Microsoft has its eye on Washington today, with a new statement detailing its commitment to seemingly anti-monopolistic practices that cover everything from improved Microsoft Store open-ness to the future of Activision Blizzard games on other platforms.
Said statement includes the company's first major commitment to keeping cross-platform Activision Blizzard games (like Call of Duty and Overwatch) available on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch devices. After reaffirming that Microsoft intends to honor existing agreements signed for the next few years, it states that it has "committed to Sony that [it] will also make them available on PlayStation beyond the existing agreement and into the future so that Sony fans can continue to enjoy the games they love."
It notes that it wishes to take similar steps in its relationship with Nintendo.
This news reads as fairly positive for any industry observer worried that Microsoft would try to yank us back into a '90s-era console war that focused on exclusivity and platform supremacy. The idea that Microsoft would make Call of Duty an Xbox-exclusive game is a bit cartoonish, but hey, it's 2022, stranger things have happened.
There's a lot of positive energy in Microsoft's statement that will likely mollify regulators as the Activision Blizzard acquisition moves forward, but shrewd readers will be able to read between the lines and still see how Microsoft might still wring some morally grey advantages out of its promises.
First, it's not hard to conceive how Microsoft could make Call of Duty and look more titles more appealing on its platforms just by being available on Xbox Game Pass. Do you pay $70 to play the game on PlayStation, or do you take advantage of a $14.99 monthly subscription?
Second, "available" feels like a loophole big enough for Overwatch's hamster hero Wrecking Ball to roll his giant ball through. Shipping Call of Duty games on PlayStation seems like a stable proposition, but does Microsoft try to wheedle Game Pass into being available on the platform? How much bonus content would only be available for Xbox players? Existing franchises might remain cross-platform, but do new games only arrive on Xbox platforms?
(These are also cartoonish possibilities but this company did once seriously think about buying Nintendo.)
We should try not to think of Sony as an impoverished loser in this relationship. It's riding high with console market dominance, a host of exclusive studios, and the capability to outmaneuver Microsoft with its relationship to the rest of the Sony empire. What impact those maneuvers have on the rest of the video game market is an entirely different story.
Whatever Microsoft does to make the most of its Activision Blizzard acquisition, it will likely try to avoid a repeat of the 1990s, when the United States Department of Justice successfully sued Microsoft for anti-competitive practices. It's not advisable to assume the worst of Microsoft, but there are many ways to make acquisitions advantageous that fall short of full monopoly.