Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2’s Big Sales Figures Are a Big Problem

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a massive sales success, which unfortunately means a lot of things you won't want to hear about the future of gaming.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Photo: Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard is currently under investigation following accusations of harassment, discrimination, and fostering a hostile work environment. You can read more about the investigation here.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s first sales figures are rolling in, and the early numbers are astonishing. In fact, publisher Activision Blizzard reports that Modern Warfare 2 is the fastest-selling Call of Duty game ever. The game has also reportedly earned over $800 million in retail sales alone during its first three days of availability. The only other game that can beat that three-day sales figure is GTA 5 (which earned an astonishing $1 billion during that same time frame).

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Sony has confirmed that Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest PlayStation Store launch ever. All signs suggest that Modern Warfare 2 was just as successful on PC and Xbox, but when you consider the kinds of games that Modern Warfare 2 beat to earn that particular PlayStation honor, it really puts into perspective what a blockbuster it really is.

However you look at it, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a massive hit that will surely go down as one of the most financially successful games ever. Simply put, that’s kind of a problem.

Ad – content continues below

To be clear, I don’t think that Modern Warfare 2 is a bad game. I think Modern Warfare 2 is…fine. I find nearly every aspect of its multiplayer modes and single-player campaign to be serviceable in every way. The game’s user and critic reviews seem to suggest that’s not an unpopular sentiment. Modern Warfare 2 isn’t being treated as the best or worst Call of Duty game. In fact, there’s really nothing about the initial reactions to this game that would have suggested the game was going to set sales records.

Honestly, that’s a big part of the problem. The Call of Duty franchise is a freight train that just keeps chugging along despite the many things that should slow it down. Disappointing recent entries? Aggressive microtransactions? A $70 retail price hike? A historic workplace abuse scandal that has rocked Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard? None of it has seemed to impact Call of Duty‘s sales in any real way. Hell, the franchise is somehow bigger than ever.

Obviously, that problem isn’t unique to Call of Duty. Franchises currently dominate many aspects of the entertainment industry, and every year brings several reminders that the quality of those franchise entries has little to do with their success. It’s a problem that is only getting worse, and this is obviously not the first time you’re hearing about it.

What makes Call of Duty “special,” though, is Microsoft’s nearly $70 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. While that deal isn’t officially completed, a quick read of the room reveals that many industry insiders think that the acquisition is eventually going to go through. Before that happens, though, Microsoft is going to have to convince several regulatory bodies that the acquisition won’t give them (yet another) historic monopoly. They’ll also have to convince many other critics that this deal is good for anyone who isn’t a Microsoft executive or shareholder. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest critics of this deal so far has been Sony and the PlayStation team.

Obviously, Sony is concerned about Microsoft’s ability to potentially make the Call of Duty franchise exclusive to Xbox if they chose to do so. They’re also concerned that Microsoft could just make Xbox the vastly preferred platform for future Call of Duty games by doing something like making the next CoD game a day-one addition to Game Pass. Given that Modern Warfare 2 just enjoyed the biggest launch in PlayStation Store history, you can see why they’re a bit worried about those possibilities.

Now, Xbox representatives have said that they intend to honor and extend PlayStation’s Call of Duty agreements for the foreseeable future. In other words, they do not currently intend to release exclusive Call of Duty content for Xbox platforms, nor do they intend to release Call of Duty games early on Xbox. That would also seemingly mean that Xbox can’t add Call of Duty games to Game Pass, which Microsoft seems especially annoyed about. Even still, the Xbox team has insisted that is in their best interest to get Call of Duty on as many platforms as possible from a purely financial standpoint. They’ve even said they want to treat the Call of Duty franchise like Minecraft.

Ad – content continues below

However, exclusivity isn’t Sony’s only concern regarding Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition. In a statement to the Brazilian government (one of the many global regulatory bodies reviewing the Activision Blizzard deal), PlayStation representatives expressed concern over the sheer market power of the Call of Duty franchise. They even suggested (via translated statements) that competing with the Call of Duty franchise isn’t about talent or money. Their concern is that there is no studio in the world with the talent or budget needed to create a yearly franchise that could possibly rival Call of Duty’s sales. More importantly, they fear that the Call of Duty franchise’s core userbase is so loyal and so massive that they may go as the franchise goes in terms of even potential exclusivity and preferred platforms.

I’ve been thinking about that sobering statement a lot as I pour over the Modern Warfare 2 sales numbers. Sure, a game like Grand Theft Auto 6 will likely break Call of Duty‘s sales records. Yes, Elden Ring might even outsell Modern Warfare 2 in 2022 (which is no small feat). No, there will probably never be a franchise that can do what Call of Duty does year after year in terms of sales.

Mind you, this isn’t a defense of Sony. The PlayStation brand has made more than a few questionable anti-consumer decisions over the years, especially when it comes to gated content. If they’re upset about what could happen in this instance, it’s because they’re reading pages out of their own playbook and imagining what they could do with the Call of Duty franchise.

Even still, Sony is right. Modern Warfare 2‘s early sales figures solidify Call of Duty‘s status as this franchise that will continue to be successful regardless of…well, pretty much everything. Call of Duty is virtually immune to criticism, scandal, or even relative success or failures of its most recent installments. The biggest franchise in an industry obsessed with franchises is the one that people continue to buy in record numbers because it’s familiar, regularly released, and enjoys an almost unfathomable momentum propelled by its own popularity.

Sony and others can treat Call of Duty as an anomaly, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the envy of an industry trying to find ways to charge people more money for major releases even as so many of us struggle to justify all but the most frugal forms of entertainment. When you hear industry insiders talk about Call of Duty, they don’t talk about it like this unobtainable goal that doesn’t even factor into their own decision-making. They talk about it like the franchise that won the franchise wars that they’re still somehow obsessed with. Forget artistic ambitions and challenging works that defy our expectations of the medium; does the future of populist blockbusters really have to be that bland and bleak?

For all the talk about how Call of Duty‘s success can’t be replicated, it certainly seems like the “perfectly fine, yet absurdly successful” Modern Warfare 2 is a lot closer to many major studios’ vision for the future of Triple-A gaming than any other title released this year. Whoever owns the Call of Duty franchise, the Call of Duty franchise continues to own the entire gaming industry.

Ad – content continues below