Deja Vu All Over Again: Microsoft, Sony Making Vague Statements About Exclusivity In Activision Titles
from the ironic-surprised-face dept
And here we go again. When Microsoft acquired Zenimax/Bethesda last year, the first question that leapt to most people’s minds was whether or not Microsoft would wall off long-running franchises from Bethesda with exclusivity to Xbox and/or PC platforms. Those looking for answers were surely initially confused by conflicting statements from both sides of the deal, which was then “clarified” later by Microsoft execs saying that titles would be “first/better on Microsoft platforms” but not exclusive. That was then clarified further by Microsoft’s actual actions, which was to announce that the next Elder Scrolls game would indeed be a PC/Xbox exclusive.
Well, as we were just discussing, Microsoft is finalizing its biggest ever acquisition into the game publishing market with a purchase of Activision Blizzard and King Digital Entertainment, and all the same questions immediately leapt to everyone’s mind. And, because past is prologue, the players in this deal and those impacted by it are churning out vague, unclear statements on what this means for exclusivity for franchises from those studios.
We’ll start with what Sony said in comments to The Wall Street journal.
“We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform,” a Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal today. Read one way, it seems like confirmation that the owner of PlayStation thinks nothing will change. Read another, it means that existing Activision games will remain multiplatform, but doesn’t provide any clarity on what might happen to future projects that haven’t even been announced yet.
Indeed. And, frankly, Sony can expect anything it likes, but Microsoft probably didn’t spend $69 billion on these studios without its own plans in place. Whether that includes exclusivity… who knows? But the company has its plans and Sony’s expectations probably don’t factor into them all that much.
Then came the public comments by Xbox’s Phil Spencer. Spencer was one of the Microsoft folks commenting publicly about the Zenimax acquisition, vaguely saying that Microsoft could recoup its $7.5 billion investment even by excluding non-Microsoft platforms from future games, but that, hey, maybe it wouldn’t go that route. Here he is commenting on his talks with Sony.
Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony. I confirmed our intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation. Sony is an important part of our industry, and we value our relationship.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) January 20, 2022
Now the Twitter reaction to that was all sunshine and rainbows as everyone took it to mean there would be no exclusivity deals for CoD games. But go read that tweet again, because that isn’t what it says at all. There are a million ways to read that tweet, including: we’ll honor existing agreements for existing games by keeping them on PlayStation. Read that way, the tweet says virtually nothing about new or upcoming games. Nor anything about other Activision or Blizzard franchises. Also, there are a bunch of non-committal words sprinkled in there. Intent? I intended on losing weight after the new year. I very much did not. See how that works?
It’s all very unclear, which is annoying. Microsoft knows what it wants to do and the fact that they aren’t making definitive statements tells you this is probably going to follow the Bethesda track. Not everything will be exclusive, but some franchises certainly will.
According to Bloomberg’s report, “Microsoft plans to keep making some of Activision’s games for PlayStation consoles but will also keep some content exclusive to Xbox.” That could mean that Call of Duty, consistently the best-selling game every year, will remain multiplatform. Or it could mean that nearly every new Activision Blizzard game except for its free-to-play battle royale, Warzone, won’t be coming to PS5.
While industry consolidation doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, this is and always has been the major concern in the gaming industry. When the makers of the platform also make the games you play on them, you’re at the mercy of corporate interests as to whether you’ll have access to them or not.
And whatever you think of any of this, that simply isn’t how you continue to grow an exploding industry.