Sony has responded to the industry-altering news that Microsoft is set to acquire Activision Blizzard in a $68.7 billion deal, and PlayStation’s parent company seems fairly confident that the juggernaut Call of Duty series will remain on its platform.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, a Sony spokesperson is quoted as saying, “We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform.” It’s a short and snappy statement but it does clearly indicate that Sony expects future Call of Duty games to make their way to the PS5.
PlayStation has had an exclusive deal with the Call of Duty franchise since 2015’s Call of Duty Black Ops 3. This long-running agreement has seen PlayStation platforms receive exclusive content and early access to DLC packs. Deals of this nature are presumably what Sony means when it refers to Activision Blizzard’s “contractual agreements.” The current length of this agreement is now known to continue for three more years.
Well, in a recent blog post, Microsoft confirmed that Call of Duty will continue to find a home on PlayStation consoles, beyond the terms of the current agreement.
Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard is expected to complete in 2023 and once it does the company will own franchises including CoD, Overwatch, Starcraft, Diablo, Crash Bandicoot, Sypro the Dragon and more. The deal has naturally raised questions about these popular franchises becoming exclusive to Xbox in the console space, but it appears that Sony is fairly relaxed on this potentially thorny issue, for now at least.
When quizzed on exclusivity by Bloomberg, the CEO of Xbox, Phil Spencer, said: “I’ll just say to players out there who are playing Activision Blizzard games on Sony’s platform: It’s not our intent to pull communities away from that platform and we remained committed to that.”
On the surface, this sounds fairly promising for PlayStation gamers hoping to still enjoy Activision Blizzard titles on their platform of choice, but it should be noted Spencer made similar comments in the wake of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda) in 2020. However, last year, during E3 2021 it was revealed that Betheseda’s first original IP in 25 years, sci-fi RPG Starfield, will be exclusive to the Xbox Series X, Xbox One and PC.
There is every possibility that Microsoft will see out the remainder of any contracts Activision Blizzard previously agreed with Sony and will then make the publisher's core franchises Xbox exclusive long-term. Although, this may not be the best strategy for Microsoft to adopt according to some industry analysts.
David Cole, of DFC Intelligence, told GamesIndustry.biz that Microsoft making Call of Duty exclusive to Xbox could raise serious legal concerns. He said: “Regulators will take a close look and franchises like Call of Duty may not be exclusive to Xbox platforms because of antitrust concerns.”
Regardless of whether series like Call of Duty and Overwatch have a PlayStation future, we do know that “many Activision Blizzard games” will be coming to the Xbox Game Pass service once the deal completes per the official announcement post. This will be a huge boon for Microsoft’s gaming subscription service and could see the sizeable Call of Duty community shift towards playing on Xbox Series X, even if the games remain available on PS5.
This massive acquisition has raised a lot of questions, and a fair amount of backlash from parties concerned about industry consolidation. In the short term, there appear to be several pros and a few cons to Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal, but only time will tell if it is ultimately good for gaming as a whole.