In a groundbreaking move, Microsoft has announced that its highly anticipated game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, will be immediately accessible to subscribers of its Game Pass service. This marks a significant departure from the traditional model where gamers would typically pay a hefty upfront cost to purchase new releases.

This strategic shift means that gamers now have the option to enjoy the latest Call of Duty installment through a modest monthly subscription instead of a large one-time payment. Industry expert Christopher Dring from emphasised the importance of this development, noting that it’s a pivotal moment for both Microsoft and the broader gaming sector.

While Microsoft has previously launched games on Game Pass from day one—such as the much-hyped Starfield in 2023—this is the first time a title as monumental as Call of Duty is taking this route. Call of Duty stands as the fourth best-selling game series in history, boasting over 425 million lifetime sales and generating tens of billions in revenue. The series is a key asset for developer Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft acquired in a controversial US$69 billion deal in 2023.

By integrating Call of Duty into Game Pass at launch, Microsoft is making a bold bet. “Call of Duty is the largest game to ever debut on a subscription service from day one,” Dring explained. “This is a critical test for subscription models; if Call of Duty doesn’t drive significant subscriber growth, it’s unlikely any game will.”

Game Pass, akin to Sony’s PlayStation Plus, offers a vast library of games to console and PC players for a monthly fee. This model, often likened to a “Netflix for games,” allows users to download and play games on their own hardware, unlike some streaming services. As of early 2024, Game Pass had 34 million subscribers, compared to PlayStation Plus’s 47 million in March 2023.

With Call of Duty’s inclusion, existing Game Pass subscribers will not incur additional costs to access the game. This strategy, while risky, aims to boost Game Pass subscriptions significantly. Dring pointed out that the move addresses a core issue with game streaming services—gamers typically don’t consume games as frequently as viewers watch TV shows, making it challenging to justify subscription costs. However, adding a high-profile game like Call of Duty could drive substantial changes.

“It’s worth watching whether Xbox will introduce higher subscription tiers or new monetization methods to balance this approach,” Dring suggested.

A notable uncertainty in Microsoft’s announcement is whether Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be available for streaming or if it must be downloaded. When Microsoft acquired Activision, it had to navigate regulatory scrutiny, especially in the UK. To gain approval, Microsoft granted French publisher Ubisoft the cloud streaming rights for Activision’s games on consoles and PCs. As a result, Ubisoft controls the cloud streaming rights, which means Call of Duty might not be streamable at launch.

This arrangement also implies that the new Call of Duty could eventually appear on competing streaming platforms. However, it is unlikely that PlayStation users will have access to stream the game on release day.

Microsoft’s innovative approach with Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 could set a new precedent for game launches and subscription services, potentially reshaping the gaming industry’s landscape.