Activision has said that it will never charge players for Call of Duty multiplayer, but the biggest game in the world has one industry analyst questioning Activision’s tactics. At a recent Game Monetization Summit, notorious analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities gave the opening address. There he slammed the publisher calling the Call of Duty franchise a failure due to Activision’s inability to monetize the massive user base to the full extent.
“Call of Duty, I’m calling it a failure,” said Pachter. “I know the game sells billions of dollars. Activision did a bad thing with Call of Duty from a profit perspective. They trained gamers that you can buy a game and play it all year, ten hours a week, forever, and you never have to pay again. You just wait for the next Call of Duty. I promise you there are plenty of people numbering in the millions, who play one game, which is Call of Duty, and they never stop. That’s just like the people who play World of Warcraft and never stop, yet the World of Warcraft guys are paying $180 a year, and the Call of Duty guys are paying $60. So who’s got the better model? This multiplayer thing being free was a mistake. I don’t think anybody ever envisioned it would be this big. It’s a mistake because it keeps those people from buying and playing other games.”
In 2011, Activision took its first stab at trying to monetize the Call of Duty base with Call of Duty: Elite. For reasons unknown, Activision made it free for all this year, and regressed back towards a Season Pass strategy to disperse their schedule of downloadable content. They’ve said that they have no plans to charge for multiplayer in Call of Duty, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to monetize the game in some other ways in the future.
As for sales of the popular shooter, it’s once again done huge numbers in its opening month. Activision recently announced that Black Ops II has already surpassed $1 Billion in sales, but analysts see a declining trend regardless. Pachter is right though, a ton of people play Call of Duty and Call of Duty only throughout the entire year, only to buy the next version of the game once November rolls around. Those guys do usually pick up DLC as well though, so Activision is essentially selling each person two copies of the game when you add that in. Will shareholders force the industry’s biggest publisher to monetize the game further? That’s yet to be seen, but if profits start dwindling and growth begins to slow, they’ll really have no other choice.