Sony is once again reportedly trying to convince regulators to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and once again, citing the fact that they don’t believe Microsoft will offer them parity on Call of Duty once they own it.
Microsoft has repeatedly promised that isn’t the case, even offering Sony decade-long contracts to ensure Call of Duty appears on their system, but annoying as it may be, there’s simply no world in which Sony cooperates here. Either their protests work, and they help kill the deal, which is what they want, or they don’t, the acquisition goes through, and Microsoft offers them Call of Duty anyway, like they were always going to.
But while I do believe Microsoft is telling the truth about being willing to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, and I believe Sony is lying about not Believing Microsoft in order to cause trouble, Microsoft’s argument here remains one that feels like it’s easily rebuffed, and I wonder if in the end, it’s going to sway regulators.
Microsoft’s Communications Lead, Frank Shaw, took to Twitter To reiterate familiar talking points in the wake of Sony’s latest pushback:
The idea here is that Sony is the market leader, so of course Microsoft wants to sell copies of Call of Duty on PlayStation. However, Microsoft’s “case by case” basis for application of this concept leaves them open to pushback. And they…don’t seem quite equipped to answer that:
The idea here is that if Microsoft is saying that selling Call of Duty on PlayStation makes business sense, why wouldn’t it also make business sense to sell Redfall, Starfield or the next Elder Scrolls game on PlayStation? We’re talking tens of millions of potential $70 copies sold here, but Microsoft is using some sort of unseen math to calculate that those games make more “business sense” on Xbox/PC only, keeping them off PlayStation. Similarly, I think you could simply say the opposite thing and have it at least sound equally true. Microsoft being the exclusive console home for Call of Duty, the most popular shooter franchise in the world, could make “good business sense” as well.
There are various forms of pushback to this. The first is asking why Microsoft is forced into this standard, while no one is questioning why PlayStation doesn’t offer God of War, Spider-Man and The Last of Us on Xbox. Well, the answer is pretty easy, that Sony is not trying to buy a $70 billion publisher, so they don’t need to make those kinds of arguments, while Microsoft is trying to convince regulators to approve the biggest acquisition in video game history by a longshot. So yes, there’s a higher bar there.
I’ve also been pointed to this chart Microsoft made trying to illustrate why games like Starfield and Redfall make sense as exclusives, while Call of Duty and Minecraft don’t.
The idea being put forward here is that because both Redfall and Starfield are new and untested IPs, that they have higher value as exclusives, while because Minecraft and Call of Duty are more established with built-in playerbases, they need to stay multiplatform.
Sure, except that logic falls apart the minute we move past those two specific games. Microsoft has strongly implied that Elder Scrolls VI will likely be an Xbox exclusive, when that series has sold tens of millions of copies across all platforms and is a hugely established IP. Skyrim sold 30 million copies, by last count. So why keep that off PlayStation then? Because it’s single player? I’m not sure what exactly that has to do with anything, especially if we’re talking about what does or doesn’t make “business sense.” One concept is that the sheer amount of money Call of Duty makes from annual sales and microtransactions is enough to warrant multiplatform releases, but where is that line drawn? Microsoft has other multiplayer games, other games with microtransactions that remain exclusive, of course. Starfield and Elder Scrolls will have add-ons and DLCs, after all.
The problem with Microsoft’s argument is that it comes across like a purely arbitrary case-by-case basis in terms of what they’re going to make exclusive and what they won’t. They can say it makes “business sense” to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, but then dodge when it comes to loads of other games that would also sell millions of copies on other platforms.
I believe Microsoft, and I think Sony is acting in bad faith. But that’s not the issue, as I am not a regulator, and they have proven far more skeptical of all this, and have embraced most of Sony’s arguments thus far. Microsoft remains confident the deal will close.
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