Editor’s note: This article is part of Day 3 (June 27, 2023) of the FTC vs. Microsoft and Activision Blizzard trial.
As the courtroom drama unfolds in the Microsoft Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hearing, one burning question has captured the attention of experts and gamers alike: Is Call of Duty a unicorn? This contentious debate emerged during the third day of the court battle, which holds immense significance for Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. As economic experts took the stand, Dr. Robin Lee testified on behalf of the FTC, while Microsoft called upon Dr. Elizabeth Bailey. However, their opinions diverged when it came to Call of Duty‘s significance within the video game market.
Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley posed a crucial question, asking whether Call of Duty could be classified as a unicorn—a unique asset distinguished by its durability, popularity, and exceptional sales numbers. The two experts presented opposing views, shedding light on the polarized nature of this subject.
Dr. Lee, the FTC’s witness, asserted that Call of Duty is indeed a unicorn, citing its irreplaceability within the gaming landscape. Should Xbox secure exclusivity rights to the franchise, Dr. Lee contended that PlayStation would struggle to replicate its success in its portfolio. The expert emphasized that Call of Duty’s annualized release schedule sets it apart from competitors, as most franchises do not consistently deliver new content every year. According to Dr. Lee, the scarcity of new AAA games further solidifies Call of Duty‘s unicorn status.
In stark contrast, Dr. Bailey, testifying on behalf of Microsoft, contested the notion that Call of Duty holds unique importance. Dismissing the unicorn label, Dr. Bailey argued that Dr. Lee’s assessment of the market was too narrow and failed to align with the realities of the industry. Dr. Bailey further posited that the proposed merger could expand the visibility and reach of Activision games, implying that Call of Duty‘s significance might be overstated.
Unsurprisingly, Call of Duty has emerged as the centerpiece of the Microsoft FTC court battle, captivating attention and driving the debate forward. While other games, such as Starfield, have also been discussed at length, it is Call of Duty‘s far-reaching impact that continues to dominate the proceedings. Jim Ryan, the head of PlayStation, even acknowledged that Xbox’s exclusivity of Starfield does not pose an anti-competitive threat.