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Call of Duty goes early to avoid Red Dead clash

Activision releasing Black Ops 4 a full month earlier than usual as Rockstar's next is set to dominate Q4 - but will others follow?

Since 2006's Call of Duty 3, Activision has always released each new entry of its flagship series in early November. More often than not, in the first week.

However, yesterday it announced this year's instalment - Black Ops 4 (sorry, IIII) - will land on shelves on October 12th. That's a full month ahead of the usual release window, and the earliest launch in the series' history.

There's one very clear reason why Activision has opted to mobilise Call of Duty earlier than usual: Red Dead Redemption 2.

Rockstar's hotly-anticipated cowboy epic arrives on October 26th and is expected to be a dominating force this Q4. Previously due for release this spring, Take-Two decided to further delay this to a fourth quarter slot.

This is no doubt in part to Rockstar's known determination for perfectionism, which certainly paid off with Grand Theft Auto V. More than four years on from its original release, sales of the game are actually increasing rather than tailing off and its online mode continues to be a significant revenue driver for Take-Two.

It's this success, and the likelihood that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be aiming for similar long-term revenues, that no doubt prompted Activision to pull Black Ops 4's launch forward.

Even a market-leading force like Call of Duty is likely to see an impact on those all-important week-one sales if arriving within a week of Rockstar's latest, with plenty of players still distracted by either the lengthy single-player campaign or inevitably comprehensive online multiplayer. Better instead to launch early and secure as much disposable income as possible before the open-world Western rides into town.

Activision has managed to fend off rival products launching days before Call of Duty in the past. Electronic Arts' attempts to distract players with various Battlefield and Medal of Honor titles ahead of a Call of Duty launch have failed to stop each annual outing shifting millions in its first week. Last year's WWII was a huge success, despite following one of the biggest weekends ever across all forms of entertainment.

It is very telling, then, that the prospect of following Red Dead seems to have shaken Activision, and it will be interesting to see whether more publishers, like EA and Bethesda, reschedule around that late October window - the latest example of what several sales director have described as the 'Rockstar black hole'.

Q4 is a notoriously busy period in the AAA space, with most tentpole releases crammed into October and early November. Those who follow the industry closely will be able to estimate fairly accurately the type of titles that will be going up against Red Dead: EA's next shooter (presumably the next Battlefield), the unannounced but inevitable Forza Horizon 4, a major release from Ubisoft (perhaps the newly-unveiled The Division 2)... the list goes on.

Even Take-Two has "a highly anticipated new title from one of 2K's biggest franchises" (almost certainly Borderlands 3) currently slated for the same fiscal year as Red Dead - although this does open the possibility of a delay to early 2019.

The Christmas 2018 line-up will become clearer in the coming months, particularly when the majority of publishers unleash their biggest announcements at E3 in June, but it's not unlikely that we'll see more titles avoid going head-to-head with Rockstar.

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Latest comments (2)

Boris Piker BO$$ A month ago
man if red dead 2 is anything like GTA 5 multiplayer, take 2 earnings will fly into space and beyond.
So they'll have modern setting, cowboy setting, next is bully reboot with school setting.
next will be space or something... new IP
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
I think the performance of Red Dead will be fascinating to see. GTA V's 90m+ sales has certainly raised expectations to a huge level. But the original Red Dead Redemption 'only' sold 15 million units.

It is very safe to say that we can expect more from the sequel. I was speaking to a retailer the other week, and he thinks it could do 45m (because Red Dead 1 sold half of GTA IV, so his theory is that Red Dead 2 will sell half of GTA V). Someone else suggested 60m (because GTA V sold 3 times as many copies as GTA IV, so why can't Red Dead 2 do the same?). But that's such random maths, especially as GTA V was a cross-platform release.

What's fascinating is that Red Dead Redemption 2 may well be the only fully original Rockstar game to come out during this generation of consoles.
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