Call of Duty is one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, and it has been for decades. While the series actually began on PC, Call of Duty found its most major success on console. Both PlayStation and Xbox, at different times in history, have been Call of Duty's 'main platform' with exclusive deals, early content, and extra goodies going to the players. This is all going to change after Microsoft's purchase of Activision-Blizzard, and eventually, Call of Duty will become another Xbox/PC exclusive. In this article, we'll explain why.
Phil Spencer's Comments
When the news broke that Microsoft was to acquire ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Game Studios, Xbox head Phil Spencer talked about future exclusivity vaguely. He did not say that Bethesda games would become Xbox/PC exclusives. In fact, he hinted at the idea that exclusivity wasn't Microsoft's top priority. That it may not happen.
The internet ran wild with all of this, speculating that Bethesda games were just too big, too popular, to restrict to a certain platform. Surely Microsoft would do what they did with Minecraft with ZeniMax. The games would stay the same, except the profits would go to Microsoft at the end of the day.
This didn't happen. Exactly what Phil Spencer said would happen did happen, though, just not in the way the general gaming community expected. ZeniMax games weren't removed from PlayStation. They continued to receive updates and new content alongside other platforms. Entire games, like Deathloop, came to PlayStation, too, because of pre-existing contractual agreements.
In many ways, Microsoft continued (and continues) to support PlayStation as a platform. But eventually, the news would break that future games like Starfield or The Elder Scrolls VI would come to Xbox and PC exclusively. In a decade, ZeniMax and its subsidiaries will be thought of completely as Microsoft property: With each new game that comes out, it won't come to PlayStation, and older ZeniMax games on PlayStation, even if they're updated, will only continue to lose relevance.
Call of Duty is going to get the same treatment as Bethesda games. Phil Spencer has been making the rounds, after the news broke that the company was to acquire Activision-Blizzard, giving interviews saying that exclusivity isn't a guarantee, that Microsoft wants to support all platforms, and even that Microsoft values its relationship with Sony.
All of this is true. But it's true in the sense that all Activision-Blizzard games out now on PlayStation will remain on PlayStation. It means that these games' servers will continue to stay online; it means that these games will get updates and new content just the same as other platforms. It even means that future Activision-Blizzard games may come to PlayStation because of contractual agreements.
But beyond these older games and games coming out in the next year or two as the deal closes and is still fresh and new, Activision-Blizzard games will come exclusively to Xbox and PC, just like The Elder Scrolls VI or Starfield. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II might still come to PlayStation because that's going to be 2022's Call of Duty and the Microsoft purchase won't close until 2023, but in a few years, new Call of Duty games won't be on PlayStation.
Microsoft didn't spend nearly $70B in cash on the largest gaming company acquisition in human history to not bolster their historically weak exclusive catalog, which they've been open about trying to improve for years as they've acquired studio after studio.
The Minecraft/Mojang Comparison
Even if the Bethesda deal did go down as it did for the reasons described above, many still look at Minecraft and Mojang and think Activision-Blizzard could work more like that acquisition than it did the Bethesda acquisition.
This is actually a false comparison, though, because the Mojang purchase worked exactly as the Bethesda purchase did. Microsoft has a very well-defined vision for how gaming companies they acquire will slot into their ecosystem, but it can be hard to see this at a glance.
When Microsoft purchased Mojang, Minecraft was already out on other platforms like PlayStation. So, like all their purchases, Microsoft committed to continuing to support Minecraft on all its current platforms. The difference between Microsoft buying Mojang and Microsoft buying Bethesda is where the value of the studio actually lies.
With Bethesda, it's spread across a bunch of different games, but with Mojang, there's just Minecraft. And not only is there just Minecraft, but there also aren't plans to release sequels to Minecraft and rather to simply update the base game, for free, indefinitely.
So, Microsoft didn't have a Minecraft 2, five or ten years in the future, to plan on making exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem, and with Minecraft already out on other platforms, there was no reason not to bring the game to every platform possible. The same can be said for Minecraft's spin-offs: These aren't full-fledged projects, they're extensions of Minecraft, so a game like Minecraft Dungeons naturally will come to all the platforms Minecraft itself is on.
If Call of Duty is handled exactly like Minecraft, all the games out now won't be changed, and they'll even continue to receive updates and support indefinitely. If there are Call of Duty side projects, like a mobile companion app or a whole new Warzone mode and map, these will likely have PlayStation support.
But entirely new Call of Duty games released after the deal closes and any existing contractual agreements end? These won't come to PlayStation. This is the same philosophy Microsoft has applied to Mojang, but the difference is that Minecraft is the most popular video game of all time and is designed to be supported and updated forever. Call of Duty doesn't work like this, so Microsoft's larger philosophy will be applied to them differently.