Is Call of Duty going Xbox exclusive? Here's what we know.
Call of Duty isn't disappearing for PlayStation users overnight.
Is Call of Duty going Xbox exclusive?
We honestly don't know right now. With that said, if Call of Duty does become an Xbox exclusive franchise, it's not going to happen immediately. The deal has not yet been finalized, and Microsoft has offered a written declaration to Sony for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation platforms for some time after the existing agreements expire.
Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard is the biggest deal it has ever made
Microsoft outlined plans to acquire one of the world's largest video game publishers, Activision Blizzard, in a deal valued at $68.7 billion. The industry-shaking buyout marks the latest and most influential deal to bolster the company's gaming efforts, expanding the Xbox brand with an exhaustive list of new properties. Best-selling Blizzard franchises like Overwatch, Diablo, and World of Warcraft join the Xbox family, accompanied by Activision titans like Call of Duty.
While it's not the first major Xbox acquisition — the firm also scooped up Mojang Studios and Minecraft for $2.5 billion in 2014, as well as Bethesda parent ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion back in 2020 — the deal is easily its largest to date.
Microsoft scooping up Activision Blizzard has wide-reaching implications within the video games industry, bringing some of the world's biggest names under the Xbox platform. That includes Call of Duty, Activision's hit military shooter, easily among the highest-grossing franchises of all time. Having Call of Duty in-house will benefit Xbox for years to come, but what does it mean for fans of the iconic franchise?
Call of Duty remains a lifeline for Activision
Microsoft's nearly $70 billion deal brings all things Activision, Blizzard, and King under the Xbox's wing, including some of the world's most popular game properties and accompanying development studios. That includes Call of Duty, now primarily shared among several key franchise caretakers such as Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software.
Call of Duty continues to see annual installments, with projects subject to a three-year development cycle, shared among a growing talent pool. Call of Duty Warzone, its ongoing free-to-play battle royale, has emerged as a new constant among these releases, with each game building upon a foundation since 2020. Other Activision development studios like High Moon Studios, Beenox, and Toys for Bob, have also shifted resources to supporting Call of Duty in recent years, leaving the publisher centered around its cash cow.
The Activision Blizzard deal is expected to see many established Activision and Blizzard franchises launch exclusively through Xbox platforms, including its Xbox consoles and PC storefront. However, those decisions could arise on a case-by-case basis, much like the previous Bethesda deal. While titles like The Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 continue to receive updates on PlayStation consoles, upcoming titles like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI have pivoted to Xbox exclusivity.
"Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward," Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer stated following the announcement. While Microsoft isn't talking specifics at this point in time, Spencer has further stressed its commitment to rival platforms. "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," Spencer told Bloomberg.
Why is this so complicated?
It's unknown whether Microsoft will take Call of Duty exclusive to Xbox platforms — but don't expect it to drop PlayStation anytime soon. Microsoft's acquisition isn't expected to close until midway through 2023, which means its next entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, will still be fully multiplatform. But even when Activision Blizzard loses full autonomy, we're not expecting sweeping changes overnight.
Call of Duty remains cemented as Activision's primary revenue stream in 2022, with its primary developers and sister studios doubling down on Call of Duty content. The shooter remains a hit, with recent reports from The NPD Group positioning its latest two entries, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War and Call of Duty: Vanguard, among the best-selling Xbox and PlayStation games of 2021. That's without touching on its battle passes, cosmetics, and other paid content driving microtransactions between premium titles and its free-to-play Warzone modes.
Call of Duty drives immense revenues for Activision, and we don't expect Microsoft to cut ties with a third of its player base. Simply put, Call of Duty simply makes too much damned money, and Microsoft likely won't walk from those gains.
Sony has also raised concerns about what could happen if its current access to Call of Duty is threatened. Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan says Microsoft offered Call of Duty for three more years past existing agreements, a deal that Ryan says is inadequate.
"Microsoft has only offered for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends," Ryan explained. "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."
What could the future mean for Call of Duty on Xbox?
None of this is to say Microsoft won't leverage its ownership of the Call of Duty IP, no matter what happens with exclusivity. Call of Duty's inclusion within Xbox Game Pass is guaranteed as it continues to drive the gaming subscription service. Players can also possibly expect various Xbox-exclusive content to follow the $68.7 billion purchase, much like previous deals catered to PlayStation users. With time those perks will likely be amplified, making Call of Duty a distinctly Xbox-tied experience.
Microsoft and its continued push to expand Xbox Game Pass content could benefit Call of Duty in the long term, with the platform holder pursuing diversity among its studios. While Call of Duty remains invaluable to Activision, the deal could alleviate pressure to deliver record revenues each quarter, packing releases on a tight schedule. There's no better time than now for Call of Duty to break away from its annual release cycle, while we also hope once-abandoned Activision franchises to make a return, albeit under the Xbox Game Pass offerings.
While we don't know what the future holds for Call of Duty, PlayStation owners won't see changes for some time. Multibillion-dollar franchises like Minecraft have thrived with cross-platform support, and a similar approach could be a smart fit for Call of Duty's sprawling player base. While the deal will benefit Xbox players more than anyone, the future looks bright with a new face at the helm.
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Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.
- Samuel TolbertFreelance Writer