The ripple effect is minimal after eight consecutive annual releases, but we can’t fault Activision for doing its due diligence.
The publisher announced in a recent post-earnings financial call that Call of Duty — perhaps you’re familiar with the series’s recent oeuvres: Black Ops 2, from Treyarch, and Modern Warfare 3, from Infinity Ward — will be releasing a new installment in late 2013. The same timeframe was also attached to Call of Duty Online, Activision’s in-house CoD MMO being developed for Chinese markets.
Consonant with Call of Duty’s of the last several years, which haven’t been unveiled thoroughly until May or E3 in June, Activision didn’t divulge a title, developer, platforms, a plotline or any gameplay specifics regarding the upcoming game. Sure, we can intuit a few of the blanks fairly easily — Infinity Ward is up next in the annual developer rotation, and widening evidence suggests that it’s working on Modern Warfare 4 — but for the first time since 2005’s Call of Duty 2 the series is subject to the many vagaries of the next generation: Call of Duty seems far too ubiquitous to forgo the Xbox 360 and PS3 entirely in 2013; then again it seems far too potentially profitable to forgo the Xbox 720 and PS4 if they’re on shelves by Christmas.
Naturally, the uncertainty was a point of discussion for Activision CFO Dennis Durkinon during the call — he explained why a series that made $1 billion in its first 15 days with Black Ops 2 last November might not enjoy the same frenzied launch in 2013 (via Gamespot):
“There is increased volatility this year due to the ongoing console transition, which makes predicting the future more challenging than during normal years in the cycle. For Call of Duty, consistent with our past practices, we are planning for the mainline release in Q4 to be down versus 2012.”
But Call of Duty isn’t the only property Activision is approaching with prudence in its future outlook. Destiny, the MMO/first post-Halo project from developer Bungie, was initially cited as a 2013 release when it was outed last November. Speaking during the same earnings call, though, the company suggested that it’s not accounting for the game in its 2013 financial outlook.
Here’s how Seeking Alpha quoted Denis Durkinon:
“It will also be a year of significant continued investment in several new properties with long-term potential that are not factored into our 2013 financial outlook, including Activision Publishing’s new Bungie universe, Call of Duty Online for China and the new Blizzard MMO.”
Typically — this is just our hunch — not factoring the first installment to an epic new franchise developed by one of gaming’s most venerated studios into the financial outlook isn’t, at least publicly, the approach a publisher will take when that installment is releasing in the same year. Destiny isn’t just a huge universe, it’s a huge horse in the Activision stable going forward. And considering that it was outlined well in advance to release biennially, in four iterations from 2013 to 2019, the publisher would almost have to possess a few preliminary projections.
How a delay into 2014 might impact Destiny’s platform plans is an interesting point of speculation, however. The first game was slated to release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with next-gen versions following in step. But just how much demand will remain for the current-gen games in 2014 if, by then, they’re considered last-gen? Destiny would never fully abandon the 360 and PS3 — it’s far too far along in development for that — but Activision and Bungie would have to drastically alter both its production and marketing focus.
Either way: we’re more concerned right now with how Desinty will turn out, not when. The game instantly grabbed our attention when its lore-filled story details and stunning concept art leaked last November. With Bungie promising yesterday that an official, good-and-proper unveiling will arrive “within a matter of weeks” (perhaps at Sony’s February 20 PlayStation event or GDC), it won’t be long, delay or not, before Destiny’s presence in the industry begins to manifest.
How do you think Activision will fare in 2013 and/or 2014 with Call of Duty and Destiny?
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.