I'm going to level with you, I am surprised that Call of Duty 2023 wasn't the headline reveal for Summer Game Fest. There are only three universal truths that you can count on in this life: the sun will set in the west, that everything is better with friends, and that a new Call of Duty game will launch in the Autumn. I find comfort in knowing that every November I'll be able to sit down with a first-person shooter that's pushing at the boundaries of fidelity, game feel, and performance for the genre. Call of Duty campaigns are expendable, high-velocity entertainment – and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Something I find slightly unsettling, however, is the miasma beginning to settle around this year's installment. SGF host Geoff Keighley may have unceremoniously announced that "there's a new Call of Duty coming this Fall" last night – an awkward aside before steamrolling into a trailer for Warzone Season 4 – but that this has even been a point of contention for the community highlights the turbulence that this historically annualized franchise is experiencing right now.
Earlier this year, Activision Blizzard was pushed to confirm with shareholders that its plans for Call of Duty in the financial year included "even more engaging live services across platforms, and the next full annual premium release in the blockbuster series". With respect to live service, Activision is flying high – Call of Duty Mobile has surpassed 500 million downloads, while both Warzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 continue to receive regular content drops.
As for the "next full annual premium release" – it's been radio silence, and that's unusual for a series that typically runs its reveals like clockwork. If you look at the last 10 mainline installments to the Call of Duty series, all but two had been shown within this window in the calendar. Black Ops Cold War (2020) and Vanguard (2021) opted for August reveals, the former utilizing an ARG format and the latter an in-game Warzone event which culminated in a showcase of the first trailer.
Aside from these outliers, Call of Duty reveals have typically followed a fairly regular cadence: title trailer in April/May, gameplay reveal in June, and then another major beat in August/September. It's a steady rollout which works to capture attention of one of the largest player-bases in the western market as interest naturally wanes from one mainline game to the next.
It's perhaps no surprise that developers at Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games opted for something different with Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard – factoring in the meteoric success of the original Warzone, a global pandemic which upended production schedules, and the reported issues both games stuffed throughout development.
With all that in mind, I had still expected Call of Duty to settle back into business as usual for 2023. It's worth remembering that a lot of the turbulence surrounding this year's FPS was brought about by two Bloomberg reports. The first arrived in February 2022, which suggested Call of Duty would skip its annual entry in 2023 and that Activision would instead release premium expansion for Modern Warfare 2; the second arrived in February of this year, where it was reported that the publisher was now planning to release a full-installment which would effectively resemble Modern Warfare 3. It's difficult to say either way, because Activision continues its communications blackout.
Furthering confusion is that it is no longer clear who is at the helm of the next Call of Duty. Following the MW3 debacle in 2011, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games have typically worked in a three-year rotation – each studio taking the lead with support from others within the vast Activision Blizzard network. However, this cadence was seemingly knocked off its axis by Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard. If all were well and good, Sledgehammer would have been next up to the plate, although a two-year turnaround from Vanguard seems unlikely.
Summer Game Fest was the best opportunity for Call of Duty to appear during the E3 2023 season. The PlayStation Showcase passed without incident and Activision is yet to announce anything of its own as part of the E3 2023 Schedule. There's an Xbox Games Showcase planned for June 11 but the chance of this new Call of Duty being revealed there is slim – not because of ongoing consternation surrounding the Activision Blizzard deal, but because Sony has a long-standing agreement in place with Activision regarding Call of Duty exclusives. In the past, this has encompassed everything from DLC released to beta access, but it extends to the way the games are shown and marketed too. That deal is set to expire in 2024, so it's extremely unlikely that Call of Duty will be shown this Sunday.
So all we can do is wait. As excited as I am to jump into whatever Activision Blizzard puts forward this year, I don't think it would necessarily be a bad thing for Call of Duty to take a year off. For Activision to let its teams take a breather, realign their priorities, and get a handle on the new IW 9 engine (designed to be the torchbearer for the entire franchise moving forward following its debut in MW2, to allow in part a smoother integration with Warzone's continuous iteration).
It would be healthy for Call of Duty (and the thousands of people who work on these games) to take a break – just look at the success Assassin's Creed found when it broke free of its cycle of annualization – but that requires clear communication on the part of the publisher to pull off. That's something we aren't getting from Activision right now, and its silence is deafening.
While we wait for more Call of Duty 2023 news, check out all of the new games for 2023 that have been announced so far.