OPINION: Xbox is smart to share Call of Duty with PlayStation for the next decade. The legacy franchise is already past its best and is small fry compared to the real prize of Microsoft’s competition-sapping acquisitions.
Have you ever thought Microsoft might be a little too happy for all of the focus to be on its benevolent decision to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation and other platforms for the next decade? Is it possible Microsoft was actually delighted for the argument surrounding its takeover of Activision Blizzard to be framed by Call of Duty and Call of Duty alone?
It suited the company perfectly to act like it was making concessions by agreeing to keep the game platform agnostic and, frankly, it was somewhat of a masterstroke.
Might it be because Microsoft bosses are actually fine with Call of Duty remaining a cash juggernaut across the console divide? All while the company hoards all of the rest of the titles its near-complete acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The Verge reports the agreement Sony signed to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation doesn’t include any other games at all. Of course it doesn’t. It’s just the way Microsoft wanted it.
It’s likely Microsoft represents the proverbial ‘Greeks bearing gifts’ with the Call of Duty ten-year deal. It obviously plans to pull up the drawbridge and hoard the remaining Activision Blizzard riches (of which there are plenty) and deny Sony gamers access.
Now the two console-makers have signed a “binding agreement” over Call of Duty – which Microsoft is absolutely delighted about by the way – that’ll be Sony’s lot.
As a result franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk, and Spyro The Dragon – historically, absolute hallmarks of PlayStation gaming – could become become Xbox exclusives within a matter of years.
Wresting those from the grasp of PlayStation gamers might be the bigger blow to the format, beyond keeping a fading star of a franchise whose best days are far, far behind it. Especially when you consider what’s yet to come from new IP.
Call of Duty is yesterday’s news
Microsoft is currently under no obligation to offer any of the other big franchises (new or existing) from Activision Blizzard (or indeed Bethesda) on PlayStation consoles. And moving forward that might be the bigger prize.
Call of Duty can go ubiquitous – like Fortnite, like Minecraft, like Rocket League and the others. It might actually be the only way for it to stay relevant, maintain its status, and keep that cash rolling in for Microsoft. Besides, it’s estimated the next Call of Duty is going to cost $1 billion to make! Gotta recoup that cash, baby!
Making Call of Duty Xbox exclusive wouldn’t help it recapture the glory days, nor is it likely to drive GamePass subscriptions for the “I buy one game a year” crowd who always get the latest CoD, Madden, FIFA or whatever that big name title they’ve always played is. Microsoft isn’t focused on them anymore. It’s focused on people who want to play lots of games without buying them individually.
Call of Duty might still be selling by the bucketload, but let’s face it, it’s yesterdays news. It hasn’t felt new and exciting in years and rehashing the Modern Warfare name suggests this tired and stale franchise is very much grounded in the past rather than the future.
You can rest assured any new IP is going to be kept back for Xbox gamers as Microsoft fights the tide of Sony’s most triumphant range of exclusives that has the PlayStation way ahead of Xbox for the second straight generation.
Those titles will only aid GamePass, the alternative business model Microsoft is relying on to eventually surpass Sony. Bethesda’s Starfield will be the first of many. We learned during the FTC vs Microsoft trial that Microsoft reckoned it would have sold ten million copies on PS5. It predicted the same figure for the Indiana Jones game also on the way.
If the company was willing to forego those sales, it tells you all you need to know about the perceived value of keeping them in-house.
PlayStation keeping Call of Duty is Microsoft’s version of the (probably falsely attributed) Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” quote, upon hearing French peasants had ran out of bread. It’s not an act of benevolence designed to eradicate the notion of platform exclusivity. The masterplan worked perfectly.