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Sony And Microsoft's Comments On Call Of Duty Exclusivity Are Clear As Mud [Update]

The PS5 maker gave a murky response on whether Activision games will stay multiplatform

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Visitors walk past giant signs of Xbox and PlayStation at an E3 conference.
Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)

Here we go again. Will Activision Blizzard games be exclusive to Xbox after the recently announced $68.7 billion deal finally goes through? Probably. But in the meantime both sides are saying just enough to keep all possibilities open, with Sony being the latest to add its vague comments to the growing pile.

“We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform,” a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal today. Read one way, it seems like confirmation that the owner of PlayStation thinks nothing will change. Read another, it means that existing Activision games will remain multiplatform, but doesn’t provide any clarity on what might happen to future projects that haven’t even been announced yet.

Update: 1/20/22, 4:27 p.m. ET: Phil Spencer took to Twitter today to clarify the future of Call of Duty exclusivity, appearing to indicate the series will remain multiplatform and available on PlayStation:

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Update: 1/20/22, 5:12 p.m. ET: After reading and re-reading the tweet dozens of times it sounds much less definitive than it first appeared. “Desire” is a lot less firm than “intent,” and seems to leave the door open to Microsoft and Sony failing to come to some future agreement that keeps the series playable on PS5.

Update: 1/25/21, 6:18 p.m. ET: Bloomberg reports that even after the deal is finalized Activision intends to release at least the next three Call of Duty games on PlayStation. That includes this year’s Call of Duty, rumored to be Modern Warfare 2, 2023's entry, and Call of Duty: Warzone 2, a refresh of the battle royale that’s also slated for 2023.

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For at least the next two years, Microsoft is committed to releasing Call of Duty on PlayStation,” Bloomberg’s reports according to its sources.

Original story follows.

Of course, it doesn’t actually matter what Sony wants or “expects.” The ultimate decision regarding console exclusivity for Call of Duty and other big franchises like Diablo and Overwatch remains with Microsoft. Here’s what the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, recently had to say on the subject in an interview with Bloomberg:

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.

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“Intent” is doing a lot of work there.

Activision Blizzard was similarly non-committal in an internal FAQ with employees about the Xbox deal that it disclosed to the SEC yesterday:

How does this transaction impact existing partner agreements (i.e., Sony, Google, Apple)? Will this change what we’re able to offer our partners or how we structure our agreements?

  • We will honor all existing commitments post close. As with Microsoft’s acquisition of Minecraft, we have no intent to remove any content from platforms where it exists today.
  • We would be open to discussions to enter into an agreement to confirm our intent when it is appropriate to do so.
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Read More: What A Video Game ‘Exclusive’ Means In 2017

It’s all very reminiscent of the dance around exclusivity Microsoft and Bethesda did after the former announced it was buying the Elder Scrolls-maker for $7.5 billion back in 2020. The deal wasn’t about “punishing” one group of players, or trying to “take games away” from them, Spencer said back then, and future exclusivity would be decided on a case-by-case basis. The end result was that while Micorosft honored existing agreements for games like Deathloop (a PS5 exclusive for its first year), it eventually conceded that Starfield, which was in development years before the Bethesda deal took shape, would be an Xbox exclusive.

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According to Bloomberg’s report, “Microsoft plans to keep making some of Activision’s games for PlayStation consoles but will also keep some content exclusive to Xbox.” That could mean that Call of Duty, consistently the best-selling game every year, will remain multiplatform. Or it could mean that nearly every new Activision Blizzard game except for its free-to-play battle royale, Warzone, won’t be coming to PS5.

The same question that came up with Bethesda arises now with Activision: why would Microsoft spend half of its total cash-on-hand in the biggest gaming acquisition ever to not make most of what it just bought exclusive? $68.7 billion is a lot of money—more than the GDP of most countries—to spend just to make Diablo IV , Overwatch 2, and the next Black Ops day-one releases on Game Pass. But in the meantime everyone’s saying just enough to keep that possibility alive.