The console war custody battle over Call of Duty has taken an unlikely turn. In an industry notorious for secrecy and backroom deals, two of the biggest executives in gaming are hashing it out in public. A week after Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said Activision’s hit shooter would remain multiplatform for “at least several more years,” the head of PlayStation, Jim Ryan, has put out his own statement clarifying the deal would only last three years and “failed to take account of the impact on our gamers.”
“I hadn’t intended to comment on what I understood to be a private business discussion, but I feel the need to set the record straight because Phil Spencer brought this into the public forum,” Ryan said in a statement to GamesIndustry.biz on Wednesday. It continued:
Microsoft has only offered for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends. After almost 20 years of Call of Duty on PlayStation, their proposal was inadequate on many levels and failed to take account of the impact on our gamers. We want to guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest-quality Call of Duty experience, and Microsoft’s proposal undermines this principle.
It’s a drastic departure from the way gaming companies usually message, and draws a stark contrast with the “we’re all friends here” vibe Microsoft has been trying to conjure since it first announced its intention to buy Activision Blizzard for $69 billion.
“In January, we provided a signed agreement to Sony to guarantee Call of Duty on PlayStation, with feature and content parity, for at least several more years beyond the current Sony contract, an offer that goes well beyond typical gaming industry agreements,” Spencer said in a statement to The Verge on September 2.
This was likely a reference to meetings Spencer tweeted about on January 20. “Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony,” he wrote at the time. “I confirmed our intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation. Sony is an important part of our industry, and we value our relationship.”
Spencer’s statements have always stopped just short of confirming that Call of Duty, a top-selling game every year, would remain multiplatform in perpetuity, as it has so far done with Minecraft. And despite repeatedly saying exclusives games aren’t where the industry is headed, Microsoft has been doubling-down on them in recent years.
But more recently the two sides have come into direct conflict in filings to regulators abroad who are tasked with reviewing the Activision Blizzard acquisition. In legal documents sent to Brazil’s government over the summer, Microsoft downplayed the significance of the Call of Duty franchise while Sony called it “essential.” The PS5 manufacturer argued that the series was big enough to influence what consoles people buy, and thus give Microsoft a big advantage in the marketplace, while Microsoft claimed it wouldn’t be profitable to keep Call of Duty exclusive.
Sony declined to comment when asked what its counter-proposal to Microsoft was. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond.