When I turned my Xbox on yesterday, I was greeted with a fullscreen pop-up ad for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III. I posted on X (Twitter) about it and thought nothing more of it because annoying as it was, this isn’t the first time Microsoft has used a fullscreen takeover to promote one of its new games — and Microsoft now owns Call of Duty.
But the internet wasn’t happy about this particular one. “Is this what we should expect now that Xbox owns Call of Duty?” asked VG247. “I do not want these massive, 90s-era Xbox Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III take-over pop-up ads to become the norm,” proclaimed Windows Central. On X, the feeling was similar: these ads are annoying.
But they didn’t have to be this way; they could actually be useful instead.
Microsoft has been using these fullscreen Xbox ads for months now. One of the first ones appeared after the Xbox Developer Direct in January, promoting the latest Xbox announcements. Then another followed in June following the Xbox Showcase.
Both seemed annoying but weren’t directly promoting a single game, so I grumbled at my Xbox bootup being interrupted and moved on. Then Microsoft started using the same pop-ups for Starfield, Forza Motorsport, and now Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III. If you’re an Xbox owner, you might not have even seen all of them because unless you turn your Xbox on every day, it’s likely you missed one. And thankfully, they don’t all stack up and suddenly appear.
But what I found particularly irritating about the Starfield, Forza, and now Call of Duty ones is that these pop-ups appeared even if I had the game preordered or preinstalled on my console. They even appeared for people regardless if they couldn’t care less about shooters or racing games. They weren’t relevant, and I hate irrelevant ads that feel like they’re just pestering me for no reason.
I’m not usually a fan of pop-up ads. The YouTube Premium ones irritated me enough that I broke down and purchased a Premium subscription just to get them to go away. Apple also does similar pop-ups on its Apple TV 4K, and I can’t open Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher without seeing a similar pop-up. (At least Steam lets you disable its own ones.)
But there are some rare exceptions when I actually find pop-ups useful. Spotify always recommends a new album from artists that I like or listen to frequently, and it’s a super useful way to remember that there’s new music to listen to. If Microsoft tailored these fullscreen prompts properly, then they’d certainly be a lot less annoying and could even be useful to some who weren’t aware that a sequel to a game they haven’t played for years is out.
But Microsoft’s current approach feels scattergun, with the same pop-ups hitting most Xbox owners during boot. If these were tailored more, I’d imagine I might even find them as useful as the Spotify ones. Heck, I could even accept them using them to announce big new Xbox features over just ads for games.
Ads don’t have to be annoying all the time. I’ve been surprised how many times I’ve purchased items from Instagram stories ads, simply because Meta has built up such a rich data set of me liking dachshund accounts that the algorithm knows I’ll buy a smart-looking raincoat for my dog or a Christmas advent calendar full of doggy treats. (Yes, I’m a sucker.)
Xbox ads have long been a sore point on the dashboard for many players, with many complaining that a test version of the Xbox Home UI felt like a giant Game Pass ad. Microsoft responded to that feedback by making the Xbox Home screen less crowded, but there are still blocks of content that are used exclusively for irrelevant ads on the home screen.
Microsoft could make all of this so much more relevant and useful. It has so much data at its disposal to make what currently feels like an intrusion into a useful game recommendation service. Microsoft keeps banging the drum about its intelligent AI features, but perhaps the company needs to throw some of that toward Xbox. If not, just at least give us an option to disable these fullscreen ads in the meantime.