PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan isn’t happy about Xbox’s Call of Duty offer. In a recent statement provided to GamesIndustry.biz, Ryan said Microsoft’s offer was "inadequate on many levels." The offer in question stipulates that the Redmond-based company would keep the popular first-person shooter franchise on PlayStation for “several more years,” beyond the current marketing deal, as told to The Verge.
For the uninitiated, Microsoft will buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. While the deal isn’t yet finalized, things will most likely align in Microsoft’s favor. Once the deal is in place, Microsoft will own franchises such as Overwatch, Diablo, Candy Crush Saga and of course, Call of Duty. While Microsoft could keep Call of Duty and all Activision Blizzard franchises from launching on competing platforms, the company says it will not do so — at least for the foreseeable future.
As GamesIndustry.biz notes, the existing deal between Sony and Activision Blizzard should cover the next three Call of Duty games, including the upcoming Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. If these games come out annually, as they have since 2005, then PlayStation will get Call of Duty games at least until 2027 (three under the existing deal, and three under Xbox’s offer). That’s six years' worth of games, but it seems that isn’t good enough for PlayStation.
The war for Call of Duty
"Microsoft has only offered for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends,” said Ryan. “After almost 20 years of Call of Duty on PlayStation, their proposal was inadequate on many levels and failed to take account of the impact on our gamers. We want to guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest quality Call of Duty experience, and Microsoft’s proposal undermines this principle."
Microsoft has faced scrutiny for its Activision Blizzard merger from the Competition Markets Authority, among other regulators. Sony and Microsoft have also butted heads in court over the deal. In documents submitted to Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE) regulator, Sony asserts that Call of Duty stands “as a gaming category on its own” and that it would be hard for another developer to create a rival for the juggernaut franchise.
In turn, Microsoft claimed Sony pays for “blocking rights” to prevent developers from adding third-party content to Xbox Game Pass (via The Verge). Needless to say, things have gotten ugly regarding Microsoft’s potential ownership of Call of Duty.
The prospect of Call of Duty no longer being available on PlayStation isn’t one to take lightly. After all, the game has consistently topped sales charts for nearly 20 years. There are many gamers who play only Call of Duty, and some of these folks could flock to Xbox if the series is only available in that ecosystem. We already saw this play out in 2011, during the PlayStation Network outage that lasted for three weeks. During that time, some PS3 players migrated to Xbox 360, just to get their Call of Duty fix. Sony may be worried that this will happen again.
An adequate offer
While I understand Sony’s position, I think the company should be grateful for Xbox’s offer. After all, Microsoft is under no obligation to release its own games on a rival platform. Yes, Minecraft is available outside of the Xbox ecosystem, which encompasses Xbox consoles like Xbox Series X, the best gaming PCs and best gaming phones capable of streaming Xbox Cloud Gaming. But that doesn’t mean the same is going to be true for Call of Duty. Microsoft could keep the series all to itself, if it desired.
In fact, locking Call of Duty down in the Xbox ecosystem would benefit Microsoft. If Xbox is the only platform with Call of Duty, the series’ devout fanbase will most likely play it on Xbox. It's admittedly possible that keeping the FPS franchise off of PlayStation would result in diminished sales, since Sony’s platform currently has the largest portion of Call of Duty's player base. That may be true. But if having Call of Duty exclusively on Xbox results in a greater number of people subscribing to Xbox Game Pass, then Microsoft would no doubt consider that a victory. The fact that Xbox is sharing Call of Duty with its direct rival at all is commendable.
With all due respect, Jim Ryan’s remarks fall flat considering PlayStation’s history with exclusives and exclusivity rights for third-party games, including Call of Duty. I won’t get into said history here, but even games as recent as Final Fantasy VII: Remake and Forspoken won’t be arriving on Xbox anytime soon. Exclusivity deals notwithstanding, it’s hard to sympathize with the CEO’s concerns when PlayStation has had (and continues to have) its share of exclusives.
However, I do empathize with PlayStation users who are upset that Call of Duty could one day become an Xbox exclusive. If you’ve entrenched yourself in a console ecosystem, you can't just jump ship to another — not without leaving behind all the games you’ve purchased, friends you’ve met online or trophies/achievements you'e earned. But this is a scenario some players may have to face, especially if they’re big Call of Duty fans. I feel bad for the people losing Call of Duty, but not for the company.
Enjoy it while lasts
It’s too early to say what will result when Xbox finalizes its purchase of Activision Blizzard. What I can say is that Microsoft, like any corporation, will act in its best interest, no matter how altruistic it may appear.
And who knows? Perhaps the two gaming giants can hammer out a deal to keep the FPS franchise on PlayStation for longer. But even if that doesn't happen, PlayStation should be glad Call of Duty is staying on its consoles for the next half-decade. Given the alternative scenario of Xbox keeping Call of Duty to itself, PlayStation has reason to be grateful.