Microsoft gives Sony a decade to build a Call of Duty rival

Call of Duty’s popularity has endured, despite the franchise being around for almost 20 years  (Activision Blizzard)
Call of Duty’s popularity has endured, despite the franchise being around for almost 20 years (Activision Blizzard)

In the world of gaming, massive franchises rule the roost. And few among them are as big as Call of Duty.

Despite being around for almost 20 years, the latest iteration of the first-person shooter — 2022’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — raked in $1 billion (£810 million) in its first 10 days since release. This was more than any previous game in the series.

The numbers attest to the franchise’s enduring popularity, even in the face of rivals such as the Battlefield series, and Player Unknown: Battlegrounds (better known as PUBG).

Fast-forward to now and Microsoft could be on the cusp of owning the war franchise as part of its pending deal to acquire gaming giant Activision Blizzard. The move threatens to cut off PlayStation owners from Call of Duty, with Microsoft promising to license the game for use on the best-selling console for 10 years.

Beyond that, it appears it will be up to Sony to create its own rival to the massively popular competitive shooter.

At least that’s what it sounds like from Microsoft’s latest statement to UK regulators who are poised to decide the fate of the mega-deal, with a ruling due on April 26.

The clock is ticking for CoD on PlayStation

In a newly published document, Microsoft has told the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that it believes a decade is long enough for Sony to make its own alternatives to Call of Duty.

“At the Remedies Hearing the CMA asked Microsoft if the 10-year duration is sufficient and whether there would be a ‘cliff edge’ for Sony at the end of this period. The 10- year period is [redacted],” Microsoft wrote.

“Microsoft considers that a period of 10 years is sufficient for Sony, as a leading publisher and console platform, to develop alternatives to CoD.”

Microsoft goes on to explain that the decade-long agreement will extend into the next console-generation, meaning the arrival of the PS6. It adds that it will also “go beyond” that time period, since games downloaded in the final year of the commitment “can continue to be played for the lifetime of that console (and beyond, with backwards compatibility).”

Microsoft says the 10-year commitment is par for the course for licensing agreements agreed in other mergers.

While that makes sense on paper, it conveniently ignores one big problem: Sony doesn’t have a track record of making popular first-person shooters. Despite releasing a murderer’s row of classic titles through its portfolio of studios — including The Last of Us 1 and 2, the Uncharted collection, God of War and its sequel Ragnarok, and the Gran Turismo series, to name a few — a CoD rival is conspicuously absent from the list.

Of course, that could be because CoD’s availability on PlayStation has meant Sony has never had to make an alternative to it.

The Last of Us, a heart-tugging horror epic, is one of Sony’s biggest modern hits (Naughty Dog)
The Last of Us, a heart-tugging horror epic, is one of Sony’s biggest modern hits (Naughty Dog)

Sony admits it can’t build its own CoD

The Japanese company has even admitted that it can’t replicate the long-running game phenomenon.

Responding to regulators, Sony has said that it would be impossible for it to replace CoD if the series was no longer available on PlayStation. It described Call of Duty as “an essential game: a blockbuster, an AAA-type game that has no rival,” in its back-and-forth with Brazilian regulators who ultimately signed off on Microsoft’s deal.

Sony went on to note that the game even influences the type of console people buy, and that its loyal fanbase couldn’t be swayed to embrace a rival “even if a competitor had the budget to develop a similar product”.

Will Sony release a Call of Duty rival?

Protests aside, Sony is working on an orginal multiplayer first-person shooter for the PS5.

The game, reportedly scheduled for release in 2024,  is being developed by Firewalk Studios. The developer has a tonne of creative talent that has honed its skills on online shooters such as Destiny and Apex Legends.

The news aligns with PlayStation’s push to release around 10 live service games by 2026. These are frequently updated with content to keep players coming back for years. Call of Duty: Warzone is a prime example of the format, as is Fortnite.

Sony isn’t afraid of making its own acquisitions either. Notably, it acquired Bungie, the company that created sci-fi hits Halo and Destiny, for a cool $3.6bn (£2.93bn) in 2022.

So, it certainly has the tools at its disposal to make a CoD-style game. Whether or not fans will bite is a whole different matter.