After news broke that Call of Duty sales were slowing, many speculated that the franchise might have to re-evaluate its current two-year development cycle under which Infinity Ward and Treyarch trade-off on annual releases. Shortly thereafter came word that Sledgehammer Games is staffing up for a next-gen Call of Duty, which further fueled rumors that the franchise might give more time to its individual development teams by adding another name into the fold.
Apparently all of those rumors were true, as Activision has today announced the next Call of Duty title will be a Sledgehammer Games effort and will release in the fall of 2014. Moreover, the publisher confirmed that the Call of Duty franchise is now on a three-year development cycle.
Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg broke the news during a quarterly investor call, promising that the change "will give our designers more time to envision and innovate for each title."
"[The change] will give our designers more time to envision and innovate for each title. It will give our content creators more focus on DLC and micro-DLC which ... have become large and high-margin opportunities and significant engagement drivers. It will give our teams more time to polish, helping to ensure that we deliver the best possible experience to our fans each and every time."
While there are typically minute changes from one Call of Duty to the next, the fact of the matter is the 2-year cycle put the franchise in a bad place.
At first, that lack of innovation didn't seem to affect Call of Duty the brand's appeal, but now it appears the criticisms have caught up with sales. Even though last year's iteration, Call of Duty: Ghosts, sold well on both current-gen and next-gen platforms, it didn't hit the same marks as its predecessor. Clearly the downward trend was showing itself and Activision wanted to get out ahead of it.
The good news is Sledgehammer Games is no stranger to Call of Duty development, as they helped Infinity Ward get Modern Warfare 3 to the finish line. If our timeline is correct then that means development on this year's Call of Duty began shortly after Sledgehammer finished up their work on MW3. So, they have the 2014 Call of Duty, Treyarch has 2015, and Infinity Ward comes back around for 2016.
This news is good for the Call of Duty franchise for several reasons. For starters, it puts fresh eyes on the franchise and hopefully ignites some innovation much like when Treyarch jumped from WWII to more modern settings with Black Ops. Moreover, it gives each developer enough time to truly put their stamp on their Call of Duty game. Rather than borrow from last year's lead, hopefully this 3-year cycle can make each year's entry feel unique.
This longer development cycle also presumably allows for a new graphics engine, one befit of a next-gen experience. Yes, Ghosts' visuals were much improved, but they were not on par with something like Battlefield 4.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait until some time in May for the requisite Call of Duty debut trailer in order to see how Sledgehammer has made their mark on the franchise. In the mean time, we'll keep you posted with any additional details.
How do you feel about Sledgehammer Games developing the next Call of Duty? Do you think the franchise will benefit from the 3-year development cycle?