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Call of Duty: Vanguard underperformed because no-one wanted a WW2 game, says Activision

No, don't blame the game's quality, or the controversy around the publisher, or the Warzone focus – it was World War II that was the problem. Obviously.

Activision’s latest Call of Duty effort, Vanguard, didn't have a good start to life. Earlier this year, it was reported that the game enjoyed 36% fewer sales than its predecessor – Black Ops Cold War – in the UK in it's first few months on sale.

Going up against Battlefield and Halo was always going to make 2021 tough for CoD.

A report from GamesIndustry.biz suggested that the game's sales were down 40% year-on-year, and even anecdotally, there's less coverage and chatter about Vanguard than any CoD game for the past 10 years.

Despite all that, a new annual report from Activision has stated that the reason for Vanguard’s lower-than-expected sales was down to a lack of innovation in the game... and the World War 2 setting, which didn't land for players more used to modern warfare aesthetics.

“While Call of Duty remains one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, our 2021 premium release didn’t meet our expectations, we believe primarily due to our own execution. [Vanguard]’s World War II setting didn’t resonate with some of our community and we didn’t deliver as much innovation in the premium game as we would have liked.”

The game, of course, also released up against some other fairly major FPS players in the space – both Battlefield 2042 and Halo: Infinite (as well as Activision's own free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone) would have eaten into the game's potential audience. Plus, after a yearly game in the series launching like clockwork for the past 16 years, maybe there's some consumer fatigue with the series?

Was it just the setting that turned players off Vanguard?

Perhaps it's good, then, that the rumours floating around about series developers being eager for Call of Duty to ditch its yearly release schedule seem to have some weight to them.

Maybe this will be the writing on the walls that lets the likes of Toys For Bob, Beenox, Demonware, High Moon Studios, Radical Entertainment and Vicarious Visions step out of the Call of Duty content mines and return to other, non-CoD projects? Headline studios like Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games could then – in theory – spend longer on the development cycle without the need for so many auxilliary studios chipping in to help.

As for what's next? Well, Activision believes it's identified the problem with 2021's release, and will not make the same missteps in 2022. This year's title – Modern Warfare 2 – “will be the most advanced experience in franchise history” and the publisher aims to “address [setting and innovation] issues with the 2022 launch,” too.

Developed by Infinity Ward, the game is said to include morality systems, weapon malfunctions, and more besides – whether that's what gamers actually want to see in their Call of Duty games will become clear in time.

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Call of Duty: Vanguard

PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC

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About the Author
Dom Peppiatt avatar

Dom Peppiatt


Dom is a veteran video games critic with 11 years' experience in the games industry. A published author and consultant that has written for NME, Red Bull, Samsung, Xsolla, Daily Star, GamesRadar, Tech Radar, and many more. They also have a column about games and music at The Guardian.