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Xbox lead Phil Spencer: 'We want to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation'

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

This week, Microsoft revealed its blockbuster acquisition of Activision Blizzard King (ABK) for $70 billion dollars. ABK are responsible for some of the industry's biggest franchises, including World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Call of Duty. The acquisition sent shockwaves through the industry, leading to questions about exactly how the new "Microsoft Gaming" division would handle such a large purchase.

Today, one of the questions was answered. In a tweet, CEO of Microsoft Gaming and leader of Xbox Phil Spencer signaled Microsoft's intent to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, emphasizing that they see Sony as a partner in the wider gaming industry.

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I suspected personally that this might be the case. Call of Duty is a truly massive franchise and its annualization makes it something of a near-tradition within the industry. Millions of gamers would experience significant disruption from Call of Duty suddenly being yanked from their console of choice, and that struck me as something Microsoft wouldn't be about, particularly when you consider how Microsoft kept Minecraft on multiple platforms.

Spencer has been conducting various interviews this week about the acquisition. He seemed to imply during another interview today that he'd like to revive dormant Activision Blizzard IP, such as Skylanders, Starcraft, and even 90s shooter Hexen. Microsoft also discussed how this acquisition furthers its ability to compete in any prospective future "Metaverse," being explored by competing tech companies. Microsoft also noted that they intend to include many of Activision's games directly into Xbox Game Pass.

After years of being plagued with scandals, lawsuits, and mismanagement, Activision's talented and passionate employees desperately need and deserve a change in leadership, and it's my feeling at least that this acquisition is only going to be a good thing for the legendary company.

Related: Microsoft needs to prove it will do right by Activision employees

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

38 Comments
  • Big mistake. Sony wouldn't do the same given the chance, and they've proven it time over time.
    You don't win if you don't fight.
  • Uhh...MLB The Show didn't just release on Xbox, it was put on Game Pass on release.
  • That was not Sony's prefered choice but rather the price of not losing the licence.
    MLB made the decision not Sony. https://www.windowscentral.com/mlb-show-21-launching-xbox-game-pass-was-... Not the example to be making for this case.
  • Yes, that's why I think FIFA, NHL, and Madden wouldn't be exclusive if MS bought EA.
  • Licensed games are work for hire. The licensor calls the shots.
    As is, the sports games are too big a share of EA revenues for them to be dragged into a platform war. If/when they're acquired it'll be by a multiplat publisher.
  • Microsoft is in this to make money. Yanking CoD would cost them. CoD bros won’t suddenly run out and buy a Series X.
  • How much though?
    I saw an estimate that PS4 was producing a *gross* of $450M a year (after retailer cuts but bdfore zmortizing PS development costs) which is big for Activision but only a couple million subscribers worth for Gamepass. And that is PS4 with Sony having a 2-1 console lead and exclusivity. Once COD goes next gen only, which Sony was *encouraging* less than a year ago, the equation changes and not in Sony's favor. Sony's main value to activision is in distribution (reaching their installed base) not in cash per se. Its why I think Playstation COD will support PS4 far longer than Sony would prefer.
    In the MS world, of $70B *net* a year, half a billion isn't much of a sacrifice. It might *still* remain on PS but if COD remains multiplat it won't be for the money but for other considerations, like stiffling the PS (exclusive) shooter market.
    Or as a bargaining chip. (COD for Spiderman.)
  • Desire might simply mean "working to get gamepass on PlayStation"
  • Another of Phil's sneaky plays on words, the man's the best wordsmith ever. So what he's *not* saying is whether future titles (CoD or otherwise) will come to PS, only that current CoDs won't be pulled, and whatever's in the pipeline will be multiplatform too. So... After that, who knows? Just like with Bethesda.
  • No, it doesn't settle anything. Honoring an existing contract was never in question. Whatever it says will be honored.
    But contracts aren't magic. Or eternal. *Wanting* to keep it on PS says nothing about how or how long.
    Or how well it is coded or supported.
    Wanting isn't getting. MS can do lots of things to disfavor PS5 without taking the game away.
    Like charge less for the XBOX and PC versions.
    Or only shipping one version for all Playstations. Besides, MS can't legally commit Activision to *anything* until they take over.
    For that matter, all contracts have escape clauses.
    And nobody could blame MS if Kotick pulled the plug. No, nothing is settled.
  • Not what I thought would happen. How does that drive subs for Game Pass?
  • Speculation, but perhaps by making older COD titles available on Game pass. COD is popular for years. Or perhaps a best of online rotation that is only on GP for Xbox and PC. DLC only for Game pass and not available on other platforms. So many ways
  • True, I forget that people actually still play the older ones. I understand that even the newer ones on there will drive SOME subs, but remember for some people this is the only game they play. I guess even having it exclusive wouldn't drive those subs either.
  • The fact that it is on gamepass at all drives them. Not only that I am sure there will be exclusive Call of Duty spinoffs. Anything else produced from activision's huge IP portfolio is also exclusive. I think what Phil Spinser just did was start dealing the cards. I can see more formerly exclusive PS titles ending up on gamepass as result. A day after this announcement Sony took a 20 billion dollar hit to their shock market they probably asked Phil to tweet their stock price back up and come to the table afterwards. My prodiction is a playstation now app on xbox and a gamepass app on playstation. The transition of the end of console hardware may be a generation or two away.
  • I would love to just have the PS app on my Xbox.
  • Xbox live Gold is 25$ for 3 months (they removed the 6 and 12 month options) therefore it's 100$ for 1 year, CoD is 70$ so 100 + 70 = 170$ and that's pretty much the same as the 180$ for Gamepass Ultimate for a year. This means that CoD only gamers on Xbox will just use gamepass because there is no reason not to.
  • Uh, nothing has happened.
    Nothing *can* happen until tbe deal closes.
    Spencer said "want" instead of "will" because that is all he can say.
    It is meaningless noise to be polite.
    If the Bethesda deal taught us anything is Spenser is great at vocalizing meaningless noises. No reason to be happy or sad.
  • The statement happened. It also said more than they did with the Bethesda. I understand the final result can't happen until the deal is final, that isn't what I was referring to.
  • Analyze the statement: it says nothing.
    The same with Sony's statement.
    The contract will be honored? Who doubted that?
    MS *wants* to keep COD on PS? Sure. On *their* terms. Which are TBD after the contract expires. Look, Sony lost $20B in valuation from stockholder panic: they needed to assure the shortterm investors that nothing is changing soon to prop up the stock. (That is more than their cash on hand at the end of 2021. Down from $56B at the beginning of the year.) They're hurting. MS just chose to "graciously" not kick them in the tender parts. Microsoft doesn't want to annoy regulators and nay-sayers by even hinting at exclusivity.
    Nor do they want the SEC to accuse them of improprieties.
    (They're already looked upon suspiciously for taking advantage of tbe activision stock price collapse in november, just before they offered to buy Activision.) If anything, they've said *less* this time.
    Last time they made it clear new IP would be exclusive but let it undetermined for existing franchises. This time they've said nothing about anything being exclusive, just about putting everything *possible* (not under contract) into Gamepass. Theoretically a new HeXen coukd be multiplat and still go on Gamepass (like Psychonauts). Theoretically. They're being even more careful than tbe last time.
    And not just in what they say about games. Look at the PR announcement carefully and you'll see how far ahead of the curve they ard this time around: For Zenimax they were legally speaking merging Zenimax with a newly created, empty subsidiary.
    This time the newly created subsidiary isn't empty, it is an ongoing operation with its own CEO (a first at MS) and a fully detailed management team that meets all expectations of diversity and inclusivity with names, duty, and even preferred pronouns. And they've let it leak that Kotick might leave after the sale clears. Or *not* if it doesn't. This last isn't just for regulators.
    Because those are constrained by law.
    It is the Activision stockholders who are the biggest hurdle and the message to them is: sell at $95 or face an ugly fight to push Kotick out, a horde of lawsuits, employees flight, customer boycotts, possible unionization, penalty payment to MS, and years of waiting to see $95 stock price. MS is a learning organization and they are sneaky. The bigger they get, the harder the acquisitions get. So they have to up their game, which they have. This deal has more sides than a D&D die.
    Nothing is as presented in the media.
  • I think they might be waiting to see how production goes for the Series and Playstation consoles. If supply remains fairly low over the next few years and Sony aren't open to having Game Pass on Playstation then Microsoft might be inclined to maintain multiplatform releases solely to get improved revenue streams. But I dunno, from a business perspective I personally don't understand why a company would make big titles like CoD (or Elder Scrolls for that matter) exclusive it's just shutting out revenue, plain and simple.
  • Didn't expected, it's still somewhat vague but not nearly as vague as his Bethesda statements, I feel that if he didn't mean new games, saying that he will honor contractual obligations would be enough, but he added that he has the desire to keep CoD on Playstation, something that he didn't need to. This is still vague though.
  • Which CoD?
    It is still on an annual cycle.
    So they can pull the plug as soon as the contfact expires.
  • Every new CoD game in the near future will probably stay multiplat is what I'm expecting, if it wasn't then Phill wouldn't had the clarification that he wants to keep the games on Playstation.
  • If "in the near future" means "already in development", then yes.
    If it means "...including games started after the deal closes" then the answer is: TBD. COD on PS is a big bargaining chip and not just with Sony but also with regulators. So the non-promise statement keeps it open to negotiations as a "concession" even if they always intended to keep it multiplat. Giving a clear unambiguous statement either way buys them nothing, keeping it open is useful for many reasons.
  • Keeping it on PS makes sense. The franchise is massive, basically leading the industry in sales every year. The annual revenue which includes PS sales, is probably a bug factor in the valuation of the company. Taking it off PS might be a net gain for Xbox over time, but would initially suck a LOT of players out of the pool, costing them quite a but of money. With the Series X still failing to meet demand, it's not like MS could even convert PS5 buyers to XSX with ease (and they might see the XSS as a downgrade they wouldn't accept). I do think, in the end, that this is something they could revisit later, but it doesn't seem terribly wise. "Free with Game Pass" should be a sufficient platform advantage to draw players to Xbox.
  • It only makes sense if all you care about is *one* game and the short term.
    MS doesn't.
    They care about Gamepass and about the long haul.
  • I see you've changed the title from "We will keep" to "We want to keep" which is quite a distinction. But the first version has already been propagated through social media and we all know that most people just read the title and nothing else.
  • It would be hilarious if they did put it on Playstation but charged them $70 with limited dlc content. Or maybe they should do a "how to play COD on console" video. And show a picture of an Xbox series X, pc, and cell phone with a Game Pass subscription
    Phil called Sony a partner now. That's a slick way of saying that Sony needs what MS has now for sustainable revenue. Make no mistake: if the situation was reversed, Sony wouldn't be thinking the least bit about supporting Microsoft with this franchise
  • Misleading headline and poor conclusion. Nothing was answered. They said very much the same types of things about the Bethesda deal, because legally they can't say anything until the deal closes. He chooses his words very carefully. His desire to keep it on playstation is most likely referring back to wanting game pass on every device. Doesn't mean it will work out that way. He said keep it there, not bring future CoD releases there. They don't want to take anything away from existing communities. Warzone, ESO, Fallout 76. All the same language they used before and look what happened. He also used big boss language at the end "...an important part of our industry". The times they are a changin'. He's letting Sony know that they aren't in the position to muscle anyone around anymore.
  • Exactly.
    "You're big but so are we. You will not bully us. Deal with us with respect or see how bad we can hurt you."
    Carrot and stick.
    "You don't want to see me when I'm angry."
  • Some folks here are completely missing the point. ABK is more than just C.O.D. The valuation at present is due to C.O.D brought in YoY AND the teams who make it happen. However, ABK has a pool of IP which can be leveraged to create alot more titles for gamepass. That also adds to the valuation. C.O.D will remain multiple platform however since the precedent has already been set about timed console exclusive dlc. So, such DLC will come to gamepass first. However, it won't be all DLC some will remain multiplatform in order to continue driving sales. As at the end of day, Xbox is just more than just Game Pass.
  • And MS is more than gaming.
    One thing pundits and fans forget is that a certain segment of MS shareholders don't want to be in the game business. So MS set up MS gaming as a standalone consumer focused business separate from the enterprise side. Ready to be spun off independently and (party) IPO'ed. Now, how much cash might that might give XBOX, INC to go out and buy...things...
    Doesn't mean they will but if they did tbey could get away with buying UBISOFT *and* Sega *and* still be smaller than Tencent with less than 50% gaming market share.
    Most of tbe handwringing is about how big MS is. But MSG is much smaller. Just potentially much much richer than most of the players in gaming. They don't want to spinoff but they can, which would be worse for competitors. Just a little something for regulators to mull over. 😏😏
  • If so then what's the point of the purchase.?
  • Revenue and IP rights both publishing and dev rights - ABK has a pool of IP. ABK is more than just C.O.D *facepalm* smh.
  • All of which is unused right now in the blind pursuit of COD money.
  • I can understand MS's thinking, but I'll every red cent I have that if the tables were turned Sony would make these games exclusive to PlayStation. No doubt.
  • Via Game Pass will be the only way! Sorry Sony...time to cave in!
  • """After years... talented and passionate employees desperately need and deserve a change in leadership"""
    You are assuming these employees will automatically be submissive and responsive to their new boss. Nokia had talented people. Then there's the fact that possible those employees have either retired or are no longer with us. Microsoft itself faces this problem of brain drain internally in Windows, Office etc.. even xbox at 20. They simply can't reproduce the magic from their glory days.
    Just because you have access to IPs and legacy source codes (if they are even intact) doesn't mean there are employees who understand them.
    And its not a given that employees will be motivated to work especially after a long period of rewarding underperformance.