Call of Duty: Xbox Game Pass will launch on day one for a new game

Image source, Microsoft/Activision

  • Author, Tom Gerken
  • Role, Technology reporter

Microsoft has torn up the rules for major video game launches by announcing that its most highly anticipated new title – Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 – will be available immediately to subscribers of its Game Pass service.

Traditionally, gamers had to fork over significant sums of money upfront to purchase major new releases right away.

With the latest edition of Call of Duty, they now have the option to pay a much smaller monthly subscription instead.

Christopher Dring, head of, told the BBC this was an “important step” for Microsoft and the industry.

The tech giant has made games available to Game Pass subscribers on launch day before – like 2023’s highly anticipated Starfield – but has never done so with a release anywhere near as important as Call of Duty.

It is the fourth best-selling game series in history, with a total turnover of more than 425 million – and earning tens of billions of dollars in the process.

But instead of sticking to the proven sales model, Microsoft is betting on a new approach.

“Call of Duty is by far the biggest subscription game available on release day,” Dring said.

“[Het]is a big test for subscriptions because if Call of Duty can’t move the needle in terms of subscriber numbers, nothing probably will,” he added.[It}isabigtestforsubscriptionbecauseifCallofDutycan’tmovetheneedleintermsofsubscribernumbersprobablynothingwill”headded[It}isabigtestforsubscriptionbecauseifCallofDutycan’tmovetheneedleintermsofsubscribernumbersprobablynothingwill”headded

‘Netflix for games’

Game Pass, like Sony’s rival PlayStation Plus service, lets console and PC players play hundreds of video games for a monthly subscription fee.

Both have been described as a “Netflix for games”, but with the caveat that gamers can download many of the available games to play on their own hardware – rather than streaming via the cloud.

They are extremely popular services, with Sony saying PlayStation Plus had 47 million subscribers in March 2023, while Microsoft said Game Pass had 34 million subscribers in February 2024.

But that means that unless something changes between now and the launch of Call of Duty (which doesn’t have a release date yet), not one of the 34 million Game Pass subscribers will have to pay anything extra to play the new game.

This means Microsoft is taking a huge gamble and choosing to potentially cannibalize sales in exchange for what it hopes will be a sharp increase in Game Pass subscribers.

Mr. Dring said this move likely has to do with an inherent problem with game streaming services: People simply don’t play as many games as they watch TV shows, so “it can be hard to justify” paying to watch one or two titles to play.

But with the addition of such a big game to the service, he said there may still be changes to make the numbers work.

“It will be interesting to see if Xbox will introduce higher tiers in Game Pass or other monetization techniques to mitigate this,” he said.

Stream or download

One element unclear in Microsoft’s announcement is whether gamers will be able to stream the new Call of Duty game, or if they will be forced to download it.

That’s because when Microsoft bought Activision, it had to make concessions to get the attention of regulators worldwide.

To get the deal past British regulators in particular, Microsoft agreed to give French game publisher Ubisoft the cloud streaming rights to distribute Activision’s games on consoles and PCs.

That means cloud streaming rights are determined by Ubisoft, so it may not be available for streaming when it launches.

It also means that the new Call of Duty game could eventually arrive on competing streaming platforms.

But the details of the deal are unknown, and it’s highly unlikely that PlayStation gamers will be able to stream the game on the day it releases.

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