ORIGINAL STORY 9/10/2018: Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard has stressed that any merchandise around the shooter franchise targeted at children is not official.
The firm is gearing up for the release of Black Ops 4 this Friday, with a wide range of merchandise hitting shelves around it. While the official products are indeed aimed at adult fans of the series, there are products out there for previous entries in the series specifically made for children.
For example, a quick browse on Amazon finds children's hoodies bearing the Call of Duty logo. These can often be personalised with the child's gamertag and one example we found was available for kids as young as seven years old - despite the fact the games themselves are 18-rated.
"That's not official," Philippe Bost, VP of international consumer products for Activision Blizzard, told GamesIndustry.biz today.
"We never make any product close to 18 years old. It's always adult, adult, clearly adult. That's why we don't do 'back to school' stuff. The product should always be adult, so there's no confusion. Call of Duty is 18-plus."
"Call of Duty is the No.1 video game in the world for the ninth consecutive year... [This is] a consequence of success - but not something that we necessarily like, as you can imagine"
But, again, there are back to school products out there, such as a personalised pencil case bearing the cover art from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While this is obviously not an official product, some of the children's hoodies (as I have seen in public myself) are much more convincing. (The aforementioned example is sold by Ezy Tees. GamesIndustry.biz has contacted the firm for comment)
We spoke with Bost at Brand Licensing Europe this morning, where the publisher is announcing new licensing partnerships and negotiating future ones. The official Call of Duty products displayed on Activision's booth are clearly not aimed at children, but consumers could be forgiven for not knowing the difference between these and counterfeit items.
There is one anomaly: the range of COD-themed Mega Bloks toys. But Bost stresses that these are also targeted at adults, and not sold through general or toy retailers. Instead, we're told the main places in Europe officially allowed to sell them are GameStop and UK chain Game.
"We go to those retailers," he says. "Even though it's a toy series, it should be within the video game section - that's a clear statement."
However, oddly, the Mega Bloks range is available in Toys R Us in Canada, and the packaging states that the products are for kids aged 10+. GamesIndustry.biz has reached out to Bost again for clarification.
While the publisher does, of course, have processes in place to block such unofficial merchandise, Bost believes Call of Duty's popularity makes its existence inevitable.
"Call of Duty is the number one video game in the world for the ninth consecutive year," he says. "With this level of success, it's difficult to not have people at home doing things. It's a natural consequence.
"We are working with a lot of partners, licensors, manufacturers and all of these people are also watching the market - they come back to us if they see something that's illegal. So we're not the only ones watching the market. But that's a consequence of success - but not something that we necessarily like, as you can imagine."
We'll have more from Bost on Activision Blizzard's wider licensing plans in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard offered more context for some of this issues raised by this story.
With regards to the Call of Duty Mega Bloks figures, the publisher emphasised that these are designed as collector's items - as indicated by the presence of "Collector Construction Sets" beneath the logo - and are aimed at adult fans of the series.
The 10+ rating seen on the box, we're told, is a safety rating rather than a recommended audience and this is standard for the toy industry.
Indeed, there are other collector Mega Blox sets for more mature franchises, including Activision's own Destiny and Microsoft's Halo (the games for both franchises bear a PEGI rating of 16), as well as characters from 15-rated films such as Terminator 2.
As for the Call of Duty set's availability through Toys R Us, the spokesperson echoed Bost's comments that Activision presents these as video game products and "strongly recommends" they are stocked in the games section, not with toys for young people (although notes that it is still "up to the retailer's discretion" as to where to display all products).
Finally, Activision has clarified Bost's claim that Call of Duty has been the No.1 game franchise for nine years running. The exec was referring to the fact that Call of Duty has been the best-selling console franchise in North America for nine years.