Call of Duty (CoD) is a gaming megabrand known worldwide, even by those who have never picked up a controller.
The franchise has grown to become a global phenomenon since it launched 20 years ago, and has made its owner, Activision Blizzard, one of the most valuable gaming companies in the world.
So, after back and forth, when Microsoft managed to finalize the purchase of the company for US$67.8 billion (around R$330 billion in current values) last month, speculation began.
The biggest one was about whether the entire CoD catalog could reach Game Pass, a video game subscription service from Xbox Game Studios, a Microsoft conglomerate, for use with its Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Windows console and in the cloud.
Xbox CEO Phil Spencer confirmed that everything will remain as it is until at least next year, but there is no doubt that this successful franchise is very different today compared to its first version, launched in 2003.
With the main developers working on alternative games, CoD creators maintained a practically annual release schedule — 23 games have been released so far.
Sales have always been high, and CoD’s multiplayer mode is extremely popular, but over time complaints have increased about new releases not being very different from each other.
It’s an accusation that was leveled about the latest game in the series, Modern Warfare 3.
Johanna Faries, global brand manager, admits that CoD is a “constant, always-on giant.”
In an interview with the BBC, she says she is convinced that the franchise can continue to grow over the next 20 years.
“We look around us all the time at things we don’t always get right,” she says.
“Where can we improve? Because what got us here, at the 20-year mark, may not be what will get us to the next 20 years.”
But is she worried about Call of Duty flooding the market and becoming boring?
“We have to think a lot about curation”, highlights Johanna.
“We have to think very carefully to ensure our consumers remain delighted and excited, while also not leaving them confused, given how much content there is.”
And with bets on CoD titles on Game Pass in 2024, there could be plenty of content to choose from.
Johanna says she can’t give more details, but that “the possibilities are super interesting.”
But for now, all eyes are on the new Modern Warfare 3 (MW3). Many unpopular changes to the core gameplay of its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, have been rolled back.
CoD fans are vocal about what they don’t like, and MW3 was criticized upon release because it won’t have new multiplayer maps.
Instead, there will be remastered versions of classics from previous games. The single-player story mode also revived Vladimir Makarov, the main enemy from the original Modern Warfare games.
This has led some to suggest that the new game was finished hastily — a claim that creative director David Swenson rejects.
He insists the latest release is “the most feature-rich Call of Duty we’ve ever made.”
Swenson disagrees that his team was guided by fan criticism, having to reverse new features that the last game presented.
“I don’t feel like it stifles creativity,” he says.
“I think it really broadens her. It’s a really cool collaborative environment.”
Call of Duty started out as a WW2 game and has changed eras since then, but has focused on modern conflicts in later installments.
The most famous is the ‘No Russian’ mission in Modern Warfare 2.
This time, Makarov’s return also brings back his private military company, the Konni Group.
Any resemblance to reality?
Many see a parallel with the real-world Wagner mercenary group, a private army of mercenaries currently fighting alongside the Russian Army in Ukraine.
Although he says the inspiration for the game’s story comes from different elements, and the team behind it works with military consultants and historians, David insists that people are seeing things where they don’t exist.
“There’s nothing in the game that should be based on real events. We’re not trying to make political commentary on what’s going on in the world,” he says.
“We’re just trying to make a really cool story.”
But the series appears to be making a greater effort to align itself with certain elements of the real world, especially as its audience expands to new countries.
Previous Call of Duty games have been criticized for their depictions of Arabic-speaking characters, who almost always appeared as villains.
Shelby Carlton, designer of MWIII, says that the character Farah Karim, commander of the fictional Urzikstan Liberation Force, is one of the attempts to resolve this dilemma.
“Farah was a monumental character for me as a woman,” she says.
“It was certainly intentional to try to continue creating new characters and their communities.”
David agrees: “She speaks Arabic and is definitely a leading lady.”
“It’s really important for us to hear all these languages and definitely not just the villains.”