Xbox now fully owning Call of Duty, the way the game is marketed and presented will doubtless change over time. The previous owner, Activision, had very different goals than Microsoft, and a very different set of shareholder expectations on top. Some have speculated that Call of Duty may lapse from being an annualized franchise under Microsoft, as Microsoft may have an incentive to give competing shooters on its platform some breathing space, while also giving Call of Duty's developers more time to cook. Others wonder how Call of Duty will be marketed, and potentially co-branded with Xbox, when the marketing deal with PlayStation lapses in the coming years.
Whatever happens to Call of Duty in the coming years is anyone's guess, but on topic — I can't help but hope these kinds of massive take-over ads do not become the norm on Xbox. Today it's a random occasional pop-up for Call of Duty or Starfield, tomorrow, it's a daily pop-up for McDonalds or Starbucks or whatever else. Slippery slopes sure are slippery.