Update: we now know the Black Ops Cold War release date is November 13th.
Ever since Treyarch released Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 back in 2012, the long-running franchise has been on a three-year development cycle. That's how Activision has been able to ensure that the games release every year like clockwork. Infinity Ward follows suit right after Treyarch, which is then followed by a release from Sledgehammer Games. Each studio gets three years to develop its titles, and it has worked – at least, it did. Reports now suggest that this will no longer be the case, with Activision shifting internal development schedules and resources to fast-track Black Ops Cold War for release in 2020.
While all eyes are currently on this year's release, which a lot of rumours are suggesting will be another instalment to the Modern Warfare series of games – a sub-series that has been on ice since 2011's Modern Warfare 3 – we were all expecting to see a Sledgehammer follow-up in 2020 with a game of its own. According to a recent Kotaku report however, that's unlikely to be the case.
It's speculated every single year that Call of Duty will be visiting the Vietnam War-era for the next game in the series, but not once has that theory come true, with the series avoiding the conflict in favour of either returning to World War II or flirting with near-future settings. The report – citing numerous unnamed sources – suggests that Sledgehammer was gearing up to give it a shot , with support from Raven Software – another Activision studio that has assisted on numerous Call of Duty games over the years, most recently making a name for itself through the impressive Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered.
According to people "briefed on the overhaul", this has completely changed. Treyarch's Black Ops 5 – originally planned for 2021, a sequel to last year's popular Black Ops 4 – is now due to launch in 2020, with both Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software providing support on the title. The two studios will reportedly be turning their original work on Call of Duty 2020 into the single-player component for Black Ops 5, while Treyarch will work on the multiplayer.
While this may sound great on the surface – particularly as Treyarch's Call of Duty games are traditionally well received – it does means that all three studios will be under tremendous pressure and scrutiny to deliver. There's no telling what impact a shortened development schedule could have on a release of this scale, but it would be fair to say that it certainly isn't going to make development any easier.
So, why this sudden shift in development strategies? Kotaku report that both Sledgehammer and Raven has been "arguing frequently" over the project for the last 12 months, with two sources close to the project calling it a "mess". This all comes following the departure of Sledgehammer's co-founders – Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield – who got Call of Duty: WWII out the door before exiting the company for new creative ventures.
Kotaku claims it'll have "more to share about Treyarch and the development of Black Ops 4 in the coming weeks" although Activision has yet to comment on the Call of Duty 2020: Black Ops 5 rumour. Still, between this report, the rumours suggesting that Activision is looking to embrace a free-to-play model for future Call of Duty games, and the expected reveal of the rumoured Modern Warfare 4 at E3 2019, it's sure to be an interesting few weeks for the industry's biggest shooter.