Microsoft has signed an agreement to take Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty franchise to Nintendo, the company announced today, pending the closing of its acquisition of the Call of Duty maker.
It’s a 10-year deal that means that Call of Duty will spread beyond the PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms to Nintendo, so long as federal regulators approve Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. And Microsoft said that the deal would keep Call of Duty on the PC on Steam for a decade as well.
Microsoft’s argument in the antitrust probe is that it has a smaller market share in games than either Sony or Tencent, and its pledge to keep Activision Blizzard’s largest property, Call of Duty, on multiple platforms for a decade shows its good faith in preserving — not eliminating — competition in games.
But my guess is that this means that Nintendo would be able to take Call of Duty over to a platform of its choosing during the 10-year period, meaning that Call of Duty would run not only on the Switch, which has slimmed-down 3D graphics compared to other platforms, but also on the Switch’s successor.
It could take a while to actually make a new version of Call of Duty that runs on the Switch, and Nintendo would have time to launch new hardware in the meantime. The Switch debuted way back in 2017, but it has sold more units than Microsoft and Sony’s latest machines.
Phil Spencer, head of games at Microsoft, told the Washington Post that the company has already taken titles like Minecraft to the Switch. Regulators have been concerned that Microsoft’s motivation in buying Activision Blizzard is to make its games exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms. We’ll be on the lookout for more details as they emerge.
Meanwhile, stories suggest that the Federal Trade Commission is deadlocked 2-2 on whether to approve the merger or challenge it. And in that kind of situation, there is pressure to get Microsoft to make concessions so the deal can be approved. The Nintendo deal is definitely such a concession.
When asked if the Switch had enough technical specifications to run Call of Duty smoothly, Spencer told the Washington Post, “Minecraft and Call of Duty are different games. But from how you get games onto Nintendo, how you run a development team that is targeting multiple platforms, that’s experience we have.”
Sony has not accepted a deal with Microsoft that would keep Call of Duty on PlaysStation for a decade.
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