Yesterday, the console wars got a little heated, and not in the comments section, but at the highest levels. As part of Microsoft’s quest to prove that buying Activision Blizzard and gaining ownership of a megafranchise like Call of Duty is not anti-competitive, Phil Spencer offered the information that he signed a deal with PlayStation that COD would appear on the platform for “several more years” past the current deal.
Now, Sony’s Jim Ryan is expressing his displeasure both with Spencer talking about the deal at all, and about its terms, in a very public way. Here’s the statement he gave to GamesIndustry.biz, which describes the deal as “inadequate on many levels”:
“I hadn’t intended to comment on what I understood to be a private business discussion, but I feel the need to set the record straight because Phil Spencer brought this into the public forum.”
“Microsoft has only offered for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends. After almost 20 years of Call of Duty on PlayStation, their proposal was inadequate on many levels and failed to take account of the impact on our gamers. We want to guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest quality Call of Duty experience, and Microsoft’s proposal undermines this principle.”
As I had previously wondered what “several” meant when Spencer said it, that did in fact mean just “three,” a specific number that implies some sort of end date where Microsoft could either take Call of Duty away or force Sony to make a new deal for potentially a lot of money.
I am having trouble sympathizing with either side in this increasingly ridiculous scenario, as I find both sets of arguments disingenuous and hypocritical.
On Microsoft’s side, it is hard to take them at their word that this deal will leave Call of Duty intact on PlayStation, given that we are already seeing the fruit of their other high profile studio purchases producing games that are very much not headed to PlayStation. Microsoft can say things like they just want people to play games “more places, not less” but that’s a line they only pull out for an IP when facing regulatory investigation, and one that really just means they want everyone to subscribe to Game Pass on whatever your favorite game-playing device is.
But on Sony’s side, it’s also hard to take Ryan’s complaints about this seriously, given that Sony has built its entire gaming empire on the back of exclusive offerings, and to this day they are still doing deals with publishers to actively keep big games like Final Fantasy off Xbox for as long as humanly possible, if not forever. I also take issue with the arguments being made against the Microsoft deal being mostly based around protecting Sony’s dominance in the console space, especially that we are entering our second generation of PlayStation outselling Xbox almost 2:1. And explain to me the grand success of Nintendo, the third player in all this that hasn’t had a new Call of Duty game on its console in eons, yet it’s doing just fine.
All of this is pretty lame. I do not relish the idea of a megacorp being so big it can purchase half of all key gaming IPs in existence, yet Sony’s counter-arguments here sound increasingly whiny and illogical. Everyone is being disingenuous about exclusivity here, as Sony and Microsoft have been doing it for ages, and too much weight is being given to Call of Duty, a series that just released one of its worst games in ages and though it remains a top seller, faces loads of competition from first and third party games each and every year. And again, rivals like Nintendo are doing just fine without it through the strength of their own games. This is, and continues to be, nonsense, though ultimately I do not see anything stopping this MS deal from going through.