Skip to main content

Is Call of Duty coming to Xbox Game Pass? Yes, no, maybe, who knows - but it’s clear no one believes what Xbox says any more

After years of building up Game Pass as a viable part of its business, and billions of dollars spent acquiring content for it, even Microsoft is seemingly struggling to justify Call of Duty on Game Pass.

Image credit: Xbox, Activision, VG247.

2024 will forever be known as the year of record games industry layoffs and studio closures, but I’d argue it will be just as remembered as the year Xbox lost the plot. Every other month, Microsoft’s gaming division has what ranges from avoidable PR scandal to full-on doom-and-gloom meltdown.

We’re not even halfway through the year yet, and Xbox has already had to assuage fears it’s abandoning the console market entirely, and hand-wring about the apparent survival necessity behind its decision to publish some of its games on rival platforms. A couple of weeks prior, the company let go of 1,900 people from its gaming division, after promising it won’t do that when it was trying to convince regulators that it would make the perfect steward of Activision Blizzard. As recently as this week, Microsoft’s ruthless campaign of shortsighted cost-cutting continued with the closure of four studios, including some that are responsible for some of its most unique and well-beloved games, just as it continues its hollow calls for more games of this type to be made.

Looming over all that is the shadow of Game Pass, the service that Microsoft spent years building, and investing millions of dollars into to bolster its content offering – including the $69 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition.

Game Pass being Xbox’s ace-in-the-hole has always effectively been the company line. PlayStation may have head-turning, award-winning, zeitgeist all-consuming games, but Xbox’s all-you-can-eat buffet of games big and small for a small fee is unrivalled. Since Phil Spencer’s takeover of the Xbox division following the Xbox One launch diaster, the company’s way of playing the game has been to… simply pick a different one.

No one wants Xbox consoles? Fine, we’re not about hardware, anyway; Xbox is device-agnostic now! No first-party games with the prestige of The Last of Us or Spider-Man? No problem, we’ll buy studios that make games much bigger than those. For a console generation and a half now, Xbox has been coming up with ways to stay relevant without having to directly address its shortcomings in key areas.

And it almost pulled it off; convincing everyone that its strategy is sound, and that Game Pass will be the last thing standing after the dust settles on the meaningless console war. Except, of course, Microsoft doesn’t actually believe Game Pass could be that.

Modern Warfare 3 makes for a good Game Pass release, but would it overshadow this year's premium Call of Duty? | Image credit: Activision

This week, a new report from The Verge included an alarming detail about the company’s own perception of the service, specifically when it comes to actually putting its money where its mouth is. According to the report, Xbox has been having internal conversations about whether or not it makes sense to launch the latest Call of Duty title on Game Pass, just like the company has been doing with the rest of the its line-up. Now that it owns the biggest game in the world, the calculus around Game Pass has suddenly shifted.

Or has it? Well, it’s hard to say. In the process of writing this piece, Xbox president Sarah Bond was interviewed by Bloomberg, where she said that, “importantly, you get every single one of the games we build day one in Game Pass” - and, when pressed, clarified that does indeed include Activision’s games.

The concern, of course, is that launching on Game Pass day-and-date could cannibalise the game’s sales revenue, despite Call of Duty’s biggest platform being PlayStation anyway, where Game Pass does not exist. The very idea that there’s even a debate about this in the halls of Xbox is quite telling.

This can only be viewed as Microsoft implicitly admitting that Game Pass cannot be sustainable as the delivery mechanism of triple-A games. Or, more accurately, the sort of game that does well on its own and doesn’t need GP’s help. See, Microsoft is clearly okay with launching games like Hellblade 2, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle and even Bethesda’s first new IP in decades on Game Pass because they fit the narrative. The company never has to say how many copies they sold because they’re not meant to stand on their own, they’re part of a line-up of Game Pass games. But it’s clearly struggling to make that work with Call of Duty.

The report goes on to suggest that a possible way of justifying Call of Duty’s inclusion could be to increase the price of the Ultimate tier of the service again. Perhaps the shooter could be exclusive to that upper tier, or perhaps all tiers get it, just six or so month after launch so as to maximise initial sales.

Game Pass
Why is Starfield and Forza different? | Image credit: Microsoft

However Microsoft decides to solve this dilemma, one thing is now clearer than ever: the facade of the friendly Xbox is quickly collapsing. Microsoft is not only proving Sony’s stance against launching a certain calibre of games in subscription services to be the right one, it’s also running out of new ways to avoid facing its declining hardware numbers, software sales - and now, subscription growth.

There aren’t any avenues left that Microsoft can invent and proclaim itself the leader of. Sooner or later, the bottom will drop out, and Spencer’s amiable, good-natured demeanour won’t count for much.

Read this next

news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news