Microsoft’s decision to buy Activision Blizzard has raised questions regarding what kind of support Sony PlayStation customers can expect in the future. Microsoft’s treatment of Bethesda after it bought that studio doesn’t suggest great outcomes for current PlayStation 5 owners. The situation is clearly in flux. At least one franchise — Call of Duty — seems likely to remain on PS5, at least for now.
Microsoft played coy regarding its plans for some months after it bought Bethesda, but it clarified things last year when it declared that games like the Elder Scrolls VI would be Xbox and PC-only. Previously, some had hoped that only new IPs like Bethesda’s Starfield would be locked to Xbox. It was hoped that series that had traditionally been cross-platform would stay that way.
With ZeniMax, Microsoft chose to uphold contracts it had previously signed, but not to make further cross-platform guarantees. Deathloop and GhostWire — two games in development when MS bought ZeniMax and that Sony contracted as console exclusives — will remain PS5-only. Games like the Elder Scrolls Online, which launched for multiple platforms, will apparently stay that way. But thus far, Microsoft has given no sign that it intends to launch new ZeniMax IPs for PS5.
Sony Expects Support
“We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform,” a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Microsoft probably will. It’s not in the company’s best interests to pick fights with rival companies over contract terms when it’s trying to close high-value acquisitions.
This is where Call of Duty comes in. A tweet from Phil Spencer indicates the franchise will remain multiplatform and available to PlayStation 5 gamers, at least for now:
Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony. 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.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) January 20, 2022
But even this is not as clear as it might be. Spencer makes two separate statements. 1). MS will honor all existing agreements. 2). Microsoft “desires” to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation 5.
These are not the same thing. Announcing that Microsoft will keep pre-existing agreements is the right thing to do, but it isn’t surprising to see. The company has been keeping those agreements already, at least as far as the public knows. Games that were commissioned as PS5 exclusives at ZeniMax will stay that way. Sony appears to have signed some long-term marketing agreements with Activision a few years back. We don’t know how long those agreements run for or what they cover.
As for the idea that Microsoft “desires” to keep CoD on the PlayStation 5, Activision isn’t going to suggest dropping support for Sony’s platform just for fun. The question is, what are the factors that might lead to CoD not being supported on future PlayStation systems once existing agreements run out? What does Microsoft want from Sony and what is Sony willing to offer in the future?
Reshaping the Games Industry
ZeniMax and Activision Blizzard are the two large publishers in Microsoft’s new back catalog, but the company also owns 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Ninja Theory, Obsidian, Rare, and InExile Entertainment. This means Microsoft could authorize a Fallout title jointly developed by Obsidian and Bethesda. But it also means that Microsoft now commands the future of a number of major gaming franchises, including Overwatch, Diablo, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Fallout, Gears of War, and Wolfenstein. Some of these have long been associated with Microsoft, but many have been cross-platform.
Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard will meaningfully change which franchises are available on future platforms. The impact this will have on PC gamers, however, is unclear.
PC gamers are the arguable beneficiaries of Sony and Microsoft’s mutual desire to claim cross-platform support. Both companies view the PC as a less direct competitor and are more willing to port software to it. That seems unlikely to change regardless of what Microsoft’s plans are for future software compatibility.