Microsoft acquires Activision Blizzard has rocked the gaming industry with a $68.7 billion deal giving Xbox free reign over Call of Duty, Warcraft, Overwatch and other top-selling video game franchises. The question is, will this start a whole new exclusivity war?
The way we play Activision’s biggest titles is set to change in the near future, and it’s fascinating to imagine that one day we might not have to spend $60 to play the next installment of the Call of obtain the duty franchise. Instead, the next Black Ops or Modern Warfare entry will appear Xbox Game Pass for anyone who can spare at least $1 for an initial subscription.
Xbox Game Pass now has more than 25 million subscribers, and that number is in no small part due to that Halo infinity – a long-standing Xbox exclusive. However, Call of Duty is a different beast. Not only has it been a multi-platform franchise since it first graced consoles with 2004’s Call of Duty: Finest Hour, but it’s also been heavily associated with the other leading honcho on the block: Sony’s PlayStation.
Regardless of what Microsoft decides to do with its newfound roster of famous franchises after it signs the deal (reportedly on June 30, 2023), Xbox will have a big part in how we access our favorite games – and Call of Duty is on the front line.
Call of Duty sold
I’ve talked about this before the state of Call of Duty, and claims that the last few entries didn’t feel like anything special. Vanguard’s release proved that, but there’s a reason CoD has a similar yearly release structure to Apple’s popular iPhones, and it’s because of every entry sold.
Market research company NBD Approved its annual list of the best-selling games of 2021 in the US, and Call of Duty: Vanguard took the top spot. Not only is it impressive to see that Vanguard only released in November, it went on to become the second highest selling game of the year Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.
Take a look at the 2020 sales numbers and you’ll see that Cold War took first place, while 2019’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare took second place. This has been an ongoing trend for years.
In the UK (about GamesIndustry.biz), Sales are similar, but FIFA 2022 was named the best-selling game of the year, with Vanguard taking second place. Keep in mind that Vanguard had seen its sales decline 36.1% in 2020 compared to the Cold War, and it was quiet the second best selling game in the UK and #1 in the US
A more interesting character by NBD is the best seller of PlayStation. You guessed it: avant-garde. Also, Black Ops Cold War still took third place. That Xbox owns one of PlayStation’s biggest breadwinners is troubling, especially since Sony has done everything it can to forge a relationship with the Call of Duty franchise over the years.
Go to the official Call of Duty website and you will find a special section on the benefits of playing any entry on PlayStation. From exclusive perks like Battle Pass bundle bonuses to early access to the beta, PlayStation players have always had a variety of bonuses, and the adaptive triggers on the PS5’s DualSense controllers are the icing on the cake.
Now PlayStation may not have access to provide those privileges and Xbox becomes the home for all things CoD. Microsoft will see a significant amount of money if it decides to do what PlayStation presumably fears: make Call of Duty exclusive to Xbox. If all entries, new and old, make their way to Xbox Game Pass, subscriber numbers will most likely go through the roof.
While the acquisition has the gaming industry in a frenzy, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer has given us a good indication of what the future holds.
In conversation with The edge Back in 2020, Spencer was heavily into the idea of console wars. He stated that the “biggest competitor we have is indifference to the products and services and games we make,” rather than competition between Sony and Nintendo.
“The tribalism in the industry, if there’s anything that would ever drive me out of the industry, this is it,” saidspender. “There’s a core that just really hates the other consumer product. Man, this is just so gross to me… To me it’s one of the worst things about our industry.”
It’s hardly new that the fight between PS5, Xbox Series X, and the Nintendo switch was not about the systems. Rather, it’s the different games available on each platform. Spencer wants to make gaming accessible to everyone, everywhere, and Xbox Game Pass along with his Xbox cloud gaming Service, makes this possible thanks to an extensive game library.
Microsoft has gone to great lengths to break down barriers between consoles and allow cross-platform support for one of its biggest titles, Minecraft, in 2019 (via IGN). The Xbox empire continues to grow, with Activision games only being added after the already impressive Game Pass titles Bethesda Fusion.
With that in mind, perhaps the point isn’t that Call of Duty is exclusive to Xbox, but that it’s more accessible to the gaming masses. Also, we know Spencer is currently looking to support the established communities playing on select platforms:
“Activision Blizzard’s amazing franchises will also accelerate our plans for cloud gaming, allowing more people in more places around the world to participate in the Xbox community using phones, tablets, laptops and other devices they already own.” said Spencer. “Activision Blizzard games are played across a variety of platforms, and we plan to continue supporting these communities as they evolve.”
This lets us know that PlayStation won’t see the final days of Call of Duty anytime soon, but you can bet many gamers will be flocking to a gaming service that can be played on just about anything with a screen to get the latest to get an entry. Certainly, PlayStation will strike a hit with its best-selling franchise on the platform, potentially available as part of Game Pass.
Sony has reacted to Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to acquire Activision Blizzard, saying the PlayStation giant expects Microsoft to honor contractual agreements.
Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Sony conditions: “We expect Microsoft to honor contractual agreements and continue to ensure that Activision games are cross-platform.” This suggests that Sony’s PlayStation still has some breathing room to access Activision games, but it also means Microsoft could make these game franchises exclusive to Xbox.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the two iconic PlayStation icons that are now set to make their way to Xbox: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. These guys haven’t been exclusive in a while and aren’t the money makers that Call of Duty is. However, this raises questions about how Xbox will deal with these iconic franchises, and while they may not be exclusive, they might as well be if Xbox has the right to offer exclusive bonuses in the same vein as death loop‘s timed exclusivity on PS5.
I’m looking forward to
“But if Call of Duty doesn’t become an Xbox exclusive, how will it reap the rewards?” That’s a question in the air. IGN’s Brian Altano and Mark Medina weighed in at the possibilities Xbox can take, and it’s likely the gaming giant will follow the same path as Halo Infinite.
Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is free to play and essentially separate from the main game, judging by how it came out before the official launch of the campaign. With Call of Duty, we may see each entry’s campaign made available through Game Pass. Here’s the kicker: future campaigns may be exclusive to Xbox, while the multiplayer aspect remains cross-platform like Warzone.
There’s also a chance that Call of Duty will be available on Xbox platforms first, while other platforms like PlayStation will get its version at a later date. Or Call of Duty will be made available on all platforms simultaneously. Either way, PlayStation will lose as Game Pass doesn’t have to charge a whopping $60 with every new entry.
For now, that’s all speculation, and we won’t know how Xbox will handle owning one of the best-selling gaming franchises of all time by 2023. Content exclusivity is fast becoming the real war the gaming industry faces, and we know it’s working because Nintendo has Mario – the best-selling franchise of all time. With Call of Duty – and let’s not forget World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, Tony Hawk, Diablo, Overwatch, Spyro, Hearthstone, Guitar Hero, Crash Bandicoot, StarCraft – under its belt, Xbox will undoubtedly shake up the gaming industry.