Xbox boss responds, as Microsoft and Sony row over Activision Blizzard deal intensifies
As the spat intensifies between Sony and Microsoft over the latter’s impending Activision Blizzard buyout, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has given his thoughts on the matter to US TV.
Spencer appeared on CNBC overnight and was questioned over Sony’s recent comments on the deal – including pushback from PlayStation boss Jim Ryan, who previously branded Microsoft’s reassurances around the future of Call of Duty as “inadequate”.
When asked whether Microsoft was prepared to go further than its recently-stated pledge – to keep COD on PlayStation for several more years – and perhaps promise it would remain on PlayStation in perpetuity, Spencer said his expectation was that Xbox would “continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation and other places”.
Here’s the full quote:
“I can’t talk a ton about where we are in regulatory [processes] just because of the mechanism that that is,” Spencer told CNBC. “I’ve set out there publicly to our fans and our customers – which is where our strongest commitment is – that our expectation is we’ll continue to ship Call of Duty on PlayStation and other places where people see [it], and hopefully expand the places people are playing all of our games.
“That’s been our goal. We put the player at the centre and through technologies like cloud, shipping day and date on PC, our expectation is the games we’re building will be played by more players going forward. That’s our goal with all the games we’re playing today.”
Spencer was also questioned on another of Sony’s concerns – that Microsoft, even while publishing COD on PlayStation, would include COD in Game Pass, leaving customers with a choice of paying $70 on PlayStation or getting access as part of their Xbox subscription.
The Xbox boss responded by saying that rather than stifling competition, the growth of Game Pass was the product of his company’s attempts to compete with Sony.
“When I look at something like Game Pass specifically, I think it’s the output of competition in our market,” Spencer replied. “We sat back as Microsoft and Xbox and we thought ‘how can we innovate and create value… to players?’ And we came up with a new model for customers building out their library of games, and gamers love it. I think that’s what competition is about.
“Competition is about driving competitors to innovate, driving competitors to do new things like cloud, like subscriptions, like building new intellectual property. And everything we’ve been focused on is how do we compete effectively, how do we deliver more value to our customers.”
On the matter of exclusivity, Spencer noted that the practice was commonplace in the video games industry, and had been for years, while Xbox was also making its games available via PC and cloud.
“Exclusivity of titles has been something which has just been a backbone of our industry for an awfully long time,” Spencer said. “We made a move a few years ago that when we ship our games we’ll ship them on console and PC. We obviously make them available to almost anybodye with a web browser today – you can go to xbox.com/play and play our games via the cloud. We’re about giving more access to our games to players going forward. That’s our goal.
“So when we think about exclusivity for us, we’re going to have exclusive titles on Xbox – we do today, it’s part of our platform to drive affinity for what we do – but we want those games to end up being played by more players than they’ve ever been played before, and we build out the technology and innovation to make that possible.”
Microsoft and Sony have traded a series of very public statements over the past few weeks, as Microsoft’s attempt to buy Activision Blizzard passes into a new and more detailed phase of scrutiny from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulator.
Despite Microsoft assurances, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan called Xbox’s pledges as “inadequate on many levels”. Xbox has also hit back at Sony’s complaints at exclusivity, and claimed PlayStation pays developers to keep projects from Game Pass.
Just yesterday, Sony said it “welcomes” the CMA’s decision to move forward with a more detailed investigation, and that it would “guarantee PlayStation gamers continue to have the highest quality gaming experience”.
Giving Microsoft control over Call of Duty would have “major negative implications”, it claimed. The CMA’s investigation, Sony continued, would therefore “focus on protecting gamers”.
Within minutes, Microsoft hit back with an unusually blunt response: “It makes zero business sense for Microsoft to remove Call of Duty from PlayStation given its market leading console position.”
The CMA is now expected to take several months before making its final decision. In the meantime, the war of words will likely continue.