The high-profile battle between Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is being fought tooth and nail in court, with the crux of the dispute centering on Microsoft's $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. However, amidst all of the legal back and forth, the fate of the wildly popular FPS franchise, Call of Duty, and its availability on Sony's PlayStation platform has become a topic of discussion.
On the second day of the trial, Xbox boss Phil Spencer took the stand, addressing this significant question under oath.
Despite previous statements and the swirling rumors about Call of Duty potentially becoming an Xbox exclusive, Spencer''s latest statement clarifies Microsoft's position, it "will continue to ship future versions of Call of Duty on Sony's PlayStation 5."
Q Can you swear under oath, without looking at any future terms, you'll ship all versions of Call of duty on all versions of playstation that will ship in the next 10 years?
That's my goal yes.
— Derek Strickland (@DeekeTweak) June 23, 2023
This assertion aligns with previous communications from Spencer, where he mentioned that Call of Duty would continue to ship to PlayStation "as long as there is a PlayStation to ship to." Sony, too, seems to share this view. An email revealed in court from PlayStation boss Jim Ryan suggested his confidence in the continued presence of Call of Duty on PlayStation, "for many years to come."
And, well, why shouldn't they? Activision Blizzard once asked Microsoft to pay them a larger cut of the revenue to continue putting Call of Duty on the Xbox and Microsoft had no choice but to concede. Over a quarter and, most likely, close to a half of all Call of Duty players are on the PlayStation.
Microsoft might end up owning Activision Blizzard but it's not about to drop half of its business on the fly, especially when it will affect its numbers on the Xbox as well.
Spencer is aware of this, saying "Us pulling Call of Duty from PlayStation, in my view, would create irreparable harm for the Xbox brand."
Spencer's promise to maintain Call of Duty's presence on PlayStation wasn't without a caveat, though. He noted, "As you said, Sony obviously has to allow us to ship the game on their platform." It's a point that underscores the interdependency between game developers and console manufacturers, but it also highlights a potential point of contention between Sony and Microsoft.
Adding to the intrigue is the question of console exclusivity, an issue that has been the center of attention throughout the trial. Previously, Microsoft has taken a fairly broad view on this topic, with Spencer suggesting there'd be no degradation of Call of Duty quality on PlayStation. Releasing a "lower-quality game" on PlayStation would not only tarnish the Xbox and its reputation but also harm the company financially, given PlayStation's popularity. However, it's not just Call of Duty we're talking about here. The Elder Scrolls 6, which isn't coming out until 2028, at the earliest, is likely going to be exclusive to the Xbox Series S/X. MachineGames' Indiana Jones game is already going to be exclusive to the Xbox Series S/X when it comes out and so is Starfield, albeit for a good reason.
So, even if Phil Spencer swears an oath to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, what of Activision Blizzard's innumerable other properties? Not to mention, Spencer didn't mention future Sony consoles.
This omission could suggest an unspoken contingency, leaving room for uncertainty about Call of Duty's fate on potential future iterations of PlayStation consoles - a platform that Microsoft believes will be out by 2028.
As the courtroom battle soldiers on, gamers all over the world are on the edge of their seats, all awaiting the verdict. This trial's outcome could change the landscape of the gaming industry, impacting not only the fate of behemoth companies like Microsoft and Sony but also the future of beloved franchises like Call of Duty.
For now, Spencer's testimony offers some reassurance to the PlayStation gaming community. However, the final decision rests in the hands of the FTC, the judicial system, and ultimately, Sony itself. This saga is far from over, and as the gavel comes down in the days to come.
Will the Xbox boss's pledge win the day, or will the FTC have the final say? Only time will reveal all the answers to these questions.