As with Overwatch 2, you’ll need a phone number to play Modern Warfare 2 when it launches later this year. This controversial new two-factor authentication will make it harder for cheaters, but it will also block anyone using a prepaid phone or VOIP number.
Just before releasing Overwatch 2, Blizzard announced that it would use an authentication method called SMS Protect. You would need to connect your Battle.net account to an active phone number to play hero shooter, making it much more difficult to get back into the game if you are found to be cheating and your account has been banned. Creating a new email and account is quite easy, but getting a new phone number is more complicated.
However, not all phone numbers are treated equally: Blizzard does not allow you to use a prepaid phone or VOIP number, preventing anyone using these plans from creating an account.
Following player reaction, Blizzard softened its stance by removing the requirement for existing Overwatch accounts. However, SMS authentication still applies to any newly created accounts. It was a welcome change, but it didn’t come before our Elie had to explain to their mother what smurf is in Overwatch…
It looks like SMS Protect is here to stay: along with Overwatch 2, Activision Blizzard lists Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in games that will require a phone number to play. A similar restriction appears to be in place, with Activision Blizzard saying (opens in new tab) “newly created” accounts will need the phone number, rather than all accounts.
However, if you expected the response to SMS Protect to cause Activision Blizzard to scale back its plans, I’m sorry to disappoint you. If you want to log into Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2 when they launch and you don’t already have an account, you’ll need a valid phone number.
The implication is also that future Activision Blizzard games will have similar requirements. This could affect Diablo 4, World of Warcraft Dragonflight, and the announced (but unrevealed) game Blizzard Survival.
Further along is the impact this technology will have if the Microsoft acquisition is completed. The platform holder is waiting to hear whether competition authorities around the world will allow it to buy Activision Blizzard for nearly $75 billion / £67.7 billion / AUS$118.8 billion. We’re still a long way off whether the purchase will be allowed, but if Microsoft owns Activision Blizzard, will it try to roll back SMS Protect so it’s in line with the rest of its multiplayer games? Or would you go the other way and start using authentication technology in your games around the world?
Microsoft is interested in talking about how it protects your audience and your gaming experience, so if SMS Protect is effective in reducing cheating and abuse in Activision Blizzard games, there’s a strong case for using it more liberally. However, if it affected Microsoft’s ability to sell games in markets where pay-as-you-go and VOIP plans are the norm, it would probably be abhorrent to shoot yourself in the foot.