The behemoth Microsoft acquisition of Activision-Blizzard will impact the video game industry in a major way. Arguably the most notable aspect is how this deal ties to Call of Duty, and whether the franchise will remain multiplatform — just as it has for the past 20 years. Based on a recent statement from PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, it seems there’s a dispute about how to effectively handle the Call of Duty franchise after the acquisition is finalized. But how does Sony feel about the deal, how will it impact Call of Duty, and what does it all mean for you?
PlayStation isn’t happy with the deal
Microsoft offered to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation platforms for three years after Sony and Activision’s current deal expires. (A January 2022 Bloomberg report suggests that this deal might expire in 2024). In response, Jim Ryan told GamesIndustry.biz that this offer was “inadequate,” arguing that Microsoft isn’t thinking of the consumer.
“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,” Ryan said. “We want to guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest quality Call of Duty experience, and Microsoft’s proposal undermines this principle.”
Earlier in September, Microsoft Head of Games Phil Spencer told The Verge, “In January, we provided a signed agreement to Sony to guarantee Call of Duty on PlayStation, with feature and content parity, for at least several more years beyond the current Sony contract, an offer that goes well beyond typical gaming industry agreements.”
This seems to contradict Spencer’s statement to Bloomberg earlier in 2022, in which he 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.”
For this reason, Ryan publicly addressed the contradiction in a statement to GamesIndustry.biz this week:
“I hadn’t intended to comment on what I understood to be a private business discussion,” Ryan said, “but I feel the need to set the record straight because Phil Spencer brought this into the public forum.”
If Microsoft pulls Call of Duty from PlayStation three years after the contract, it will no doubt cause a backlash from the community, especially given the huge install base on PS4 and PS5.
What does this mean for players?
According to Bloomberg, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard will close on June 30, 2023. And then the Sony-Activision contract expires sometime around 2024 (but we don’t know when for sure). So Call of Duty will likely remain on PlayStation consoles until at least 2026 and perhaps well into 2027. Assuming Call of Duty is pulled from PlayStation around this time, players will only have access to the franchise on Xbox and PC going forward. There’s always the chance that Microsoft will let Sony license the game as a revenue source, but there’s also the chance that Microsoft might capitalize on console exclusivity.
Microsoft will likely bring Call of Duty to Xbox Game Pass, just as it has with its other first-party franchises. This will allow the series to reach more players, especially if Call of Duty games come to the service on day one.
Call of Duty fans need to be aware of all this, especially if they might shop for a new console in the near future.
There’s also the added wrinkle that Microsoft brought an Xbox app to Samsung smart TVs. In theory, if you buy a Samsung smart TV sometime in the next five years or so, you’ll be able to play every new Call of Duty game for the foreseeable future with nothing more than an Xbox Game Pass subscription — no console needed.
At this point, it’s unclear what exactly will happen to Call of Duty on PlayStation after 2026. But it is clear that this gives Xbox a major advantage over Sony.
Microsoft execs like Phil Spencer know exactly how valuable the Activision-Blizzard purchase will be in the long-term, especially because Call of Duty remains one of the single best-selling franchises in gaming. There are, anecdotally, plenty of gamers out there who play Call of Duty and little else. Removing the franchise in any capacity from PlayStation consoles functionally coerces these consumers into migrating over to Xbox (or at least Xbox Game Pass), even if they’ve been a PlayStation devotee for years.
We’ll have to wait and see how all of this unfolds, but when 2026 rolls around, don’t be surprised if you have to own an Xbox (or PC) to play Call of Duty from then on, leaving PlayStation in the dust.