What Activision earnings mean for next ‘Call of Duty’ release date, microtransactions

While many video game development studios have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, causing delays among big companies and ruin for independent studios, Activision wrote in its earnings filing Tuesday that it has been mostly unaffected in terms of creative output.

The publisher of the lucrative “Call of Duty” franchise enjoyed a stellar financial first quarter and says it anticipates little interruption in its ability to carry that momentum through the rest of 2020.

Activision’s statement provides good news for fans of “Call of Duty” who have been worried the next installment of the annual fall release would be delayed due to work-from-home directives to protect against COVID-19 (Activision’s headquarters are in Santa Monica, Calif.). It noted its push toward digital workflow and communication before the pandemic helped the transition process over the past couple of months.

“We have implemented business continuity plans and have increased support and resources to enable our employees to work remotely, and thus far our business has been able to operate with minimal disruption,” the company wrote.

Here are the takeaways from Tuesday’s news:

‘Call of Duty’ development timeline

There was no indication from Activision on Tuesday that the next “Call of Duty” game would be delayed. To the contrary, the company emphasized to shareholders several times it remained confident in its ability to hit deadlines and said it has not “changed plans for … key content releases this year.”

“Call of Duty” titles are usually released in October or November. There is little currently known about what the next game will look like — initial details are usually announced around this time each year — but it will reportedly be a continuation of the Black Ops sub-series.

“The digital nature of our content means our creative talent can continue to work on our product pipeline from home,” Activision wrote in a press release accompanying its filing. “While the shift to remote working adds complexity and challenges in some areas of the game development process, we are implementing mitigation measures to address these areas and, based on the work to date, we still expect to deliver a robust slate of content over the remainder of the year.”

Microtransactions are here to stay

A significant reason Activision exceeded expectations with its earnings announcement was the money it made from in-game purchases during the first quarter (and increased user engagement during coronavirus quarantines).

Behind its Battle Pass season setup, which prompts users to pay extra for cosmetic upgrades, Activision made $956 million from in-game purchases alone in the first quarter, compared to $794 million the year before. The addition of the free-to-play “Call of Duty: Warzone” in March has added to the already sizable user base of potential in-game buyers.

What does this mean for the future? Probably increased attention to Battle Pass content, which figures to be a cash cow for the company in the same way sports game studios have reaped immense profits from Ultimate Team features over the past decade.

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