Sony is again appealing to regulators to block the Activision-Blizzard deal from Microsoft, which would see Xbox and Windows take control of major franchises like Call of Duty and Diablo.
Of course, Xbox is Sony’s biggest competitor in the console space, with PlayStation still the dominant platform in nearly every, if not all, major markets. Xbox has fought back hard, using high-value offerings like the more affordable Xbox Sand an all-you-can-eat subscription gaming service Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft is also seeking to compete with Amazon and other cloud companies in the emerging cloud gaming space, by providing Xbox games for phones, tablets and the web via live streaming.
The Activision-Blizzard deal is one of the biggest and most ambitious in history, not to mention the gaming industry, and any deal of this magnitude that involves the lives of thousands of employees must of course be scrutinized. However, the arguments from her biggest detractor ring hollow when you peek into the reality of the situation, and Sony may not like what the regulators find.
Sony’s goal is to reduce and hinder competition
This week, the UK competition regulator (known as the CMA) announce Its intent is to press ahead with a deeper investigation into the $70 billion Activision-Blizzard deal, which will see Microsoft acquire such perks as world of cansand Candy Crush and Call of Duty. The last of the list here is the most controversial.
Call of Duty is still one of, if not the most profitable, video game franchises in the world. Its year-round and year-round retail lives up to the ritual of trading, selling millions of units without fail, then millions of other micro-transactions on top. The free version of Call of Duty Warzone is also a huge revenue driver, competing there with the likes of Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends.
Sony has expressed its displeasure with the deal to various groups of regulators, including Brazil and more recently the United Kingdom, with the possibility of a confrontation in the European Union soon as well. In a statement (via Eurogamer), Sony has noted that the deal is “harming gamers,” which is ironic given its focus on buying exclusive deals across mountains of other games in recent years, but we’ll get into that later.
“By giving Microsoft control of Activision games like Call of Duty, this deal will have significant negative implications for gamers and the future of the gaming industry. We want to ensure that PlayStation players continue to have a high-quality gaming experience and we appreciate the CMA’s focus on protecting gamers.”
Obviously, “players” in this context only refer to PlayStation users, yet the sarcastic and emotional framework here seems to suggest that only their users matter, and that players on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox or PC are somehow not up for debate. But I digress. Either way, Sony’s arguments are vague here, and in previous comments, they seemed to suggest that Microsoft would restrict or remove access to Call of Duty from PlayStation platforms.
Microsoft supported Maine Craft on PlayStation to the same extent and degree that Minecraft is supported on Xbox and Windows. Fallout 76 and Elder Scrolls Online are getting first day expansion and parity updates on PlayStation too. Sony has been notorious for removing content from Xbox versions of cross-platform games. Sony has led the way in raising the bar for console games to $70 and more in other regions. And it’s Sony that has been arbitrarily charging price hikes on PlayStation consoles outside the US recently – so who exactly is hurting gamers here?
But again, I go on. This is a business, and only Sony protects its interests. But to suggest that her interests are somehow in the interests of “the games industry” and “the gamers” is beyond bad faith, it’s just a lie.
Sony doesn’t lose Call of Duty, it loses its ability to jam
In another statement to EurogamerMicrosoft responded to Sony’s “concerns” with the painstakingly obvious: “It makes no sense for Microsoft to remove Call of Duty from PlayStation given its console market position.” Sony knows this. We all know this. The British regulator might be too stupid to find out. Fortunately, Microsoft should have a chance to pull out some crayons and try to explain it to them very slowly — and Sony might not like what would happen if it got to this point.
It can be said that, given what we have learned from hilarious Epic Games vs Apple A while ago, regulators found Sony, in fact, to be anti-competitive and bad for the gaming industry. From its exclusive deals that keep games away from Windows PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, to its aggressive developer practices of taxing games that dare to allow connectivity to competing platforms.
Sony’s business strategy has always revolved around killing the Xbox, but the company has cemented that further in recent years, publishing subtle and inaccurate strategies to obfuscate the Xbox platform, and sow doubt in Microsoft’s work. Games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake were listed with timed exclusivity when they were announced, but they are still locked away from Xbox to confuse fans who may have been waiting. Games like the upcoming Harry Potter game Hogwarts Legacy will feature PlayStation-exclusive content, and we all remember the infamous situation with Destiny, where missions were completely cut from the Xbox version, essentially making the Xbox version less valuable. Sony was completely surrounded Type With the exclusivity of fighting games because it bought Street Fighter V, cross-play is restricted to games that weren’t exclusive. How exactly is this good for the industry?
And sure enough, it’s all just business. Microsoft has done this in the past, especially during the Xbox 360 era. The outrage in the media for Microsoft’s exclusive deal for Rise of the Tomb Raider was thick and fast and since then has seen Microsoft walk away almost entirely from AAA exclusive deals in favor of Sony. But here’s the truth about Sony’s Call of Duty concerns.
Sony isn’t afraid to lose Call of Duty exclusivity. They aren’t even afraid of missing out on occasional bits of Call of Duty content. What they fear is that players get better value with Xbox Game Pass. They fear losing the ability to dictate the rules for how games should work. Epic Games has proven that it uses its user base as a weapon in arguing against taxes such as Sony’s cross-play fee for developers. Is there a world where Epic Games and Microsoft are teaming up to try to force Sony to take down walls for cross-play together? It will definitely benefit players only if I don’t have to check and double check whether or not I can play online with my friends, regardless of platform. Nintendo doesn’t ban cross-play, Steam and Xbox don’t ban cross-play — it’s Sony that bans cross-play, and they do so to make it difficult for users to choose anything other than the larger platform. You know, limiting consumer choice according to what regulators are supposed to regulate.
The hard truth is that the Activision-Blizzard deal isn’t just good for Xbox. It’s literally the opposite of what Sony says: It will be good for all players, and the industry as a whole.
Activision deal is good for all gamers, not just Xbox
Sony’s arguments are ill-intentioned. They know they are not going to lose Call of Duty. They know they won’t lose out on games like Overwatch or Diablo, which rely on large player bases. We know from how Microsoft handled Minecraft, Elder Scrolls Online, and Fallout 76 how they would handle Call of Duty on PlayStation, and Sony knows that better than anyone. If Call of Duty is so important, how would Nintendo do without it?
The only people who lose out in this equation are Sony executives and the millionaire shareholder class, who will see PlayStation’s influence waning in price dictation and anti-competitive practices like the cross-play ban.
I’ve often been accused of biasing Xbox for wanting to close this deal – but the truth is pretty simple to me, this has nothing to do with Xbox. I hardly play Call of Duty, MineI don’t care if Call of Duty becomes a PlayStation exclusive forever. My biases only lie in what is good for Activision developers, the games they make, and the people who play those games. My guess is that games like Diablo Immortal would be less user hostile under Microsoft. My belief is that World of Warcraft will see new investment grow under Microsoft, and Xbox Leader Phil Spencer has basically hinted in a previous interview.
I think franchises like Heroes of the Storm and Starcraft may see player bases revived with Xbox Game Pass franchises. I could see dormant franchises like Prototype or Spyro being revived under Microsoft. Additional studios and expertise can help revive Microsoft IPs like Banjo Kazooie. I can see Call of Duty coming to the Nintendo Switch under Microsoft, either via the cloud or natively in a lighter version. We’ll also get better value, with all of these titles under Xbox Game Pass, available literally everywhere and anywhere. Even if you don’t have a gaming PC to play these titles locally, the Xbox Series S is incredibly affordable, and Microsoft might even choose to bring the PlayStation versions back at $60, given their stubbornness to follow industry trends here.
Anyway, none of this will happen if Activision remains independent, because of the company Quick profits above all Shareholder culture.
Under the platform stand, all Activision franchises will find new life with Microsoft, whose performance is judged by growth in the business and Azure on raw gaming earnings. Xbox is part of this cloud growth, giving Xbox more breadth to explore reviving franchises like Flight Simulator, Age of Empires and the upcoming Fable reboot. I feel that none of this would have happened under Activision-Blizzard, which has been essentially tasked with chasing the next major trend of quickly making hedge money at the expense of everything else — and Sony will remain the top gaming company by revenue and revenue.
You don’t want to live in a world where Sony is the sole owner of the main platform, given that they were willing to raise the prices of their consoles as recently as a few weeks ago. You don’t want to live in a world where Sony can freely dictate the cost of AAA console games, or where and how you can play them. Xbox’s merger with Activision would force Sony to compete aggressively for consumers and in no way hurt its market position in the short term, nor in the long term if PlayStation continues to offer industry-leading AAA action games. There is absolutely no indication that they will slow down in that space.
The ultimate truth is, ultimately, all of this is to prevent consumers (you) from getting a better deal with Xbox Game Pass. If that’s what it boils down to in court, Sony may struggle to present that argument in a positive light.