Microsoft Xbox chief Phil Spencer said he intends to continue to ship Call of Duty games on PlayStation “as long as there’s a PlayStation out there to ship to.” The new promise comes weeks after Sony lambasted an “inadequate” offer to extend Call of Duty‘s cross-platform access for three years past the current agreement and as Microsoft faces continuing scrutiny from international governments over its proposed $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard.
“We’re not taking Call of Duty from PlayStation,” Spencer said directly in an interview with the Same Brain podcast. “That’s not our intent.”
Instead, Spencer said Microsoft’s plan for Call of Duty is “similar to what we’ve done with Minecraft,” which has remained a cross-platform staple since Microsoft’s $2.5 billion purchase of developer Mojang in 2014. Since then, Spencer said, “we’ve expanded the places where people can play Minecraft… and it’s been good for the Minecraft community, in my opinion. I want to do the same as we think about where Call of Duty can go over the years.”
Not a “bait and switch”
Spencer got even more specific about Call of Duty‘s fate during a Wall Street Journal Live event last Wednesday (as transcribed by Video Games Chronicle). “This franchise will continue to ship on PlayStation natively—it’s not our plan to bait and switch somebody where they’ve got to play in the cloud or that in two to three years we’re going to pull the game,” he said. “Our intent is that we would continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation as long as that makes sense… tech is always in some form of transition.”
And while Spencer added that he’d love to get a version of Call of Duty on the Switch, he said that the “more interesting” version of the game, from a business perspective, is the one that’s already a hit on mobile platforms. “When we think about three billion people playing video games, there’s only about 200 million households that play on console,” Spencer said. “The vast majority of people who play do so on the device that’s already in their pocket, which is their phone.”
Compared to the potential for that mobile market, the idea of crushing PlayStation in the ongoing console war battle almost seems like an afterthought for Spencer. “We built a deal model [and] as we look at it, nowhere in this deal is PlayStation kind of going down in its share or anything else,” he told Same Brain. “That wasn’t part of our model at all and what we were trying to do.”
Keeping the regulators happy
Shortly after the planned Activision acquisition was announced in January, Spencer said that Microsoft had informed Sony of its “intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation.” Weeks later, Microsoft announced that Call of Duty would remain “available on PlayStation beyond the existing agreement and into the future,” without specifying how far that entailed.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has started “an in-depth Phase 2 investigation” into the proposed Activision purchase, in part over Sony’s concerns that Microsoft could pull the best-selling Call of Duty from PlayStation consoles. Microsoft recently formally responded to those concerns, telling the CMA that its decision “incorrectly relies on self-serving statements by Sony which significantly exaggerate the importance of Call of Duty to it and neglect to account for Sony’s clear ability to competitively respond.”
In the US, the FTC is also taking a look at the proposed deal. In April, a letter from four US Senators urged additional scrutiny into the acquisition over worries of anticompetitive harms as well as a “lack of accountability” for Activision CEO Bobby Kotick over widespread allegations of sexual assault and discrimination at the company.