Call of Duty is one of the biggest video game franchises in existence. It’s up there with the Sonics and Grand Theft Autos of the world. The series sold more than $15 billion worth of copies since the first Call of Duty game in 2003. The series is why Activision Blizzard ($ATVI) is one of the best game companies on the stock market.
Yet Call of Duty’s sales are not what they used to be. For the last few years, interest in the military shooter series waned. 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare sold 50% worse than the previous year’s title. Gamers who once bought each new Call of Duty title moved on to greener pastures. Battlefield, a military shooter series from Electronic arts that once lagged in sales, is now a top-selling franchise. Overwatch and Destiny, two unique, Activision-owned games, are also capturing gamers’ interests.
Noticing a growing disinterest in the brand, Activision set up a Plan B to increase sales. While the company will release a new Call of Duty game this year, they also plan on raising brand awareness in a different way: by turning it into a media franchise.
Call of Duty, the game, will become Call of Duty, the movie franchise.
In 2015, Activision created Activision Blizzard Studios, a television and film subsidiary. They created this studio to translate Activision’s game brands into more than games. So far, the company produced Skylanders Academy, a Netflix show based on the Skylanders game series.
Activision will soon turn Call of Duty into an action movie series to get people to care about the games again. (They also hope to make millions at the box office, but that’s kind of a given.) Like Marvel and DC, Activision plans on making several connected movies and at least one TV show to tell a larger story in the CoD universe. This will raise brand awareness and bring more attention to the game series. In turn, this could reverse the drop in sales, which would give the game a chance to make billions more.
There’s only one problem.
Call of Duty’s story is terrible.
Few people play Call of Duty for the story. The scripts and plots are laughably bad. Characters don’t stick around for more than a game or two. The villains are usually one-off stereotypes that were best left behind in ’80s movies. Over the course of thirteen-plus games, it’s hard to remember the story or main character of any game in the series.
Call of Duty’s strength is its multiplayer mode. Most Call of Duty players go straight for the multiplayer mode when they play the game. Organizations hold competitive tournaments with lucrative cash prizes for competitive players. At one point in the last decade, Call of Duty was the single-most popular multiplayer shooting game on the planet. Yet Activision plans on building their film and TV series around the games’ stories.
Video game movies are terrible.
Warcraft, another Activision Blizzard game-turned-movie, is the best-grossing film adaptation of a video game. It made $433 million worldwide, though only $47 million of that was in the U.S. Critics hated it, and players of the game didn’t care much about it.
Mind the fact that $433 million worldwide is nothing compared to the billions made by Marvel movies. If Activision wants to have a successful film franchise, they need to make double what their last film made and have a good story. Based on video game films released in the last 30 years, it’s unlikely they’ll do either of those things.
Activision is a good company throwing away good money.
$ATVI does quite well on the stock market. Even with Call of Duty’s decline, the company’s stock is up 44.36% in the last year. They own some of the most popular franchises in the world, and have a lot of investments in the mobile game space.
Investing millions into a Call of Duty media franchise could cost the company a lot of money. Building a media franchise involves having several films in production. If the first one loses money, the second one will, too. Why anyone would put up millions to make several movies no one wants is anyone’s guess, but it might not help the game company increase sales. If anything, it could help shorten the life of the flailing series.