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The future of Call of Duty and ‘Warzone’

(Washington Post illustration; Activision)

When “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” releases Oct. 28, it will mark a strategic shift for the massively successful first-person shooter franchise, one that will also usher in two new products around the popular battle royale game “Warzone.”

An all-new version of “Warzone,” currently sporting the working title “Warzone 2.0,” will debut “soon after” the release of “Modern Warfare 2” as an extension of that game’s universe, according to publisher Activision. The new version of “Warzone” will reboot player progression and inventories, meaning players’ current skins and weapon blueprints will not transfer to the new game. “Warzone” will also be coming to mobile platforms at an unspecified date.

“In order to fully deliver this state-of-the-art experience, ‘Warzone 2.0’ will feature new ‘Modern Warfare 2’ content and systems with brand new progression and inventories,” Activision said in a statement to The Post. “Today’s ‘Warzone’ will continue on as a separate experience that will include a continuation of player progression and inventories within that ‘Warzone’ experience. We can’t wait to share more details soon.”

The company said “Warzone 2.0” will deliver “new technology, new features and new gameplay that work seamlessly together” and, like “Modern Warfare 2,” will be playable on both current- and last-generation consoles.

Activision did not provide a specific date for the release of “Warzone 2.0.” The past two years, “Warzone” featured a major update in December to align with the current mainline game.

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“Warzone,” which debuted in 2020 and now has over 125 million players according to Activision, is a key part of a new franchise strategy to better align Call of Duty’s many properties and broaden their reach. Since “Warzone’s” release, Activision has ramped up its resources around Call of Duty, with over 3,000 people now working on the franchise, according to the company.

“Our goal here is not only to light up the Modern Warfare scene and deliver a step change transformation in that regard, but also to think much bigger and have a much bigger ambition for the future of the franchise,” Johanna Faries, Call of Duty’s general manager, said. “We have a completely new shared vision around both ‘Modern Warfare 2’ and how that will relate to a subsequent launch of a brand new ‘Warzone’ experience. And that will be on the back of shared tech and the engine that connects them in a way that we’ve never done before.”

Faries demurred when asked about what new gameplay features “Warzone 2.0″ would offer, but said player feedback had informed decision-making around the new version. She emphasized that game and server stability was critical to enduring success, along with continued focus on the game’s anti-cheat initiative. She also noted positive feedback around “Warzone’s” infusion of cultural touchstones, such as a recent event featuring Godzilla and King Kong, as well as introducing rapper Snoop Dogg as a playable character.

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As part of the franchise’s expansion, “Warzone” will also be coming to mobile. This will be a separate product from the existing free-to-play “Call of Duty Mobile” game that features a different battle royale experience. “Call of Duty Mobile” has been downloaded by over 650 million users globally since its 2019 launch, according to Activision.

“We now have players who are on the go more than ever,” Faries said. “So just thinking in terms of the mobile lens and bringing a new Warzone experience that we are very excited about to mobile is a huge piece of that strategy going forward.”

Going forward, all Call of Duty games will be developed on the same game engine that debuted with 2019′s version of “Modern Warfare.” A newer version of that engine will power both “Modern Warfare 2” and the new “Warzone 2.0.”

“This will in many ways be the most advanced engine we’ve ever utilized for Call of Duty,” Faries said.

Previously, the annualized installments of Call of Duty were developed by different studios using different game engines, which gave each new title a distinct look and feel. Both players and developers have said they enjoyed the differentiation of titles in the past, despite the lack of consistency. But Faries noted that even with the consolidation of the franchise around one game engine, new versions of the game will still feel different from one another, differentiating installments of, say, Black Ops games from Modern Warfare games.

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“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ will also return the franchise to Steam, Valve’s PC games platform and storefront, from Activision-owned Blizzard’s service Battle.net. Faries said that decision was made to allow more players around the world access to the game.

“It’s just about showing up where players need and want Call of Duty to show up and make sure that they can access the game they love,” she said. Across the lifetime of the franchise, Call of Duty has sold over 425 million units and driven over $30 billion in revenue, per Activision.

That logic around player accessibility could apply to another platform in the future. With Activision set to be acquired by Microsoft in 2023, there has been speculation as to whether the franchise, which will soon feature 19 mainline games in addition to the free-to-play “Warzone,” would be offered to the 25 million subscribers of Xbox’s Game Pass service. Faries declined to comment on that possibility, citing she could not discuss the pending acquisition.

The announcement of Activision’s new strategy for Call of Duty follows a February report from Bloomberg that the franchise would not publish a new game in 2023, which would be the first year without a new Call of Duty game since 2004. Through a spokesman, Activision declined to comment on that report.

Faries did not specify whether the pattern of syncing the “Warzone” experience to the year’s mainline Call of Duty title will continue or whether “Warzone 2.0” will remain tied to “Modern Warfare 2′s” universe.

“We’re very excited to share more details about this new ‘Warzone’ experience, how that does expand the ‘Modern Warfare 2’ universe, but also what that means for the future,” Faries said.

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