Call of Duty is the quintessential shooter and one of the biggest franchises in the industry. Despite this, it is completely absent from Switch, a console with a gigantic user base and an indisputable dominance in the market. Whether for technical or commercial reasons, Nintendo systems have never been fertile ground for the franchise or an option for its fans to enjoy in optimal conditions.
It seems that this will change radically, as Microsoft signed an agreement with Nintendo for Call of Duty to reach their systems for the next 10 years. It’s a very promising deal, as it guarantees not only simultaneous releases, but also content and feature parity. What implications will this deal have for Call of Duty’s relationship with Nintendo? Next, we analyze it.
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Call of Duty and Nintendo, a relationship full of limitations
The relationship between Call of Duty and Nintendo began in 2004, when Activision decided to take advantage of the potential of the GameCube to launch Call of Duty: Finest Hour. The saga had limitations in the Japanese company’s systems since then and this remained a constant. In this first instance, the GameCube version of Finest Hour lacked the online multiplayer that was available on PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
Later, Activision decided to leave out of Nintendo Call of Duty 2, but released Call of Duty 2: Big Red One on GameCube, a spin off that expanded the second installment. Then came the golden age of the Wii, a system that was a phenomenon and outsold its competitors despite its technical limitations. Motion controls were the ideal pretext to try your luck with the franchise, and that’s how Activision launched Call of Duty 3, CoD: Modern Warfare – Reflex Edition, CoD: Black Ops, CoD: Modern Warfare 3, among other games in the saga.
At the same time, Nintendo was the leader in the handheld console market, which encouraged Activision to release at least 4 titles in the series on the Nintendo DS. Yes, the franchise has had a presence for years in the house of Mario and Zelda, but always offered experiences diluted compared to those of other systems.
There was no total parity of content, functions or quality in terms of graphics. On the other hand, the developers were forced to comply with the demands of the hardware: less power, movement controls, touch functions and the use of 2 screens, for example. This generated different development processes that forced studios to have divisions dedicated to Nintendo versions, and for this reason the franchise never really took off in the Japanese company’s ecosystem.
The Wii and DS era was one of the best for Nintendo and CoD
Then came the Wii U, one of the biggest flops in Nintendo’s history. Activision and its studios had to adapt again to a hardware full of peculiarities of operation, power and controls. As a product of this effort, players were able to enjoy Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Call of Duty: Ghosts, releases that marked the end of the relationship between the franchise and the company.
It all ended in August 2014, when Activision and Sledgehammer Games announced that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare would not have a Wii U version for commercial reasons. It was a blow to Nintendo, its community, and, of course, its troubled console. Nintendo lost the support of one of the most important third-parties and was left without one of the industry’s banners. CoD: Advanced Warfare did not reach Wii U despite being an intergenerational title for PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360, which showed the lack of interest in the Nintendo console.
“We are not developing a Wii U version. It was a business decision by Activision to focus on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Another study is taking care of the current generation. Wii U was not in the key business plan. So it was off our radar,” said Michael Condrey, co-founder of Sledgehammer Game.
Later, Activision clarified that their games would continue to come to Nintendo consoles because they considered it an important partner. The study half kept its word, since Call of Duty has since been out of its systems and has not reached Switch, despite being one of the best-selling consoles in recent years.
The relationship ended with Wii U and its failure
A historic agreement that benefits Microsoft and… what about Nintendo?
Call of Duty is a central theme in everything related to the purchase of Activision Blizzard. Regulators fear that Microsoft will take advantage of the acquisition to harm competition in 2 ways: depriving other companies of the franchise as such or offering them inferior versions of the games, that is, without parity.
To end this problem, Microsoft signed a binding contract that obligates it to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo systems for the next 10 years. The agreement guarantees simultaneous launches with those of Xbox and, even more important: equality of content and functions. With this, Microsoft gains ground before regulators for 2 reasons: the alliance is proof that it will not fall into anti-competitive practices once it is the new owner of Activision Blizzard, at least not for a decade. The second reason is that Microsoft clarified that the agreement to bring Call of Duty to more systems will be possible if the purchase is approved, which puts regulators between a rock and a hard place.
We want the record to be clear and address any misunderstandings. I’m delighted to repost below this statement and affirm Microsoft’s strong commitment to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo’s customers if our acquisition of Activision Blizzard is approved by regulators. pic.twitter.com/AlsIjwAGEU
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) February 24, 2023
and nintendo? What do you get out of all this? The Japanese company and Switch have shown that they don’t need a franchise the size of Call of Duty to succeed in a big way. Its hybrid system is on its way to becoming the best-selling console in history, and even so, no game in the series is available in its catalog. Without a doubt, his arrival will be very well received by many players, but the reality is that there are many doubts in the air, especially due to the potential of Switch and Activision’s development approach, which focuses on PS5, Xbox Series X | S and PC.
Despite the above, the agreement with Microsoft may be fruitful for Nintendo. It guarantees you one of the strongest franchises in the industry for the long term, which can strengthen your game offering for future consoles and reach an even broader spectrum of gamers. On the other hand, it will reactivate the relationship with Call of Duty from a new perspective, where parity is essential.
This opens the doors for a Nintendo console to finally have a full-fledged Call of Duty, which meets the expectations of the fans and is the same as the other versions, at least in content and functions. Now, will this be possible or will Nintendo’s hardware continue to be a limitation in technical terms?
Will Switch and future Nintendo consoles be able to with Call of Duty?
Microsoft will bring the next Call of Duty to Nintendo systems, but the thing is, it hasn’t said how. The developers have worked some miracles to bring certain games to Switch, but that has meant major tweaks and cutbacks. The hybrid console has titles like Overwatch 2, Apex Legends, and Fortnite, but they’re somewhat watered down versions. A more extreme case is that of FIFA, which simply forgoes content parity to deliver almost one copy of the same game every year.
Will something similar happen with Call of Duty? Will the developers be able to bring some of the demand and size of Warzone to a hardware like the Switch or a little more powerful? Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, pointed out that the games will run as “expected”, but his statement leaves more questions than answers. For his part, Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, gave us an idea of how it will work. From his perspective, Minecraft has given them the experience to work with different environments and platforms, so they will have dedicated teams to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo.
On the other hand, it is also not clear what the successor to Switch will look like. There is a possibility that Nintendo will go for a more powerful system or with cutting-edge technology that will open the doors to Call of Duty and other major third-party games. An alternative would be the use of the cloud, technology where Microsoft has a great lead with services like Xbox Cloud Gaming.
For now there is nothing defined and there are still many questions in the air: do Nintendo players really want Call of Duty? What will happen if the saga offers only diluted and disappointing experiences? Will Microsoft be able to deliver on its long-term parity promise? It seems that it is still too early to tell.
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