Microsoft has told investors, consumers, and regulators that it intends to treat Call of Duty similar to Minecraft and presumably make the $30 billion franchise as widespread as possible--including on competing platforms like Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's Switch.
If the Activision merger should go through, Microsoft has made a public commitment to treat Call of Duty similar to how it has treated Minecraft. The implication is that Call of Duty will be made available practically on every gaming platform on the planet, and not being restricted and closed off on the Xbox ecosystem as the UK's Competition and Markets Authority indicates as a possibility. There's just a few potential issues with this--Minecraft is not Call of Duty, but Microsoft could indeed try to make the mature shooter franchise adhere to Minecraft's overall business model.
In a recent WSJ interview, Phil Spencer echoes Microsoft's sentiment, and says he would personally like to see Call of Duty everywhere--including the Nintendo Switch.
"One of the reasons that people pick different consoles is looking at the exclusive games that are available. If you think about Nintendo, a platform that I love, people think of Zelda and Mario...these are iconic franchises that are available on those platforms."
"For us, we have franchises like Halo and Forza and things that people love, and Sony has their own set of exclusive franchises. So as we're shipping things we'll definitely have new exclusive franchises coming to Xbox, there's no doubt."
"I'm just saying the public commitment similar to when we acquired Minecraft. When we acquired it, it was on 12 platforms and now it's on 22 platforms. Our intent is to treat Call of Duty very similarly to the way we've treated Minecraft and putting it many different places."
"At this point those are franchises that have reached broad, global awareness and I think more people should be able to play them."
Spencer goes on to say that Call of Duty will continue releasing on PlayStation and will probably come to Switch in some way.
"When I think about our plans, I'd love to see it on Switch, I would love to see the game playable on many different screens.
"This franchise will continue to ship on PlayStation natively. It's not a plan that, okay we're going to bait and switch somebody where they have to play on the cloud, or that in 2 or 3 years we're going to pull the games."
What's most interesting about Spencer's statements is that Microsoft would continue shipping Call of Duty on PlayStation as long as it makes sense.
This is a bit of a confusing comment--when wouldn't it make sense to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation? When Sony isn't a market leader? When consoles aren't relevant? Or perhaps if Sony does not sign an amicable contract agreement that Microsoft deems as fair?
Sony has already rejected a multi-year deal that would have guaranteed access to Call of Duty for 3 years after Sony's current deal with Activision ends in 2024. That means Call of Duty would continue releasing on PlayStation until 2027. This contract seems to contradict Spencer's affirmations, however this is apparently not uncommon in the industry as many IP holders will require multi-year deals to be signed with platform holders like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.
"Our intent is that we would continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation as long as that makes sense. As long as...Tech is always at some point in a transition."
Right now Call of Duty is not very much like Minecraft. That's not to say Minecraft is not a mega-success in its own right; the game has sold over 238 million copies worldwide and remains one of the most popular video games ever made.
Even still, Minecraft does not have as many games as Call of Duty; Microsoft does not release a new Minecraft game every year, whereas Activision has done this like clockwork.
As a result of this consistent cadence, Call of Duty has sold 425 million units worldwide.
It's also worth mentioning that Call of Duty is rapidly expanding with its own ecosystem of cross-platform, cross-game products and services as Warzone connects multiple mainline games together. Call of Duty is also coming to mobile in a big way, and by 2023, there will be five major Call of Duty products that are separately monetized across multiple platforms including;
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
- Warzone 2.0
- Call of Duty Mobile
- Call of Duty Warzone Mobile
But maybe, just maybe, Microsoft can fit Call of Duty into Minecraft's mold in the context of cross-platform access. We could see Call of Duty everywhere it hasn't previously been including Switch, and other places it hasn't been for a long time like Mac.