The future of Call of Duty hangs in the balance following Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which will bring the massively popular first person shooter series under the Xbox umbrella along with a handful of other franchises. The move is raising questions about how Microsoft will handle Activision Blizzard’s extensive list of properties – whether they will remain on platforms like PlayStation 5 or become entirely exclusive to the Xbox.
Microsoft has already shown some of its hand with the Bethesda acquisition, which was completed close to a year ago. Microsoft opted to honor Bethesda’s previous deal with PlayStation, keeping Deathloop as a timed exclusive for PlayStation 5. However, Starfield, the next massive RPG from the developers of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, will be an Xbox exclusive with a day one release on Game Pass.
Right now, Activision Blizzard says it won’t be removing existing games from other platforms. This means ongoing free-to-play games like Call of Duty: Warzone, Activision’s battle royale title, should remain multiplatform. These comments align with those of newly-minted Microsoft Games CEO Phil Spencer, who told Bloomberg that it’s not Xbox’s intent to “pull communities away from [PlayStation] and we remain committed to that.” Sony, for its part, says that it expects Microsoft to honor its existing contracts with Activision Blizzard.
Since the original publication of this article, Spencer has reaffirmed Xbox’s desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation in one form or other. “Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony,” Spencer tweeted. “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 did not clarify whether he was referring explicitly to Warzone, or to future standalone entries in the series.
In the meantime, Microsoft controls the destiny of huge moneymakers like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch, sparking debate on social media and elsewhere about where they will be playable in the future. Xbox fans, influencers, and media members alike are all weighing in on what Microsoft will ultimately do, and opinions are split. The Verge’s Tom Warren says we only need to look at what happened with Bethesda to see what will happen with Activision games, saying they will be Xbox and PC exclusive.
if you’re wondering what will happen with future Activision games once they Microsoft deal closes? Look at Bethesda. Starfield is Xbox / PC exclusive, and Elder Scrolls 6 will follow https://t.co/eRodim1ZZk
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) January 19, 2022
Others around the internet agree, likening this discourse to the Bethesda conversation, or making comparisons to other media giants. For example, writer Cian Maher says Xbox keeping Call of Duty multi-platform would be like Netflix spending billions to recruit the Game of Thrones team for a new show, but not making that show exclusive to Netflix.
Some of the questions are driven by Microsoft’s history of allowing its games to remain on other platforms. The most obvious and notable example is Minecraft, which remains available on virtually every platform on the market today. For this reason, some people think Microsoft will continue to rake in as much money as they can from Call of Duty by continuing to release it on competitor’s platforms.
When all is said and done, do you think Call of Duty will end up as an Xbox console exclusive?
— Geoff Keighley (@geoffkeighley) January 19, 2022
GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb says he believes mainline Call of Duty games will go Xbox exclusive, while Warzone remains multiplatform. Grubb says this is because Microsoft determined, “exclusivity to Game Pass is the best way to drive its goals.”
Forbes’ Paul Tassi agrees, writing, “In this new Call of Duty era, however, I do think that Microsoft will turn the mainline games into Xbox exclusives. If they’re willing to take games like Starfield and Elder Scrolls exclusive after that purchase, they’re almost certainly going to do the same after a deal worth 10x as much.”
In an opinion piece that went up today, IGN editor Dan Stapleton said that we should expect Activision Blizzard’s future games to be Xbox exclusives. We had similar thoughts on the latest episode of IGN’s Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked.
“The live games where folks have already invested money in, those are going to be remaining multiplatform just like we saw with Minecraft,” IGN’s Miranda Sanchez said. “Going forward though, I would say be more surprised if something is not exclusive. It makes sense. Again, the same game plan as they had with Bethesda. It’s going to be exclusive. I don’t think they’re going to want to share their exclusivity since they paid so much money for Call of Duty.”
What the analysts are saying about Call of Duty becoming an Xbox exclusive
To dive deeper into this wide-ranging debate, IGN spoke with multiple industry analysts about the potential of Call of Duty — and other Activision Blizzard games like Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 — becoming Xbox exclusives.
Stephanie Llamas, Chief Analyst and Founder of VoxPop, says it is “very likely that Microsoft will want to create exclusives around many of the [Activision Blizzard] franchises.” Llamas also says keeping free-to-play games like Warzone multi-platform makes business sense for Microsoft.
“It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to make [Activision Blizzard’s] currently released free-to-play games or modes exclusives,” Llamas said. “Audience is the driver for [free-to-play] monetization, and it’s a lot easier to just give other platforms a cut of in-game purchases in exchange for volume.”
Piers Harding-Rolls of Ampere Analysis thinks free-to-play games could come with extra benefits for Game Pass subscribers, saying that “exclusivity could extend to certain in-game content either timed or fully exclusive. There’s also the likelihood that more free-to-play games will come to Game Pass, which will require exclusive benefits to distinguish it from availability outside the service.”
Whether it’s additional in-game currency, exclusive items, or faster progression, there are plenty of ways to sweeten the Game Pass pot when it comes to free-to-play audiences, and some analysts believe that is what will happen.
A common argument in the exclusivity debate is that Microsoft would be leaving money on the table by not putting some of the world’s most popular games on every platform possible. Llamas argues that logic applies to free-to-play games, but when it comes to full-priced games, the strategy changes.
“However, for a highly sought after premium title like Diablo, they may want to use it to entice people onto Xbox the way they did with Halo,” Llamas said. “But the ink won’t dry on this deal until 2023, after Overwatch 2 is (hopefully) released, so I doubt they are going to change it to an exclusive title.”
Similarly, Andrew Uerkwitz of Jefferies believes that with the exception of free-to-play titles, Activision Blizzard games will be console exclusive on Xbox after the acquisition is finalized.
“History would indicate Xbox prefers exclusivity, and adding three to four major IPs seems to make sense to move them all,” Uerkwitz said. “And remember, there is a cost in supporting multiple platforms so removing a few here and there [from PlayStation] makes further sense.”
Uerkwitz believes Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 could also be exclusive, saying the bigger question is how Microsoft plans to integrate World of Warcraft into Xbox Game Pass.
Harding-Rolls doesn’t believe big Blizzard titles like Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 will be Xbox exclusives, but argues that “these titles will launch into Game Pass, which enhances the value of the service and also disrupts premium sales on other platforms.”
One recent example of this is Psychonauts 2, an Xbox Game Studios-published title that released on Game Pass while simultaneously launching on PlayStation at full price. While not as powerful as a full console exclusive, launching on Game Pass can certainly change how customers perceive a $59.99 price tag on the other platforms.
Overwatch 2 was officially announced for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One in late 2019. We still don’t know when the sequel is coming, so it’s unclear if it will be released before or after Microsoft officially takes control of Activision Blizzard. The takeover will reportedly be finalized by the middle of next year. Some analysts say part of the deal in a huge acquisition like this is dealing with announcements and promises already in place.
“Microsoft is spending billions on games publishers because it wants to build its first-party games content portfolio,” Harding-Rolls said. “It needs 30 studios to create a full pipeline of exclusive games to drive adoption of its platforms and services. But it is pursuing this strategy while also aiming to bring down the barriers to access to this content and reaching more gamers. It’s also applying this strategy keeping in mind that major acquisitions of third-party publishers result in compromises when it comes to managing existing fanbases and the commercial contracts already in place.”
It will be some time until we get any concrete answers to these questions. Xbox and Activision Blizzard plan to have the transaction complete by June 2023, but until then, Activision Blizzard will continue to operate autonomously. Right now, there’s no official word on the future of new Call of Duty titles, and you shouldn’t expect either Microsoft or Activision to say a word about it until the deal is done.
For now, it’ll be business as usual for Call of Duty, and you can probably expect a new entry to drop this fall on PlayStation and Xbox. Only time will tell if it’s the last time PlayStation players will get to boot up a new Call of Duty before the series leaves PlayStation for good.
Beyond the discussion on Xbox exclusivity, there’s plenty more to dig into with the Microsoft/Activision news. For the latest, check out what legal experts are saying about the Activision acquisition in relation to antitrust laws. Or, read how Activision reportedly considered buying Kotaku and PC Gamer to change the public opinion of the company after a year filled with scandal, controversy, and lawsuits. And, learn what we know right now about the future of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who has been at the center of Activision’s issues.
Finally, on the PlayStation side, check out Sony’s full comments on the state of Activision Blizzard games on PlayStation, and how Sony stock reportedly took a huge hit after Xbox’s big announcement.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.
Additional reporting by Kat Bailey.