In an unprecedented turn of events, Treyarch is taking the reins from Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software to rush the development of Call of Duty: Black Ops 5, aiming for a 2020 release. Though Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer games have spent the better part of a decade sharing the responsibility of annual Call of Duty releases, Treyarch is being given a year less than usual to deliver on the next iteration of Black Ops.
While Infinity Ward is tackling what is almost certainly the long-awaited return to the Modern Warfare sub-series this year, Treyarch will be making an abnormally early follow-up to last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. While one half of franchise publisher Activision Blizzard is promising to move away from industry-wide crunch culture with Blizzard's continued support of World of Warcraft, this revelation about Call of Duty: Black Ops 5's rushed development points to no such commitment to developers' well-being or rights from Activision's side of the multi-billion dollar operation.
A Kotaku exposé brought the sudden change in plans for the annual Call of Duty series to light, revealing that internal politics among the franchise's B-team studios Sledgehammer and Raven made Treyarch's quick turnaround on Call of Duty: Black Ops 5 necessary (at least from Activision's money-minded point of view). While it was planned for Sledgehammer and Raven to handle 2020's Cold War-themed Call of Duty after Infinity Ward finishes this year's fast-approaching release, bad blood between Sledgehammer and Raven coupled with a mass hemorrhage of employees after a few high-profile removals of Sledgehammer leadership - with the latter greatly resembling yesteryear's Infinity Ward-Respawn schism - have pushed Activision to relegate Sledgehammer and Raven to support studios and enlist Treyarch to step in as a creative leader.
Unsurprisingly, Activision has made no comment on the decision, but anonymous contacts speaking from within the companies are much more forthcoming about the subject. Some shared relative optimism about the marriage of the developers' previously separate projects because the current project vision is unlikely to change over the course of such a short development cycle, "unlike their last two projects." Others, though, are understandably apprehensive and are preparing to work "brutal overtime hours" as part of crunch development, a practice that plagues the AAA sphere of gaming.
In the end, players will receive the signature Call of Duty campaign experience that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was lambasted for skipping out on, but it's sure to come at a significant cost. With only two years to make it, developers at all three studios will likely be pushed to their physical and mental breaking points, and the final product may ultimately feel more similar to the last year's Black Ops entry than players may like as short development periods often lead to ideas and assets being recycled. Perhaps the trio can pull it off if Treyarch can prove an effective lead studio - and if Sledgehammer and Raven can bury the hatchet in the name of teamwork - but a lot can go wrong in only two years. Hopefully Call of Duty: Black Ops 5 can beat those odds.