Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard brings major game franchises like Call of Duty, Diablo, Overwatch, StarCraft, and Warcraft to the house of Xbox. It’s a coup for Microsoft, which not only grows its number of internal game development studios to 30, but also a major boon for Game Pass, the company’s subscription service that brings subscribers a monthly menu of games for Xbox consoles, mobile devices, and PC.
The Game Pass library will eventually include Activision Blizzard’s games, Microsoft confirmed, but likely not until 2023, when the deal is expected to be complete.
But what does Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard mean for players on other platforms? Will games like Call of Duty and Overwatch become Xbox console exclusives?
Microsoft isn’t saying, for now. Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer, recently promoted from head of Xbox, said in a prepared statement that when his company’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard closes “we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalogue.”
It’s unclear what could limit Microsoft from offering all of Activision Blizzard games through Game Pass, but World of Warcraft, which has its own subscription-based model, could be excluded from Microsoft’s plans.
According to a report from Bloomberg, citing sources, Microsoft plans to continue making “some of Activision’s games” for PlayStation consoles, but will make “some content” exclusive to Xbox. Addressing players of Activision Blizzard games on PlayStation platforms, Spencer said in an interview with Bloomberg, “It’s not our intent to pull communities away from that platform and we remained committed to that.” That report didn’t mention Nintendo’s Switch platform, where Blizzard games like Overwatch and Diablo 3 have been released in recent years.
The approach sounds different from Microsoft’s plan to bring Bethesda Softworks games, like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6, only to Xbox consoles after acquiring parent company ZeniMax Media in 2020. After Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax was announced, Spencer said it would decide on “a case-by-case basis” whether to bring games from Bethesda, id Software, MachineGames, Arkane Studios, and others to third-party platforms, like PlayStation 5 and Switch. Microsoft ultimately decided to keep games like Starfield, due this November, exclusive to Xbox Series X and Windows PC as an incentive to Game Pass subscribers.
Microsoft has continued to support one of its biggest acquisitions to date, Mojang’s Minecraft, on a wide variety of platforms since 2014, when it snapped up the studio and its hit game for $2.5 billion. It could conceivably do the same for future Activision Blizzard releases, in particular Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4, which could launch next year in advance of the acquisition’s closing. Microsoft could also keep its free-to-play, cross-platform Call of Duty game, Warzone, available on all systems, while bringing the annual Call of Duty release exclusively to Xbox and PC.
Of course, Microsoft also envisions its Xbox Cloud Gaming service as another major area of growth. “Through the cloud, we’re extending the Xbox ecosystem and community to millions of new people, including in global markets where traditional PC and console gaming has long been a challenge,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in prepared remarks Tuesday. “And when we look ahead and consider new possibilities, like offering Overwatch or Diablo, via streaming to anyone with a phone as part of Game Pass, you start to understand how exciting this acquisition will be.”