Sony really isn't happy about Microsoft owning Call of Duty — here's why

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (2022) screenshot
(Image credit: Activision)

Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, which means that Call of Duty will soon become an Xbox brand. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how you feel about Call of Duty — and about Xbox. 

One company with good reason to be wary is Sony, as the PS5 is currently the Xbox Series X’s biggest competitor on the market. According to some new regulatory documents, Sony is not thrilled with the fact that Call of Duty could soon become part of Microsoft’s arsenal, as that franchise alone could convince a significant number of gamers to invest in an Xbox console rather than a PlayStation.

To understand Sony’s concerns, it’s important to understand where this information comes from. Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are both enormous companies, which means that the ongoing acquisition is subject to scrutiny from regulators all around the world. A user on ResetEra discovered that Brazilian regulators are legally required to share their review process online, which means that a dedicated user could pore through dozens of relevant documents. Andy Robinson of VGC transcribed the relevant information, which includes commentary from Sony.

Sony claims that Call of Duty is “an essential game: a blockbuster, an AAA-type game that has no rival,” according to the documents. The company went on to say that Call of Duty was “the only video game IP to break into the top 10 of all entertainment brands among fans, joining powerhouses such as Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings."

In other words, Call of Duty isn’t just a big game; it’s one of the biggest pop culture franchises on the planet. None of Sony’s exclusive game properties, however popular, currently command the same kind of fan following, or the same kind of financial success. In fact, Call of Duty is such a powerhouse, Sony argued, that associating the franchise with one console or the other could drastically affect which systems people buy.

“Call of Duty is so popular that it influences users’ choice of console, and its community of loyal users is entrenched enough that even if a competitor had the budget to develop a similar product, it would not be able to rival it,” the documents state.

Sony’s commentary touched on a few similar points as it continued. Call of Duty costs more money and requires more manpower than most developers could field; Call of Duty is so popular that even subpar entries are wildly successful; Call of Duty has built a community that players are unlikely to abandon.

In fact, while Sony never comes out and says as much, the subtext is clear: Even with all of its resources, Sony could probably not develop a franchise that could meaningfully compete with Call of Duty.

At present, Microsoft plans to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation consoles, although it won’t be contractually obligated to do so forever. If and when Microsoft changes its mind, the console landscape could look remarkably different than it does today.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.