Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will launch day one on Xbox Game Pass — Microsoft clearly wants more subscribers for its subscription service

Microsoft announced through an official Xbox blog post that Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be a day one release on Xbox and PC Game Pass. This AAA game was almost assuredly going to be a massive retail success, but putting it on Game Pass right from the start has caused more than a few raised eyebrows across the industry, particularly considering Xbox’s recent multi-studio butchering.

There are many speculated reasons why Microsoft chose to make this move with one of its most expensive studio purchases and biggest moneymaking franchises. Ultimately, this feels like a move to boost Xbox Game Pass over the Call of Duty franchise, as the game would almost assuredly have been a success either way. It’s done so well, in fact, that it’s already one of the most successful franchises on PlayStation consoles. Is the Xbox Game Pass subscription service doing so well that Microsoft is effectively taking the idea of “Netflix Originals” and “Amazon Originals” for movies and shows and applying that same approach to major games? Time will tell how this plays out, but apparently the bean counters at Microsoft think this is a good idea.

Call of Duty is an annual series, generally-speaking. Microsoft was typically earning up to $70 a year per copy of the game, before the end user paid for online play on their consoles. It was profiting from sale of the game and MTX on competing platforms as well. So why undercut a guaranteed big payday for a fractionally-cheap Game Pass membership — especially considering you can do a short-term trial for basically free (if you’re not already a subscriber)?

This may indeed eat into sales of the game on Xbox consoles, and it will likely eat into the sales of the game on PlayStation as well. But as observed by head Christopher Dring speaking to BBC News’ Tom Gerken, this could be “simply a test of subscription.” But with approximately 34 million Game Pass subscribers (that’s what a Google search says), each paying somewhere between $10 (Core) to $17 (Ultimate) per month, perhaps the results of subscription testing are already in the bag.

It still feels a bit odd for a major multiplayer release to potentially cannibalize full price retail sales. But if you end up paying for a subscription for years to come, that’s almost certainly going to be a big win over the long haul. Perhaps if a lot of Xbox Game Pass’s existing audience already plays Call of Duty, this is simply throwing them a bone to ensure they keep that subscription money rolling in.

From Microsoft, it seems like an admission that actually selling consoles and games is secondary to its goals of simply increasing sliders dependent on the mood of an increasingly-fickle board of directors. It’d be akin to major Hollywood releases being day-one on Netflix (or the appropriate studio’s streaming service) the same day it launches at theaters. Which has probably happened to some extent already. So if it can work for movies and episodic shows, maybe it can work for games as well.