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Microsoft Revolutionizes Game Launches with Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 on Game Pass

Microsoft has torn up the rules of big video game launches by announcing its most eagerly awaited new title – Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 – will be available straight away to subscribers of its Game Pass service.

Traditionally, gamers have had to hand over significant sums of money upfront to buy big new releases outright. With the latest edition of Call of Duty, they will now have the option to pay a much smaller monthly subscription instead. head Christopher Dring told the BBC it was a “significant move” for Microsoft and the industry. The tech giant has previously made games available to Game Pass subscribers on launch day – such as 2023’s much-anticipated Starfield – but has never done so with a release anywhere near as significant as Call of Duty.

It is the fourth best-selling game series in history, topping 425 million lifetime sales – and making tens of billions of dollars in the process. It is arguably the jewel in the crown of developer Activision Blizzard which Microsoft controversially bought for a colossal $69 billion (then £56 billion) in 2023. But rather than stick with the tried-and-tested model for selling it, Microsoft is gambling on a new approach.

“Call of Duty is by far the biggest game to go into a subscription service on the day it is released,” Dring said. “[It] is a big test for subscription, because if Call of Duty can’t move the needle in terms of subscriber numbers, probably nothing will,” he added.

‘Netflix for Games’

Game Pass, much like Sony’s rival PlayStation Plus service, lets console and PC players play hundreds of video games for a monthly subscription fee. Both have been described as a “Netflix for games,” but with the caveat that gamers can download many of the games available to play on their own hardware – rather than streaming over the cloud.

They are extremely popular services, with Sony saying PlayStation Plus had 47 million subscribers in March 2023, while Microsoft said Game Pass had 34 million subscribers as of February 2024.

But that means, unless something changes between now and Call of Duty’s launch (which does not yet have a release date), not one of the 34 million Game Pass subscribers will have to pay anything extra to play the new game. This means Microsoft is taking a huge gamble, choosing to potentially cannibalize sales in exchange for – it hopes – a sharp increase to Game Pass subscribers.

Dring said the move probably came down to an inherent problem with game streaming services – people simply don’t play as many games as they watch TV shows, so “it can be hard to justify” paying to play one or two titles. But with the addition of such a big game to the service, he said there may yet be changes coming to make the numbers work. “It’ll be interesting to see whether Xbox will introduce higher tiers to Game Pass or other monetization techniques to mitigate this,” he said.

Streaming or Downloading

One element which is unclear in Microsoft’s announcement is whether gamers will be able to stream the new Call of Duty game, or if they will be forced to download it. That’s because when Microsoft purchased Activision, it had to make concessions to deal with the attention of regulators worldwide. In order to get the deal past UK regulators in particular, Microsoft agreed to give French game publisher Ubisoft the cloud streaming rights to distribute Activision’s games on consoles and PCs.

That means cloud streaming rights are decided by Ubisoft – so it may not be available for streaming when it launches. It also means the new Call of Duty game may ultimately appear on rival streaming platforms down the line. But the specifics of the deal are unknown, and it is highly unlikely PlayStation gamers will get to stream the game on the day it releases.

With this bold move, Microsoft is reshaping the landscape of video game distribution, potentially setting a new standard for how blockbuster titles are launched in the future. Whether this gamble pays off in increased Game Pass subscriptions or not will be closely watched by the entire industry.

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