Will Call of Duty become an Xbox exclusive?

(Pocket-lint) – It would be an understatement to suggest the games world was shocked by the announcement that Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard. So many questions popped up soon after the $68.7 billion deal was made public.

Will the sale put paid to the toxic workplace culture the third-party publisher is accused of? Is it wise to consolidate the games making industry, resulting in a handful of major publishers? And, perhaps most commonly, does it mean that Activision and Blizzard games will become Xbox exclusives?

We’ll let others answer and speculate on the first two. Let’s just say we very much hope that the new Activision Blizzard will become a better, friendlier place to work for all under Xbox stewardship.

But, as for PlayStation console owners, are they right to be worried? Here are our thoughts.

What’s happened?

Xbox announced on Tuesday 18 January 2022 that it has agreed to purchase the largest and one of the oldest third-party games publishers, Activision Blizzard, in a deal worth $68.7 billion (around £50 billion).

Not expected to be finalised until June 2023, the deal is the biggest yet in Microsoft’s history and will result in Activision Blizzard and all of its development arms becoming part of Xbox Game Studios and reporting to Xbox chief, Phil Spencer.

It might not be ratified, of course. Although a US company remaining in the hands of a US company, rather than acquired by the Japanese Sony, say, could be enough for the government in the States to rubberstamp it.

If successful, it will mean – at the very least – Activision and Blizzard games, including the Call of Duty back catalogue, will be added to Xbox Game Pass. As Spencer wrote in his announcement blog: “Upon close, we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalogue.”

That invariably means day one releases of future titles – including COD.

Does that mean Call of Duty and other Activision Blizzard games will be Xbox exclusives?

Here’s the tricky part. We don’t know for sure yet, but Spencer does hint that there are plans for some of the games to continue on rival platforms – including PlayStation 4 and PS5: “Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward,” he added.

Whether that means Call of Duty: Warzone on PlayStation will continue to be supported after the acquisition, or if new releases will be available on the rival consoles to is yet to be determined. However, it is our belief that both will be the case.

COD is a billion dollar franchise and a vast amount of its revenue comes from PlayStation owners. Considering the staggering amounts of money Microsoft is paying for the publisher, it will surely want to recoup as much of it back as quickly as possible. And, the upswing in Xbox sales or Game Pass membership cannot match the amount lost from ditching PlayStation game sales and in-game purchases. In the short term, at least.

Yes, Xbox Game Studios has a track record in making big name acquisitions exclusive – Bethesda‘s forthcoming Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 spring to mind – but it also has a track record of maintaining cross-platform availability on another huge game series in the form of Minecraft.

For us, we believe that model could apply to Call of Duty: Warzone, while future one-off COD games could continue to be released for PlayStation 5 as full-price games. The benefit to Xbox there would be that it’ll still be more attractive for owners of its consoles and Windows PCs as it’ll come say day but at no extra cost with an Xbox Game Pass subscription.

As for other Activision Blizzard games – all bets are off.

What’s the real reason behind the Activision Blizzard buyout?

Beyond consoles and rivalries, we believe that the real beneficiery of the buyout will be Xbox’s Cloud Gaming platform.

Microsoft has already confirmed plans to offer gaming in the home without the need for a console or PC, with potential Xbox dongle or smart TV app plans. But, to make the service more attractive than simply convenience it needs the biggest games to be available to subscribers. Activision Blizzard’s lineup is a major stepping stone in making Cloud Gaming more attractive to players in the home, rather than just mobile.

Perhaps, therefore, those who should be most worried about the deal and exclusivity are Stadia, Luna and GeForce Now gamers. That’s clearly Xbox’s future battleground, its plan beyond the humble console, and in buying Activision Blizzard it has already activated the nuclear option.

Writing by Rik Henderson.

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