If you’re sick to death of hearing about the fight between PlayStation and Xbox over what will become of Call of Duty once its Acquisition Blizzard closes, you’re not the only one. In a lengthy interview with The Verge, Xbox head Phil Spencer has attempted to close the book on the argument, stating that the annual mega-franchise will remain on PlayStation after the deal closes. No strings, no tricks, no contractual gotchas — according to Spencer, it’s not going anywhere.
“There’s nothing behind my back,” Spencer told Verge editor Nilay Patel on the site’s Decoder podcast. “It is the Call of Duty Modern Warfare II doing great on PlayStation, doing great on Xbox. The next game, the next, next, next, next, next [game]. Native on the (PlayStation) platform, not having to subscribe to Game Pass. Sony does not have to take Game Pass on their platform to make that happen.”
“There’s nothing hidden,” he continued. “We want to continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation without any kind of weird ‘aha I figured out the gotcha’ as Phil said ‘our intent.’ I understand some people’s concerns on this, and I’m just trying to be as clear as I can be.”
The interview comes after weeks of international regulatory bodies picking the giant acquisition apart. Spencer has repeatedly found himself on the end of some thorny questions, many of them spearheaded by PlayStation itself, about what it intends to do with Call of Duty. The reason Call of Duty keeps coming up is its rampant popularity among casual fans and players. It’s a franchise Sony can depend on year-in and year-out to sell discs and consoles. It had a real fear that Microsoft would simply take Call of Duty and plant it in the walled garden of Xbox Game Pass, all but necessitating the purchase of a Series X or S for CoD fans. Worse for Sony, it could see a future where Xbox would use heavyweight titles like Call of Duty to crowbar Game Pass onto other, competing platforms.
PlayStation has every right to be concerned. Securing ownership of the Call of Duty franchise was a major component in Microsoft’s reason for making Activision Blizzard an offer in the first place. And, in the early stages of the acquisition, there was no reason to think Xbox would do anything else.
The Verge itself reported in September that Spencer had sent PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan a written commitment that it would keep CoD on PlayStation platforms for “several more years” beyond the deal it already had in place. PlayStation quickly slammed that promise as “inadequate on many levels.” Succinctly stated, PlayStation wanted assurances that Xbox wouldn’t simply change the contract in 2026 and lock them out of the franchise for good. The lawyers circled each other and growled, while industry observers tried to figure out exactly what Microsoft’s next move would be. By lunging for Activision Blizzard in that company’s greatest moment of weakness, had Microsoft been caught in a trap of its own making?
“This idea that we would write a contract that says the word forever in it I think is a little bit silly, but to make a longer-term commitment that Sony would be comfortable with, regulators would be comfortable with, I have no issue with that at all,” Spencer told Decoder.
Microsoft has also been making more public appeals to its competition. It now insists that CoD on PlayStation consoles is a “commercial imperative for the Xbox business and the economics of the transaction,” and that it “has been clear that it (Microsoft) has been counting on revenues from the distribution of Activision Blizzard games on the Sony PlayStation.”
If Spencer is to be believed, that’s where this story finally ends: Call of Duty will continue to launch on PlayStation consoles. No strings, no funny business. The PlayStation board can sleep soundly knowing CoD isn’t going anywhere.
It’s almost like Microsoft knows the regulators are watching their every move.