"Call of Duty" has had a massive few weeks. The Oct. 28 launch of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II" was the highest-grossing entertainment opening of 2022 — and last week the Activision Blizzard-owned (ATVI) franchise dropped its free-to-play "Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0," which has garnered 25 million players since its Nov. 16 launch.
"To blow past some of the biggest entertainment launches in the entire industry ... It's been a hallmark, watershed moment for us," Johanna Faries, senior vice president and general manager of "Call of Duty," told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
In the 10 days following its launch, "Modern Warfare II" crossed $1 billion sales, breaking a franchise-best record set back in 2012 — despite rampant inflation slowing consumer spending. Retailers from Amazon (AMZN) to Walmart (WMT) are even preparing for a muted holiday season, as the slowdown's already shown up in earnings. But "Call of Duty" has bucked the consumer slowdown so far, a result of years of re-thinking the game specifically in response to what players want, said Faries.
"We've been looking at this from every angle about how we make sure this new era for the franchise is built from a player-first lens," she said. "To see it pay off now to the tune of the numbers we've been reporting in the last several days reflects a lot of that work."
The success of "Modern Warfare II" comes on the heels of years of pandemic growth in gaming, particularly for "Call of Duty."
"It always starts with great experiences, and the product was ready for an exciting launch, regardless of what had happened on the pandemic side," Faries told Yahoo Finance Live. "I think it's also a reflection of some of the investments we had been making to expand the bold opportunity we knew we had for 'Call of Duty.'"
Activision Blizzard is currently set to be acquired by Microsoft (MSFT), but Faries isn't focusing on that.
"We understand that that has interesting possibilities for sure, but right now, our eyes are completely focused on this moment for 'Call of Duty,'" she said.
Building on pandemic wins
"Call of Duty" was set up especially well for a pandemic boom, partially as a matter of timing.
"For example, when we launched our first "Warzone" experience back in 2020, it occurred in the same month as the pandemic started to really take shape across the world," said Faries. "We learned a ton about how gaming could provide connection, interaction, and gathering spaces virtually when so much of the world was shut down."
That new knowledge has given way to new in-game features. For one, in "Modern Warfare II," features like proximity chat – which allows players to hear and speak to other players nearby – have already made waves among users.
"We're already seeing some incredible instances and interactions between players through that type of a feature," Faries told Yahoo Finance Live. "I think it reflects just more of the social connection points that gaming affords our community. We often say 'Call of Duty' is one of the best ways to make friends, meet new friends, and create long-lasting connections."
In the end, for "Call of Duty," growth and wins are fundamentally coming from the franchise's investment in and relationship with the game's community, said Faries.
"More so than ever before, I think one of the reasons we're seeing success is that we've kept so close to our community of influencers and streamers, really thinking about what our players are looking for and how we deliver the best possible gameplay for them," she said.
Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks.