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Sony imposes "restrictions" on Call of Duty's ability to be in Game Pass, Xbox claims

Sonys current Call of Duty marketing deal “restricts” Activisions big-budget shooter series from appearing in Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft has claimed.

The detail comes from Xboxs full response to last weeks filing by the UKs Competition and Markets Authority, in which the regulator raised its current concerns regarding Microsofts ongoing $68bn takeover attempt of Activision Blizzard.

Sonys existing marketing deal with Call of Duty sees the PlayStation branding used in conjunction with advertising, while players on Sony platforms get early access to in-game content.

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Eurogamer Newscast: Will Microsofts $68bn Activision Blizzard buyout be blocked?

In Microsofts response, in a footnote to the main text, the Xbox maker references Phil Spencers January 20th 2022 tweet which stated that Microsofts intent was “to honour all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard”.

Microsoft here goes on to state that the current agreement with Activision Blizzard and Sony “includes restrictions on the ability of Activision Blizzard to place Call of Duty titles on Game Pass for a number of years”.

What we dont know is the nature of these “restrictions”, and whether they amount to a full block of a Call of Duty games launch on Game Pass, or whether doing so would come at some kind of penalty to Activision Blizzard – such as compensation for users claiming or downloading copies, which it would then pass on to Sony.

We also do not know how long these restrictions might last – its not explicitly said they will continue on past the current end of the deal, which will last for another couple of Call of Duty games yet, or whether existing games will remain unable to join Xbox Game Pass for some additional time in the future.

Clearly, though, Microsoft has decided to include this detail to highlight what it sees as the possibility for CODs future potential inclusion in Game Pass to be a sticking point to the CMAs approval of the takeover bid. One suggestion here is that Microsoft may not be able to place COD games in Game Pass even if it wanted to. It also could be seen to suggest Sony was already exerting the kind of control over which games go into subscriptions that Microsoft has been accused of having itself.

All of this also furthers the ongoing debates about competition in this space which also may impact the deals passing. On the one hand, the CMA is concerned with Microsofts acquisition giving it an unfair advantage in the console market. On the other, Microsoft has countered to say its deal will give players more choice, and that its competition with Sony has driven its rival to adopt its own subscription service.

Regulatory inspection of Microsofts Activision Blizzard takeover is surfacing some interesting details – such as the fact Game Pass earned $2.9bn last financial year. In another particularly eye-opening claim, Microsoft last week said that PlayStations userbase would be “significantly larger” than Xbox even if every COD player ditched Sony.

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