Sony is worried about Call of Duty.
Regulators around the world are investigating this monstrous acquisition of Activision by Microsoft and asking competitors about it. And Sony has made its opinion clear. The PlayStation firm considers the importance of Call of Duty ‘indescribable’, and that it is so ingrained “that even if a competitor had the budget to develop a similar product, it would not be able to rival it.” In other words, Call of Duty is a game that “influences the user’s choice of console.”
Is it a bit hyperbolic? Call of Duty is one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, but it’s not alone. Games like FIFA and Fortnite are just as big, if not bigger. And there are a lot of big game markets, including Japan, where it’s a relatively small player.
As for influencing console buyers, that’s potentially true. But on the flip side, the biggest game console on the market right now is the Nintendo Switch, and that machine has never had a Call of Duty game (which Xbox thinks may be a missed opportunity).
Much of the fear stems from the prospect that Microsoft will one day in the future make the series exclusive to the Xbox platform (despite assurances that it won’t).
If Xbox pulled the game from PlayStation, some might leave Sony but others will leave Call of Duty
The evidence for this is that after Microsoft bought Bethesda, it subsequently announced that its future games would not be coming to Sony consoles. But Bethesda is not Call of Duty. Most of Bethesda’s games are small to medium in size in terms of commercial success. The exception is games made by the company’s flagship studio – Bethesda Games Studios, which makes the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games. But BGS is not a prolific developer. In fact, between their last big game (Fallout 4) and their next (Starfield), ten Call of Duty games will have been released.
Call of Duty is on a completely different scale. The closest Xbox has to an IP of this size is Minecraft. Microsoft bought that game eight years ago and it’s still available (and supported) on all platforms. Just like Minecraft Dungeons. The next game in the Minecraft series, Minecraft Legends, was announced in June and is also a multi-format release. It was even put on display during the latest Nintendo event.
Of course, Minecraft is a radically different proposition than Call of Duty, but there is a shared truth that if Microsoft were to pull Minecraft from Nintendo and PlayStation, the biggest loser would be Minecraft. Call of Duty has a huge fan base on PlayStation. If Xbox stopped that audience from playing, some might leave Sony, but others would just leave Call of Duty. And that would give competitors like EA’s Battlefield series a unique opportunity.
But even outside of the Minecraft precedent, Call of Duty staying on PlayStation actually benefits Xbox. Microsoft is not so interested in the battle of the consoles. He believes that the future of gaming will be through streaming and subscriptions. Call of Duty isn’t so much a reason to buy an Xbox console as it is a reason to sign up for the Game Pass subscription service.
And this is where PlayStation is right to worry. Because Call of Duty is the number 1 game on PS4 and PS5. If this deal goes through, Microsoft will own the most popular PlayStation game. And what an opportunity is that. Marketing writes to itself: ‘Tired of spending $70 every year on this game? Do you want additional items and points in the game? Then subscribe to Game Pass instead. You can even stream it on mobile.
Microsoft could speak directly to PlayStation’s own fanbase on its own console, putting Sony in the impossible position of rejecting its console’s most popular game or accepting what could amount to a big Game Pass ad masquerading as an online shooter. first person.
Sony may have to reject the most popular game on its console or accept a big Game Pass announcement disguised as a first-person shooter.
PlayStation knows the power that Call of Duty wields. He cites the deal he struck with Activision, which gives PS4 owners early access to Call of Duty DLC, as a factor in that console’s early success. Even in a weakened state, which it is right now, Call of Duty remains a behemoth of the franchise, particularly in North America. And that’s significant, because it’s in the US that the competition between the two consoles is fiercest.
So now it’s up to regulators to decide if a console manufacturer owning Call of Duty IP is fair or not.
However, it is not only the regulators that are asking the tough questions, but also the industry. Microsoft has been on a charm offensive for a while now and is proactively trying to reassure the company that its intentions are good with all this investment. And it’s working. Most of the developers and publishers I’ve talked to have nothing but positive things to say about Microsoft and its gaming initiatives.
But there is always a caveat. ‘Xbox is calling the shots right now’, ‘Xbox has been an amazing partner so far’, ‘It’s all about Xbox at the moment’… those are actual quotes from recent exchanges I’ve had with developers. Everyone comments on how great Xbox is proving to be, while acknowledging that things change.
Because it could. In recent interviews, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has referred to the likes of Amazon, Google and Meta as the big threats to Xbox, but also to the games industry in general. The implication is that these companies are not traditional gaming companies and do not have the interests of the gaming industry in mind.
But that may also be true for Microsoft. Of course, the company has been in gaming for decades and I have no doubts about the sincerity of Spencer, Booty, Bond and the entire Xbox team. They are game people. I’ve talked to them enough to know that they will always be gaming people.
But is it really Satya Nadella? Are they Microsoft shareholders? We’re told they are, but you’ll forgive some developers, particularly those with experience at large corporations, for being a bit skeptical. It’s all ‘letting talent do what feels best’ when the sun shines, but the real test of his determination is when the storm clouds begin to gather.
If Microsoft is right about subscriptions and streaming (and it’s by no means a guarantee), then this Call of Duty decision is a watershed moment. It’s the kind of deal you could make from Microsoft, with Game Pass, xCloud (and Azure), and its growing roster of studios, one of the most influential gaming companies in the world. It will have a key product to drive this change in the way games are paid for and distributed.
No wonder Sony is worried.