Call of Duty’s latest battle is between Microsoft and Sony

Microsoft has been working to gain approval from antitrust regulators in the US, Europe and elsewhere to complete its agreement to acquire the video game giant.

Hunting your enemies on the bustling streets of Amsterdam, along the US-Mexico border or in a Middle Eastern fishing village is just part of the intense action in the latest Call of Duty video game.

The Friday release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 continues a nearly two-decade run for California-based Activision Blizzard’s wildly popular military shooter franchise. New installments of the game can rival Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters in how much they earn over their opening weekend.

But the battle takes place off-screen this time as well. Call of Duty is at the center of a business tug-of-war between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation on Microsoft’s pending purchase of Activision Blizzard for $69 billion.

“Microsoft would take full ownership of one of the most valuable franchises in console gaming,” said Joost van Dreunen, a games business lecturer at New York Stern School of Business at the university. “And of course, Sony want to or dislike that, because it costs them business.”

Microsoft has worked to gain approval from antitrust regulators in the US, Europe and elsewhere to complete its January deal to acquire the video game giant. But it’s been followed around the world by objections from Sony, which fears losing access to what it describes as a “must-have” game title.

Among those listening to Sony’s concerns are the UK’s antitrust regulators Who last month, their investigation escalated into whether Microsoft could make Duty and other titles exclusive to its Xbox platform or “otherwise degrade its rivals’ access” by delaying releases or imposing license price increases.

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“These titles require thousands of game developers and several years to complete, and there are very few other games of comparable caliber or popularity,” said a Sept. report of the British Competition and Markets Authority.

At the studios of Infinity Ward in Southern California, the division of Activision Blizzard responsible for creating the new game, the battle between Microsoft and Sony was secondary to the more pressing concerns of game developers to ensure their latest game. release to satisfy legions of diehard fans.

“It’s always hard when you have something so popular and everyone has an opinion about what it should be and what it shouldn’t be,” said Jack O’Hara, the game’s director.

Work on Modern Warfare 2 began before the COVID-19 pandemic ended Infinity Ward’s headquarters outside of Los Angeles, forcing developers to be more creative in how they drew the game’s characters, weapons, movements, landscapes and recorded the voices. It was the same studio that launched the original Call of Duty in 2003, a first-person shooter set during World War II.

Mark Grigsby, the studio’s animation director, first joined in 2005. He said he was “a little apprehensive” ahead of Friday’s release about how players would react to tweaks that alter the feel of the virtual weapons they’re carrying. influence, such as how they flinch after a shot is fired.

“With each iteration of the product, you never get everything you wanted to do in that one edition. So you’re always trying to improve your game,” Grigsby said. “It takes an army and a talented army.”

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The games have gradually become more visually realistic, interactive and multiplayer over the past two decades. They’ve also become more contemporary, starting with 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which brought combat to the modern environment of the Middle East and Ukraine. Friday’s release is a sequel to a popular 2019 game that was itself a refresh of that 2007 game of the same name.

Studio executives said they consulted advisors and experts before using storylines and images of the politically charged border wall between the US and Mexico, as well as a collection of settings intended to depict a Mexican city and a fictional country in the Middle East. to call. Ukraine, where the company has some employees affected by the war in Russia, is conspicuously absent.

“We want to have that realism and feel like it’s a world we know and not outside the realm,” O’Hara said. “But it is clear that we are all influenced by current events. And so we always want to stay away from something that just feels slippery or just isn’t right, essentially. The goal is not to profit from anything.”

Infinity Ward executives declined to talk about their impending acquisition by Microsoft. But Microsoft is increasingly speaking out about what would be its biggest technology acquisition ever, in an effort to assure regulators it will keep Call of Duty on the line. Play station “for at least several years” beyond his current contract with Sony.

Although Brazil and Saudi Arabia have already approved the deal, it is still awaiting key decisions from the US Federal Trade Commission and authorities in the UK and the European Union. Microsoft told investors on Tuesday that it still expects the deal to close in the first half of next year. But it’s possible regulators will impose conditions that force Microsoft to keep access to Call of Duty open longer and ensure its rivals don’t get a lesser version.

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“Is it really that important to Sony on a financial basis? Probably not. But it is mainly the attraction of the fact that all these people come to their platform,’ said Van Dreunen.

And while important to console makers and the digital subscription services they build, Call of Duty and its fanbase is only part of what Microsoft would get by acquiring Activision Blizzard, which owns dozens of titles, including popular mobile games like Candy Crush. Van Dreunen said that while the focus is on the Call of Duty dispute, that mobile expansion could be the real “center of gravity” for Microsoft’s massive merger.

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