PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan says a Microsoft offer to keep the Call of Duty franchise on PlayStation for “three years after the current agreement” was “inadequate on many levels, and failed to take account of the impact on our gamers.”
In a statement provided to multiple outlets, including the Financial Times, Ryan said that “we want to guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest quality Call of Duty experience,” even if Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion bid to buy Activision Blizzard is approved. “Microsoft’s proposal undermines this principle,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s statement comes days after Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer told The Verge that his company had signed a January agreement “to guarantee Call of Duty on PlayStation, with feature and content parity, for at least several more years beyond the current Sony contract, an offer that goes well beyond typical gaming industry agreements.” Ryan’s new statement suggests that Spencer’s “several more years” would specifically cover “three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends.”
Sony and Activision’s current agreement is believed to cover the next three Call of Duty releases, including this year’s Modern Warfare 2, according to GamesIndustry.biz. That means a proposed three-year extension of that agreement could take Call of Duty‘s annual PlayStation releases through 2027.
While Ryan said Wednesday that he “hadn’t intended to comment on what I understood to be a private business discussion,” he is speaking out now because he “feel[s] the need to set the record straight because Phil Spencer brought this into the public forum.” Spencer’s recent statements followed a February announcement from Microsoft that “Call of Duty and other popular Activision titles” will be “available on PlayStation beyond the existing agreement and into the future so that Sony fans can continue to enjoy the games they love.”
Trust us or anti-trust us
Sony’s and Microsoft’s dueling statements around Call of Duty access come during a crucial phase of Microsoft’s quest for international regulatory approval of its record-setting proposed acquisition. Last week, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced it was launching a “Phase 2” investigation into the proposed merger, saying the deal “could substantially lessen competition” in the market for console and streaming games.
In a blog post responding to that Phase 2 investigation, Spencer reiterated that Microsoft is “committed to making the same version of Call of Duty available on PlayStation on the same day the game launches elsewhere.” Spencer also stressed that Activision Blizzard games would be available on its Game Pass subscription service and playable “on other platforms via our cloud game streaming technology” (though those platforms would most likely include mobile phones and not PlayStation consoles, where Sony hosts a competing streaming service).
Last month, in public filings with Brazil’s government antitrust regulator, Sony argued that “the inclusion of Activision Blizzard in the Xbox Game Pass catalog would present an ‘inflection point’ in the market.” Call of Duty specifically has “no rivals” in the space, Sony’s filing continued, and the franchise “would be essential to their PlayStation console.”
In its response, Microsoft argued that “it is improbable that a significant number of PlayStation and Nintendo users would migrate to Xbox as a result of a hypothetical exclusivity strategy regarding Activision Blizzard games.”
In an earnings report published last month, Activision Blizzard said that “lower engagement for the Call of Duty franchise” following the release of Vanguard was partly to blame for a year-over-year decrease in its second-quarter revenue and operating income. In that same period, Monthly Active User numbers for the Activision Publishing division—which is almost entirely driven by the Call of Duty franchise these days—shrank by nearly 26 percent to 94 million. That said, the franchise is still worth an estimated $5.2 million in daily revenue, according to one recent report.