Microsoft has confirmed its plan to bring Call of Duty to Xbox Game Pass if it successfully acquires Activision Blizzard, but UK regulators think it could do more harm than good.
Talking about Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard in a blog post (opens in new tab), Xbox boss Phil Spencer clarified the tech giant’s ambitions. He said Microsoft wants to put Activison’s flagship game series on Xbox Game Pass, presenting the move as a win for gamers.
“We intend to make Activision Blizzard’s beloved library of games – including Overwatch, Diablo and Call of Duty – available on Game Pass and grow these gaming communities,” Spencer said. “By delivering even more value to gamers, we look forward to continuing to grow Game Pass, extending its appeal to mobile phones and any connected device.”
Microsoft has committed to bringing “as many Activision Blizzard games as [it could]” for Game Pass on your initial acquisition announcement (opens in new tab). Spencer’s statement confirms the scope of this idea and goes further, suggesting that bringing Activision games into the Game Pass ecosystem will improve player choice.
“Subscription services like Game Pass make games more accessible and help gamers around the world find their next favorite game,” said Spencer. “Game Pass empowers developers to bring more games to more players, not less.”
He also reiterated Microsoft’s commitment “to make the same version of Call of Duty available on PlayStation the same day the game launches elsewhere.” Fans fear Microsoft will make the series exclusive to Xbox consoles, as it did with Starfield after acquiring Bethesda last year.
But Spencer doesn’t specify whether other less commercially important activation games will receive the same cross-platform treatment. While Diablo 4, Overwatch, and other IPs may be made available on Xbox Game Pass, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of them being kept outside of PlayStation consoles.
a hard sell
Call of Duty’s possible move to Game Pass has sparked a lot of excitement among fans of the FPS series. If that happens, subscribers will be able to dive into the mammoth franchise at will and possibly play every new entry in the series at launch, on Game Pass, at no extra cost.
But Spencer’s comments about improving player choice follow a report (opens in new tab) by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – a state body responsible for regulating markets – which raises serious concerns. This suggests that the purchase could be harmful to the industry and consumers.
“The CMA is concerned that having full control over this powerful backlog, especially in light of Microsoft’s already strong position in game consoles, operating systems and cloud infrastructure, could result in Microsoft being harmed by consumers, undermining Sony’s ability to – Microsoft’s closest gaming rival – to compete.”
The merger is particularly worrisome, he said, in light of Microsoft’s impressive reach in the gaming and technology industries. The company already has a large share of the console gaming market with the Xbox Series X | S and Xbox One, a firm grip on the nascent field of game streaming through Xbox Cloud Gaming and dominates Windows 10 and 11 PC operating systems.
This combination of assets gives Microsoft a big advantage over potential rivals — especially in the streaming space. It can stream games to Windows PCs without paying expensive licensing fees, design new games and services using its existing heavyweight studios, and take advantage of the huge player base already locked into the Xbox console ecosystem. He acknowledges that Microsoft has “an unparalleled advantage over current and potential cloud gaming service providers.”
“This could result in greater concentration on cloud gaming services or the market ‘leaning’ to Microsoft and ultimately denying consumers the benefits of competition between new and emerging providers competing to succeed in cloud gaming.” , said the CMA.
Despite Microsoft’s assurances, the regulator also raised concerns about Call of Duty’s Xbox exclusivity. While Microsoft may choose to keep the series cross-platform, it may impose other, more subtle access restrictions on other systems. Microsoft could delay the release of Call of Duty content on PlayStation consoles or impose higher pricing structures for games sold on Sony systems. This will hurt Sony’s profit margins, but it’s also bad news for PlayStation gamers who don’t want to buy into the Xbox ecosystem.
That’s not to mention the other great Activision Blizzard games that Microsoft intends to acquire. Overwatch 2 will be free to play and is scheduled to release October 4 on Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC. While Spencer says it would move to Game Pass, it’s unclear what that would actually mean for an existing cross-platform game.
It may take a while for the deal to be finalized and these issues to be resolved. The CMA will begin a new “Phase 2 in-depth investigation” based on its findings, while regulators in the US and elsewhere have yet to release any assessment, let alone approve the deal.