Microsoft's purchase of Activision Blizzard this week has proven to be among the most consequential acquisition announcements in the history of the game industry, and it's proved equally controversial when considering what it means for big game franchises like Call of Duty. Now, Xbox chief Phil Spencer, CEO of the newly formed Microsoft Gaming division, has come out with a public statement affirming Microsoft's position on multi-platform support for the shooter series, though with a fair amount of ambiguity thrown in.
"Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony," Spencer wrote in a statement posted to his personal Twitter account on Thursday.
"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."
Sony's stock dropped nearly 13% on Tuesday following news of Microsoft's acquisition of the Call of Duty publisher, raising concerns that Microsoft's buying spree of big studios and its investments in subscription gaming may pose a longer-term existential threat to the PlayStation business. New entries in the Call of Duty franchise have been the best-selling games on both PlayStaton and Xbox consoles almost every year for the last decade, and both the 2020 and 2021 releases held spots in the top three best-selling games on both platforms last year, according to The NPD Group.
Of course, Spencer's strategically worded statement leaves open the possibility for a number of scenarios here. Microsoft could make future annual Call of Duty installments Xbox exclusives that release as part of its Game Pass subscription on console and PC, while keeping the multi-platform Warzone battle royale accessible on PlayStation. That Spencer says his company intends to "honor all existing agreements" indicates that after those existing agreements are honored, all bets may be off.
That does not explain how Activision and its various studios responsible for the shooter series may update Warzone in the future, considering the game has for the last two years included new weapons, cosmetics and other items borrowed from newer Call of Duty entries. But as it stands today, Warzone players are not required to buy new Call of Duty games to keep playing, and so perhaps in the future those PlayStation owners will simply be barred from accessing new content while still being allowed to play the core game in perpetuity.
There is also the chance Microsoft sees more benefit in keeping Call of Duty multi-platform in totality, so long as it feels like it's beneficial enough to both its bottom line and the growth of Xbox Game Pass. That may also help ease tensions with antitrust enforcers, as U.S. lawmakers are already calling on regulators to investigate the deal. Microsoft may be able to negotiate a deal with Sony that involves giving the PlayStation platform a smaller commission on microtransaction sales, or some other type of deal that allows both Microsoft and Sony to benefit while also justifying the high price tag of the Activision acquisition.
Ultimately, the ball is in Microsoft's court, and it will be fascinating to see how the company intends to distribute its massive content empire across platforms now that it holds more leverage over its rival and a much larger customer base than it did during the PlayStation 4 era.