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Where does PlayStation fit into Microsoft’s Activision purchase?

A small selection of the characters that may not be appearing on PlayStation in the long term.
Enlarge / A small selection of the characters that may not be appearing on PlayStation in the long term.

In the wake of Microsoft’s announcement that it intends to acquire Activision, it has been fun to gawk at the big numbers and speculate about the fate of rich CEOs, among other business implications. But for many PlayStation owners, there’s only one question that matters: will I need to buy an Xbox or PC to continue playing Activision franchises in the future?

Microsoft’s acquisition, which could be finalized as early as July 1, could threaten PlayStation owners’ access to everything from Diablo and Overwatch to Spyro and Tony Hawk. Even Crash Bandicoot, which used to be synonymous with the PlayStation brand, would be a Microsoft property after the deal closes.

And then there’s Call of Duty, the annual first-person shooter mega-franchise that’s particularly hard to imagine not being a part of the PlayStation universe anymore. Call of Duty games continue to be some of the PlayStation’s bestsellers year after year, so a Microsoft acquisition could leave a big gap in the PlayStation catalog. Sony also declared that PlayStation was “the new home of Call of Dutyback in 2015, hyping up early access to betas and map packs for PlayStation owners, and Call of Duty‘s official esports home shifted over to PlayStation that same year.

What’s the word?

Officially, both Microsoft and Activision are trying to downplay the potential of any Activision franchises leaving the PlayStation family. As part of its announcement press release, Microsoft said that “Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms, and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward.” That’s a nice sentiment, but “continue to support those communities” is a pretty broad statement that could cover a wide range of actual exclusivity decisions.

Bloomberg also cites “a person familiar with the company’s thinking” in reporting that “Microsoft plans to keep making some of Activision’s games for PlayStation consoles but will also keep some content exclusive to Xbox.” How big each of those baskets of “some content” end up being is still anyone’s guess, of course.

In an official FAQ sent to Activision employees (and filed with the SEC), the company said that it “will honor all existing commitments post close. As with Microsoft’s acquisition of Minecraft, we have no intent to remove any content from platforms where it exists today.” That lines up closely with a statement Sony provided to The Wall Street Journal saying, “We expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform.”

This might sound pretty encouraging for PlayStation owners, but the specific wording is important here. Honoring “existing commitments” and “contractual obligations,” for instance, only covers games that have already been promised as PlayStation releases, either publicly or privately. That could include titles like the next Call of Duty release and even the delayed Overwatch 2, for instance, but anything much past those titles probably isn’t covered by statements like these.

No one really expects any of these Microsoft-owned Bethesda characters to have much of a presence on PlayStation going forward.
Enlarge / No one really expects any of these Microsoft-owned Bethesda characters to have much of a presence on PlayStation going forward.

Bethesda faced a similar situation following its Microsoft acquisition, which came after it had promised Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo as PlayStation exclusives. While the new Microsoft subsidiary is honoring those deals, major upcoming Bethesda titles like Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield will not appear on PlayStation consoles.

Contracts aside, Microsoft’s statement about not intending to “remove any content from platforms where it exists today” suggests that live-service games like Call of Duty: Warzone could continue to be supported on PlayStation. There’s also recent precedent for this sort of situation in Elder Scrolls Online, which continues to operate on PS4 and even launched a new PS5 version after Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition.

Taken together, the statements we have so far could feasibly describe a sort of split fate for the Call of Duty franchise. Microsoft might allow a free-to-play, cross-console version (i.e., Warzone) to exist alongside a “premium” Xbox exclusive that’s used to attract players to Game Pass and Xbox hardware. Again, the split fates of the multiplatform Elder Scrolls Online and the Xbox-exclusive Elder Scrolls VI could point the way.

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