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FTC: Xbox-exclusive Starfield is “powerful evidence” against Activision deal

The fact that <em>Starfield</em> won't be on PlayStation means Microsoft could conceivably make the same decision for <em>Call of Duty</em>, the FTC argues.

Enlarge / The fact that Starfield won’t be on PlayStation means Microsoft could conceivably make the same decision for Call of Duty, the FTC argues.

For months now, Microsoft has sworn up and down that it has no interest in making Call of Duty games exclusive to the Xbox if and when its proposed $69 billion Activision acquisition is approved. But as the Federal Trade Commission’s request for an injunction stopping that acquisition heads toward opening arguments this week, the federal regulator cites one piece of what it calls “powerful evidence” that it can’t trust Microsoft’s assurances. In short, as the FTC puts it, “Microsoft’s actions following its 2021 acquisition of ZeniMax speak louder than Defendants’ words.”

Longtime readers and game industry watchers may remember that before Microsoft’s ZeniMax purchase was complete, executives from both companies made vague noises suggesting future Bethesda games might not become Xbox exclusives. Once the ink was dry on the final deal, though, Microsoft quickly announced console exclusivity for some future Bethesda titles, a list that would come to include Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI.

Ahead of the Activision deal closing, Microsoft has made much stronger commitments to keep Call of Duty a multi-platform franchise. Taking Call of Duty away from PlayStation would be nonsensical, Microsoft says in a recent legal filing. The franchise is “profitable precisely because [it] generate[s] sales on many different platforms,” and the deal as structured can’t be profitable for Microsoft without those PlayStation Call of Duty revenues, the company writes. Making Call of Duty exclusive would make for “a worse game and enrage the gaming community, because much of the game’s popularity stems from the way it brings together players who use competing consoles,” Microsoft writes.

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