Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is getting messy. Multiple trading and anti-competition bodies from around the world have been grilling the companies to ensure there is no major risk of an industry monopoly. I’m of the opinion that this whole deal is a terrible idea, even if it results in the revival of our fan favourite franchises. But it also feels like a deal too far, one of such magnitude that it can only lead to bad things later down the line. The acquisition has some rough roads ahead, no matter how you slice it.
A central part of the conversation has been where exactly the deal will leave Call of Duty, and how making it exclusive to Xbox and PC will rid Sony of a title it has long considered a flagship. Activision Blizzard owns dozens of massive properties, but none are on the same level as this blockbuster shooter. So, as expected, it has become a sticking point in whether the deal eventually goes through or not. Microsoft has continually assured that it won’t make it exclusive for a long time, or possibly ever, while a number of potential deals have been going on behind closed doors that are now coming to light. Like I said, it’s pretty messy, and one harsh truth has surfaced that I really can’t deny – Battlefield simply isn’t on Call of Duty’s level.
While the deal has already been passed in some territories, many are still investigating, and this week saw Sony submit its arguments against the potential merger. There’s plenty of tea being spilt across these pages, including how its first-party portfolio has outpaced Xbox for decades now, while also admitting that the console giant commands a bigger presence in the wider market it will likely never eclipse. One of the most unexpected moves from the Sony lawyers was a savage dunk on Battlefield, one that champions Call of Duty and puts the facts straight. No matter how hard it tries, EA will never reach its height.
"Other publishers do not have the resources or expertise to match its success. To give a concrete example, Electronic Arts (one of the largest third party developers after Activision) has tried for many years to produce a rival to Call of Duty with its Battlefield series." That’s a savage quote, and the never one is even savage(er): "Despite the similarities between Call of Duty and Battlefield and despite EA's track record in developing other successful triple-A franchises (such as FIFA, Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and Star Wars: Battlefront)—the Battlefield franchise cannot keep up. As of August 2021, more than 400 million Call of Duty games had been sold, while Battlefield had sold just 88.7 million copies" Ooooh Sony you cheeky little bitch, telling it like it is. Gonna put Microsoft in the burn book at this rate.
The thing is, Sony is totally right. Ever since the release of Battlefield 3, EA and DICE have deliberately positioned it as a genre rival to Call of Duty, whether it be through its game modes, marketing, or overall vibe and tone. It pursued explosive campaign experiences and smaller lobbies, all while trying to balance it with the large scale vehicular warfare it has long been known for. This strategy has never worked, even as Battlefield takes a larger piece of the mainstream pie. Battlefield requires more skill, is more specialist in its mechanics, and doesn’t have the same pick-up-and-play appeal as its closest rival. Microsoft trying to paint it with the same brush as Call of Duty just doesn’t fly, and Sony is right to call that out.
Microsoft appears to believe that taking Call of Duty away from PlayStation in any sense will still leave them with Battlefield and similar competitors, deeming it a suitable replacement in exchange for exclusivity. That is complete rubbish, and Call of Duty will likely always be the king of the genre through name recognition alone. Alongside the likes of FIFA and Madden, it is one of the few games casual consumers pick up each and every year, because they all know what the experience will offer and that – on some level – they will leave satisfied. 2042 proved this wasn’t the case with Battlefield, since nobody bought it after it was delayed and crashed out of the gates. EA has admitted its failure too, while Modern Warfare 2 is far too busy setting records for the franchise. It’s king, whether we like to admit it or not.
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