Sony More Paranoid Than Ever About Xbox Owning Call Of Duty
In the new documents, Sony seems worried and more paranoid than ever about the possibility of Microsoft owning Call of Duty if that company’s deal to consume Activision Blizzard goes through. It goes so far as to suggest that Microsoft could raise the price on future Call of Duty installments or potentially release a noisier, lower-quality port of the game to Sony’s PlayStation consoles.
A quick recap: Microsoft has spent the last 12 months trying to buy Activision Blizzard for $69 billion. But many regulators, governments and rival companies around the world have opposed the merger. Those entities have concerns, fearing the deal would give Xbox too much power over the video game industry. In response, Xbox executives and lawyers have spent the last year or so trying to convince everyone that a massive corporation buying another massive corporation is perfectly fine, with no negative consequences. In an effort to appease lawmakers and regulators, it also continues to try to force Sony to sign a deal that would keep Call of Duty on PlayStation consoles. (Microsoft reached a similar deal with Nintendo last month.) And now Sony seems worried that even after signing the proposed deal, there may still be some problems.
Read more: Everything that happened in the Microsoft-Activision merger saga
In new documents filed with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Sony lays out several hypothetical ways in which Microsoft could sidestep the proposed 10-year deal (or any future deal) that PlayStation is offering. Among those possibilities, Sony posits a situation in which a new Call of Duty game debuts but is more heavily loaded on PlayStation, which it says could lead to players opting to buy shooters on Xbox in the future.
Microsoft may release a PlayStation version of Call of Duty where bugs and errors appear only in the final level of the game or after subsequent updates. Even if such degradations could be detected quickly, any resolution would likely come too late, by which time the gaming community would have lost faith in the PlayStation as a suitable place to play Call of Duty. Indeed, as Modern Warfare II proves, Call of Duty is most often bought in just the first few weeks of release. If it became known that the game’s performance on the PlayStation was worse than on the Xbox, Call of Duty players might decide to switch to the Xbox, fearing that they would be playing their favorite game in a second-rate place or less competitive.
Sony doesn’t go so far as to say that Microsoft and Activision would deliberately release a worse and more difficult CoD port on PlayStation consoles. But the broader point the company is trying to make is that Microsoft could still find ways to damage the PlayStation brand through its stewardship of Call of Duty, even if a fair deal were discovered and approved by the CMA and other regulators. . For example, in another section of the document, Sony further suggests that Microsoft could choose to “ignore PlayStation-specific features,” like the DualSense controller’s awesome haptic triggers, or not invest as much money or time in the multiplayer experience of CoD on PS5 or PS4.
Kotaku reached out to Microsoft and Activision for comment.
It’s unlikely that Microsoft will ship a harder Call of Duty to the PS5
Of course, this is all starting to sound very paranoid on Sony’s part. While Microsoft certainly wants people to buy Xbox consoles and buy Call of Duty installments with them and not elsewhere, I find it very hard to believe that the company would intentionally release a worse version of a game on the PS5.
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Sure, this might hurt Sony a bit, but it would also look bad for the franchise and Activision and likely end up hurting its Call of Duty brand more in the long run.
The documents, which were first filed in late February and published today, come after the CMA announced interim findings that the proposed merger would threaten competition in the games market and even suggested that in order to get the deal approved, Activision Blizzard would you had to sell the Call of Duty brand first. This is unlikely to happen, so expect more efforts, agreements and complaints from all parties involved.
Update 3/8/2023 7:00 PM: A Microsoft spokesperson directed Kotaku to a specific section—3.11—in the company’s own response to the UK CMA:
By ensuring parity between Sony, as the largest console platform, and Microsoft, the proposed solution will ensure that CoD is, in effect, made available on “level playing field” (which has not been the case for 20 recent years), taking advantage of Xbox and PC gamers as well as PlayStation gamers. Additionally, the proposed remedy would allow Sony to put CoD on its PlayStation Plus subscription service.
The company also sent this statement in response to the CMA’s interim findings suggesting the deal would threaten competition:
Since the CMA issued its interim findings, we have offered solutions that address its concerns and enhance the benefits of the agreement for UK game players and developers.
These include a guarantee of parity between Xbox and PlayStation for access to Call of Duty and legally binding commitments to ensure that Call of Duty is available to at least 150 million more players on other consoles and cloud streaming platforms once to close the deal. The decision is now up to the CMA whether to block this deal and protect Sony, the dominant market leader, or consider solutions that make more games available to more players.