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PlayStation’s Best-Selling Series Of 2021 Could Become Xbox-Exclusive

Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard purchase could hold Call of Duty hostage from Sony

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A soldier holds a rifle in Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Screenshot: Activision

The NPD Group released its annual tally of gaming sales for 2021 today, pretty much at the very second Microsoft announced it would buy mega-publisher Activision Blizzard for approximately the GDP of Luxembourg. The top-selling console game for 2021 was the same as it is as it is nearly every year: the latest Call of Duty game. Uh-oh, PlayStation.

Yes, Call of Duty: Vanguard, despite only being on sale for the final two months of the year (it came out November 5), outsold everything else on PlayStation and Xbox. The second-best-selling game of 2021? Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War, first released in 2020. As of today—well, once the $68.7 billion deal is approved by regulators—the Call of Duty series will be a first-party intellectual property owned by Microsoft.


Obviously, that doesn’t quite spell good news for PlayStation, which could lose some of its top-selling third-party games in a wink. So far, Microsoft hasn’t specified what platforms future Activision-published games, including Call of Duty, could release on, giving Axios Gaming’s Stephen Totilo the pointedly vague statement that the company’s “games exist on a variety of platforms today, and we plan to continue supporting those communities moving forward.” Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Kotaku.

But the company’s other recent watershed purchase could indicate what Microsoft has in store for its new financial luminaries. In 2020, when Microsoft purchased Zenimax, the parent company of Bethesda—responsible for a vast portfolio of gaming series including The Elder Scrolls, Prey, Dishonored, Fallout, and more—for a then-staggering price of $7.5 billion, it sure sounded like Xbox exclusivity was off the table and that maybe the sale was more of a boon to Microsoft’s Game Pass service than a detriment to PlayStation. Here’s what Xbox head Phil Spencer said at the time:

This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games. But I’ll also say in the model—I’m just answering directly the question that you had—when I think about where people are going to be playing and the number of devices that we had, and we have xCloud and PC and Game Pass and our console base, I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.


Now, it seems certain: Xbox is chasing exclusivity with those games.

The first game published under the new agreement, Arkane’s immersive sim, Deathloop, indeed honored exclusivity agreements previously in place, coming out on PlayStation 5 and PC in October. (That agreement expires after a year.) But Arkane’s next big game, the co-op vampire shooter Redfall, is Xbox- and PC-only. As is Bethesda’s forthcoming, and eagerly anticipated, Starfield, for which Bethesda bigwig Pete Hines is so very sorry.

Could the same happen to Call of Duty? It’s unclear right now, but you can’t rule it out.

Losing Call of Duty would be a meteoric impact for PlayStation’s ledger, but it isn’t the only chart-topper on the platform. According to NPD’s data, here are the top-10 best-selling games of the year across all consoles:

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War
  3. Madden NFL 22
  4. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
  5. Battlefield 2042
  6. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  7. Mario Kart 8
  8. Resident Evil Village
  9. MLB The Show: 21
  10. Super Mario 3D World

For PlayStation specifically…

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Madden NFL 22
  3. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War
  4. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  5. MLB The Show 21
  6. Battlefield 2042
  7. FIFA 22
  8. Ghost of Tsushima
  9. Resident Evil Village
  10. Far Cry 6

For Xbox…

  1. Call of Duty: Vanguard
  2. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War
  3. Madden NFL 22
  4. Battlefield 2042
  5. Far Cry 6
  6. Forza Horizon 5
  7. Halo Infinite
  8. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  9. FIFA 22
  10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

And, finally, for Nintendo, which you’ll note almost entirely consists of first-party games…

  1. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
  2. Mario Kart 8
  3. Super Mario 3D World
  4. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  5. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
  6. Monster Hunter: Rise
  7. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  8. Mario Party Superstars
  9. Pokémon Sword and Shield
  10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword