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Microsoft says it will bring Call of Duty to Nintendo

(Activision and Nintendo/Washington Post illustration; Activision; Nintendo)

Microsoft has signed a deal to bring the Activision Blizzard-published Call of Duty franchise to the Nintendo Switch for the first time, the company announced Tuesday night, pending approval of its acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The deal guarantees that Microsoft, which is awaiting federal approval of its acquisition of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, would make available the popular first-person shooter series on Nintendo Switch for 10 years. It also announced a ten year deal to keep Call of Duty on the PC game store Steam.

In an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday night, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer did not specify the first year a Call of Duty title would be available on the Nintendo Switch. A future Call of Duty title would likely be the first to arrive on the Switch, though Spencer said the entire existing portfolio would need to be examined to see which games would be brought over to the Switch.

“You can imagine if [the deal] closed on that date, starting to do development work to make that happen would likely take a little bit of time,” Spencer said, referring to the June 2023 date the merger is supposed to close, if it is not blocked by regulators. “Once we get into the rhythm of this, our plan would be that when [a Call of Duty game] launches on PlayStation, Xbox and PC, that it would also be available on Nintendo at the same time.”

Spencer said Activision Blizzard has been made aware of the agreement and is in a planning phase. Spencer pointed to Microsoft-owned titles like “Minecraft” making their way to the Switch as examples of how the company has experience bringing games to different platforms.

“We would do this with Minecraft as well, where we would do specific work to make the game run well on Nintendo Switch and their silicon and support their platform completely,” Spencer said. “We do the same when we ship on PlayStation 5.”

When asked if the Switch had enough technical specifications to run Call of Duty smoothly, Spencer said, "Minecraft and Call of Duty are different games. But from how you get games onto Nintendo, how you run a development team that is targeting multiple platforms, that’s experience we have.”

Spencer said the agreement between Nintendo and Microsoft specifies 10 years, because that length of time will be comforting to gamers, and it’s likely the companies will continue working together.

“It’s just about picking an expiration date, not with the goal of ever expiring, but just like, the legalese of a document has to say this goes through some date,” Spencer said. “But once we start working with a platform, just like we have with with ‘Minecraft,’ both on PlayStation and on on Nintendo’s platform, our goal would be to continue to support those customers.”

The move comes as Microsoft awaits the Federal Trade Commission’s regulatory scrutiny over its proposed acquisition, which has faced a significant challenge from Sony, the rival maker of the PlayStation console that believes the potential of Call of Duty becoming exclusive to Microsoft platforms would give the company an unfair advantage in the video game market. Sony has not accepted a deal with Microsoft that would keep Call of Duty on PlayStation for 10 years. Sony declined to comment.

The announcement comes shortly before a Dec. 8 closed meeting of the FTC. While the FTC declined to comment on whether it is meeting with Microsoft this week, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft plans to meet with FTC Chair Lina Khan on Wednesday to persuade her to approve the deal. When asked if there was any significance to the announcement coming relative to the FTC meeting, Spencer responded, “The things I’ve heard and seen written in the press is maybe some intent on our side when we make public commitments to Sony, that our private commitments are untenable or don’t work for partners, or for Sony specifically.”

He added that he wanted to show major industry partners like Nintendo and Valve that agreements can be reached, even if Sony did not accept. “Maybe some aura gets put around our words that maybe they’re not genuine, that when you have a company like Nintendo or a company like Valve believing in the commitment and reaching agreement with Nintendo on something like this, we think it’s an important point to have out in the market.”

One common line of inquiry among international regulators evaluating the acquisition has been whether Call of Duty, one of Activision Blizzard’s most successful franchises, will be made unavailable to PlayStation users. Microsoft has repeatedly assured regulators that the series would stay on all current platforms — which currently includes Xbox, PlayStation and PC — and said it would be financially imprudent to discontinue publishing for PlayStation.

Activision Blizzard and Nintendo did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Cat Zakrzewski and Jonathan Lee contributed to this report.

correction

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated this would be the first time the Call of Duty franchise would be made available to Nintendo. It is the first time it would be available on the Nintendo Switch.

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