Microsoft’s decision to buy Activision Blizzard has raised questions about what kind of support Sony PlayStation customers can expect in the future. Microsoft’s treatment of Bethesda after buying this studio does not suggest good results for current PlayStation 5 owners. The situation is clearly fluid. At least one franchise – Call of Duty – looks likely to stay on PS5, at least for now.
Microsoft was coy about its plans for a few months after buying Bethesda, but it cleared things up last year by saying games like Elder Scrolls VI would be Xbox and PC only. Previously, some had hoped that only new IPs like Bethesda’s Starfield would be locked on Xbox. It was hoped that series that were traditionally cross-platform would stay that way.
With ZeniMax, Microsoft opted to maintain the contracts it had previously signed, but not make any further cross-platform guarantees. Deathloop and GhostWire – two games in development when MS bought ZeniMax and Sony contracted console exclusives – will remain on PS5 only. Games like Elder Scrolls Online, which launched for multiple platforms, will apparently stay that way. But so far, Microsoft has given no sign of any plans to release new ZeniMax IPs for PS5.
Sony is waiting for assistance
“We expect Microsoft to honor contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are cross-platform,” a Sony spokesperson said. The Wall Street Journal Thursday. Microsoft probably will. It is not in the company’s interest to argue with rival companies over contractual terms when attempting to make high-value acquisitions.
This is where Call of Duty comes in. A tweet from Phil Spencer indicates that the franchise will remain cross-platform and available for PlayStation 5 players, at least for now:
I had some good calls this week with Sony executives. I have confirmed our intention to honor all existing agreements upon the 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 that is not as clear as it could be. Spencer makes two separate statements. 1). MS will honor all existing agreements. 2). Microsoft “wants” to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation 5.
They are not the same things. Announcing that Microsoft will keep pre-existing agreements is the right thing to do, but it’s no surprise to see. The company has already honored these agreements, at least as far as the public knows. Games that have been ordered as PS5 exclusives from ZeniMax will remain so. Sony appears to have signed long-term marketing deals with Activision few years ago. We don’t know how long these agreements last or what they cover.
As for the idea that Microsoft “wants” to keep CoD on the PlayStation 5, Activision isn’t going to suggest dropping support for Sony’s platform just for the sake of it. The question is, what are the factors that could prevent CoD support on future PlayStation systems once existing agreements expire? What is Microsoft expecting from Sony and what is Sony ready to offer in the future?
Reshaping the games industry
ZeniMax and Activision Blizzard are the two big publishers of Microsoft’s new catalog, but the company also owns 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Ninja Theory, Obsidian, Rare, and InExile Entertainment. This means that Microsoft could license 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 them have long been associated with Microsoft, but many are cross-platform.
Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard will significantly change the franchises available on future platforms. What impact this will have on PC gamers is unclear, however.
PC gamers are the indisputable 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 transfer software to it. That seems unlikely to change, regardless of Microsoft’s plans for future software compatibility.
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