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Pulling Call of Duty From Steam Was A ‘Failure’


In a new filing from Microsoft detailing the company’s post-trial “findings” and “conclusions” after its recent victory in court against the Federal Trade Commission the Xbox maker revealed that Call of Duty leaving Steam was part of an Activision plan to grow Battle.net. But according to the docs this controversial move was a “resounding failure.”

In 2018, Activision announced that the PC version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 would skip Steam and launch exclusively on Blizzard’s Battle.net service. And for about five years, Activision stuck to this plan, even though it frustrated fans. Then in 2022, Activision reversed course and released Call of Duty Modern Warfare II on Steam. Did it do so because it cared so much about the fans and wanted to do something nice? Nah, it turns out the publisher’s plans to grow Battle.net using Call of Duty flopped, and Activision just gave up after a few years of trying.

The information comes from a July 13 court filing from Microsoft that is part of its ongoing legal battle against the FTC as the government entity tries to stop Microsoft from moving ahead with its plans to buy up Activision Blizzard for $69 billion. In the new doc, Microsoft’s legal team uses two examples to show that a “platform” (which includes consoles, digital stores, and streaming game services) doesn’t need Call of Duty to succeed and that “having access” to the popular FPS series doesn’t guarantee success.

Call of Duty leaving Steam didn’t help anyone

Microsoft characterizes Activision’s 2018 decision to make CoD a Battle.net exclusive on PC as a “resounding failure.” The new filing explains that the reasoning behind the controversial move was to “attract users to, and grow,” Activision Blizzard’s own PC game store and launcher, Battle.net. However, this didn’t work, and Battle.net’s monthly active users remained “relatively flat during the period when it had exclusive access” to Call of Duty. Steam’s monthly active user count only grew larger and larger during that same time period, expanding from 67 million users in 2017 to 132 million in 2021.

The point Microsoft’s legal team is trying to make is that Call of Duty isn’t needed to be successful, and even if a platform has it, it doesn’t mean that platform will see a huge increase in customers. So, according to Microsoft, even if it made Call of Duty an Xbox exclusive, which it continues to say it won’t, it wouldn’t matter because there already exist platforms that have succeeded without CoD. 

A screenshot of the Microsoft court filing.

Screenshot: Kotaku

In that same section of the doc, Xbox’s lawyers point to the Switch as another example of how a platform can succeed despite not having access to Call of Duty. Microsoft’s legal team also suggests that if Activision content became exclusive to Xbox, PlayStation maker Sony could respond in various ways, including lowering prices or buying more third-party studios and publishers.

While all of this might be true, it does ignore the fact that even when CoD was exclusive to Battle.net, it was still available to anyone who owned a PC. That wouldn’t be the case for PlayStation owners if the shooter series became an Xbox exclusive.

If you’re tired of all the legal drama and court docs, I’ve got some sad news: It ain’t over quite yet. On Thursday, the FTC appealed the court’s decision from earlier this week that allowed Microsoft and Activision to proceed with the merger. And meanwhile, the Xbox maker still has to deal with the UK’s CMA, which has yet to approve the deal. This ain’t over yet.

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