According to Microsoft’s lawyers, the lack of growth in Battle.net within Activision Blizzard was not the fault of Activision’s annual IP but Blizzard’s.
In 2018, the Bobby Kotick-led publisher decided not to release Call of Duty on Steam for that year (Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII) and instead launched the port as a Battle.net exclusive. This closed-door mentality ended last year, as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II was already available through Valve’s digital platform. PCGamer reported on one of the documents Microsoft filed in connection with acquiring Activision Blizzard King, and they say the Battle.net exclusivity didn’t go over well…
“Activision’s attempt to take PC digital sales of Call of Duty exclusive to its Battle.net platform was a resounding failure. Before 2018, Activision sold digital versions of PC Call of Duty titles on Valve’s successful Steam platform. In 2018, Activision decided to take the game off of Steam and make it exclusively available on Battle.net—largely to attract users to and grow Activision’s platform. Battle.net’s monthly active users (‘MAUs’) remained relatively flat when it had exclusive access to digital sales of Call of Duty on PC, from 2018 through 2022,” Microsoft wrote.
2020 saw a significant increase due to the pandemic (and the release of Call of Duty: Warzone was well-timed), and at the end of the year, Activision Blizzard said it was a record year for the Call of Duty franchise with 100 million monthly active users, many of whom were using Battle.net as PC revenue increased by 20%. Only Blizzard, meanwhile, has taken a nosedive: in 2018, the company had 35 million monthly active users, which plummeted to 22 million by the end of 2021, causing Warzone growth to just even out the Battle.net statistics.
Only for Blizzard’s games to have pushed the figure back to 45 million monthly active users by the last quarter of 2022, but Overwatch 2 may not have tied players down as much, as it went down to 27 million in January-March. That doesn’t include Diablo IV yet, and the turbulent figure could bring the balance back into positive territory because of that. (We don’t know the Q2 figure yet and may hear something around 50 million.)
For this reason, it is also fair to say that the publisher made the right decision to return to Steam (even today, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is still in the top 10 most-played games list)…