Microsoft has signed a 10-year deal to bring Call of Duty, one of the world’s most popular gaming franchises, to Nintendo’s platforms for the first time in almost a decade, following its planned $75bn acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
The announcement came as the US technology giant tries to address antitrust concerns to pull off the games industry’s biggest deal. The takeover faces in-depth probes in the UK and EU, while in the US, the Federal Trade Commission is reportedly nearing a decision on the tie-up.
Rival Sony has led industry opposition to the takeover, arguing that any limitation on Call of Duty’s availability on PlayStation would harm the console’s sales.
In an attempt to win over regulators, Microsoft has repeatedly argued Call of Duty, the blockbuster game that has brought in $30bn in lifetime sales for Activision, will continue to be available on other companies’ game consoles after the deal, rather than being turned into an exclusive title on Microsoft’s Xbox.
“Microsoft is committed to helping bring more games to more people however they choose to play,” Xbox boss Phil Spencer said in a post on Twitter on Wednesday.
Spencer also said Microsoft was committed to offering the popular series on Valve’s Steam game distribution platform at the same time as it is released on Xbox.
“Any day Sony wants to sit down and talk, we’ll be happy to hammer out a 10-year deal for PlayStation as well,” he said.
Sony has told regulators that Call of Duty is so popular that it can influence which console consumers choose to buy, potentially disadvantaging its PlayStation 5 if Microsoft opted to bundle the title with its Xbox.
In September, Jim Ryan, chief executive of Sony’s gaming business, dismissed as “inadequate on many levels” a previous offer from Microsoft to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation for three years after the companies’ current agreement ends.
Analysts said Microsoft had taken a big step towards winning over regulators but that it may still need to go further, for instance by offering new assurances related to Call of Duty’s inclusion in its Game Pass subscription service.
“The major concession here is the length of time of these deals rather than Call of Duty being multi-platform,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, research director at Ampere Analysis.
Striking a deal with Nintendo would have been relatively “easy”, said Harding-Rolls, as the game has been absent from the Japanese company’s platforms for several years, therefore offering “upside for both companies” from its return.
“A Sony deal is more complex,” he added. “My view is that there will need to be further concessions before a deal can be done with both Sony and these other bodies.”