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Call of Duty: Vanguard side-eyed as Activision reports deep slide in player numbers

Revenue down, but more concerning to Microsoft might be a decline in players

A pilot from Call of Duty: Vanguard Image: Sledgehammer Games/Activision
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Activision Blizzard’s revenue performance continues to slide as Microsoft works through its $68.7 billion deal to bring the mega publisher aboard Xbox’s campus next year. But more concerning to both companies may be the decline in player engagement that Activision reported Monday.

Monthly active users, which Activision and many others use as a success indicator while keeping hard-figure sales secret, dipped to their lowest total figure since the fall of 2019, when Call of Duty Mobile launched. They’re 94 million this year, down 28% from the 127 million in June 2021.

For reference, Call of Duty Mobile raised the monthly active users figure, coming from Activision’s half of the business, to 128 million in the quarter after it launched, up from 36 million in the preceding quarter.

Reading between the lines, the slide in player engagement since March 2021’s peak of 150 million monthly active users suggests last fall’s underwhelming tentpole Call of Duty: Vanguard, if not to blame for the drop, may at least have those numbers cannibalized by Call of Duty Warzone or Mobile, both of which have been more successful.

Activision in its annual report on April 30 — having not held an investor call since Microsoft announced the purchase on Jan. 18 — said Vanguard “didn’t meet our expectations, we believe primarily due to our own execution. The game’s World War II setting didn’t resonate with some of our community, and we didn’t deliver as much innovation in the premium game as we would have liked.”

In another indication Vanguard was a commercial as well as a critical disappointment, FromSoftware’s Elden Ring, which launched Feb. 25, was the NPD Group’s top-selling U.S. title for the preceding 12 months as of May 13, surprising fans and observers who had come to expect Call of Duty in the top spot for the better part of 10 years.

Activision, in Monday’s statement, said that Call of Duty: Vanguard and Warzone had improved some compared to the previous quarter, but that Call of Duty’s contribution to the company’s bottom line was still down year over year. At least Call of Duty Mobile’s performance held steady.

For Blizzard, the launch of free-to-play Diablo Immortal came with one month to go in the most recent quarter, but still contributed to 27 million monthly active users for Blizzard. That’s up 4% year over year, and a 23% jump from the previous quarter — although that was a record low for Blizzard since the company started reporting these figures back in 2016.

Blizzard’s revenues slipped 7% from what they were at this point last year; it faced a tough comparison to a 2021 quarter when it launched World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic.

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