Microsoft’s $68 billion purchase of developer and publisher Activision Blizzard has sent shock waves through the entire video game industry. It’s a flex of financial muscle that’s so outlandish, that it’s almost unbelievable. But here we are, staring at the possibility of one of the highest-selling game franchises of all-time – Call of Duty – becoming an exclusive title for Xbox and PC.
A cynic would say this less-than-subtle approach from Microsoft is about gaining a monopoly over its rivals by simply purchasing the best game developers around. Whereas Sony has a track record of nurturing smaller studios and bringing them under the PlayStation umbrella at a later date – like they did with Marvel’s Spider-Man creators, Insomniac Games – Microsoft has opted for the quick fix that comes with a huge financial buyout. It also bought Minecraft developer Mojang ($2.5bn) in 2014 and Doom-makers Bethesda Softworks ($7.5bn) in 2021.
With so much money involved, it’s clear that Microsoft wants to position Xbox as either the only place to play these top games in the future, or the console where you can play them first. It also means the developers will now focus on the Xbox version of their games first, and rival consoles second – if at all – which almost guarantees the best experience will be on Microsoft machines.
It’s a savvy move and one that Microsoft will hope can sway more people to buy their console. Sony doesn’t have the financial clout to compete with them on this front, so don’t expect the PlayStation creators to make a similar acquisition any time soon.
But while it’s a gut punch to PlayStation owners, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Sony is on the verge of announcing its rival to the Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription service that gives access to hundreds of games for one price. As part of the rumoured three-tiered approach, with different price points, Sony will open up its diverse back-catalogue of games from the early 1990s PS One to now. There is also said to be an upgrade of PlayStation Now, Sony’s Netflix-style gaming service, on the horizon, which again will reach back in time to unearth its retro classics.
PlayStation is doubling down on its virtual reality, too. While Xbox is yet to venture into the realms of VR, Sony is set to launch PSVR 2 around the 2022 festive season. It promises to be a complete upgrade on the current tech, with much sharper visuals and immersive features that could potentially fulfil the promise of a complete VR experience that’s needed to push it into the mainstream.
It’s a fairly obvious point, but PlayStation has also been putting out the more ambitious first-party titles since the console war with Xbox began. It’s one of the main reasons why PS4 outstripped the Xbox One in terms of sales, and why PS5 is currently ahead of Xbox Series X, and, according to industry analysts Ampere, it’s currently outselling the latest Xbox at a ratio of two to one.
History of PlayStation consoles – in pictures:
There’s a glut of exclusive new games lined up for 2022 with God of War Ragnorok, Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 all scheduled to launch on PS5 in the next 12 months.
To circle back on a point above, it’s unlikely that Microsoft will withhold games such as Call of Duty from PlayStation consoles. There’s too much money to be left on the table for Microsoft to pull such a move – especially in the short term. Releasing first on Xbox is the most likely scenario, with other consoles set to wait a few months before getting their hands on it.
However, this now opens the door for Sony to create their own all-conquering first-person shooter in a genre that has stagnated of late. The lack of innovation in Call of Duty has seen fans turned off by the game, and if there’s a genuine alternative that offers something new, PlayStation might be on to a winner.
The only real danger to Sony is if Microsoft suddenly decides to purchase every big-selling developer over the next decade or simply buy Sony and PlayStation too. If you can’t beat them, join them, right?