Sony’s crocodile tears: The Short Stack #4
Sony’s outcry over Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard should fall on deaf ears
Hello, Shortcut crew! I can’t believe it’s August already – where has the time gone? It feels like we’ll soon be saying so long to summer and bracing ourselves for an incredibly expensive winter. I’m genuinely considering wearing a jacket inside to avoid turning on the boiler once the temperature drops.
I wanted to take this edition of The Short Stack to touch on the recent Brazilian government filing — you know, the one that revealed what Sony really thinks about Microsoft’s pending $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, specifically, how the deal relates to Call of Duty.
If you missed my post on why Sony really doesn’t want Microsoft to own Call of Duty, the gist is that the Japanese company believes that Call of Duty is a game that “has no rival," and it would be anti-competitive if Xbox was to own the franchise.
That’s a bold claim, but Sony even took it one step further, stating that CoD is “so popular it influences users’ choice of console.”
Well, duh. 🤷♂️
Call of Duty has consistently been one of the most popular video games ever since the breakout hit Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2009. Call of Duty: Vanguard and Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War were the two best-selling physical games in the US in 2021 – according to the industry-tracking firm The NPD Group – and it’s almost a dead cert that Modern Warfare 2 will be as equally popular, if not more so.
🔫 War never changes
Considering Call of Duty’s sales performance, Sony is right to be worried. But to claim CoD is a franchise with “no rival” is not only dismissive of Sony’s first-party studios, including Bungie (which it recently purchased for $3.6 billion), but rather disingenuous. 🤔
Call of Duty does shift consoles, and Sony is fully aware of that. It’s exactly why Sony has consistently paid to have exclusive Call of Duty DLC and early access opportunities on PS4 and PS5 – the Modern Warfare 2 beta is just another example, as PlayStation players can get early access.
It’s hard not to consider Sony’s complaints hypocritical, especially as the company’s strategy has focused heavily on locking games to a device, giving consumers no choice but to buy a PS4 or PS5 to play them.
That traditional approach has changed recently as Sony has slowly put more PlayStation exclusives on PC, such as Days Gone, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Death Stranding. However, there are still countless examples where Sony has drawn up a deal to keep a game away from Xbox consoles indefinitely, like Street Fighter 5 and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
🫖 Pot, meet kettle
Now, that’s not to say Microsoft isn’t guilty of this tactic either. Remember when Rise of the Tomb Raider was a timed Xbox One exclusive for no reason other than Microsoft needed something to compete directly against Sony’s Uncharted series? Yeah, it didn’t go down well, and thankfully we haven’t seen as many egregious deals like that since.
However, in recent years at least, Sony has appeared more like the villain in the pantomime that is the console wars. During the Apple versus Epic dispute, it came to light that Sony was charging developers a fee to include crossplay, which was nothing short of disgraceful. And now, more information from the Brazilian government filing has come to light, with Microsoft claiming Sony pays developers “blocking rights” to keep games off Xbox Game Pass. Urgh. 😖
While I don’t feel sorry for either multi-billion dollar company, and neither should you, Sony’s objections about the negative impact of exclusivity deals ring hollow. Sony has successfully played the gatekeeper role on too many occasions to have the high ground here.
Also, Sony is fully aware that Call of Duty will never be solely exclusive to Xbox consoles or PC. Microsoft has categorically stated that “it would simply not be profitable” to stop selling CoD on other platforms, and Microsoft’s CEO of Gaming, Phil Spencer, tweeted, “I confirm our intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation.” It did the same after purchasing Minecraft developer Mojang for $2.5bn in September 2014.
😱 The fear
What Sony’s really worried about is that people won’t pay $70 to play Call of Duty on PlayStation when they could pay Microsoft $9.99 a month to play every Call of Duty game via Xbox Game Pass. If four members subscribe to Microsoft’s new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate family plan that’s currently being tested, you could play the next Call of Duty for just $6.
Even to the most dedicated PlayStation fans, $70 versus $6 is an impossible sell. And if Microsoft can also offer the same timed-partnership deals that Sony has profited from on Activision’s blockbuster shooter, the situation looks even bleaker for Sony.
In a rundown of the top 10 most-played PS5 games in 2021, only two first-party exclusive titles made the list: Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls. The rest of the spots were taken up by third-party hits like Fortnite, FIFA 21, NBA 2K22, and… Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.
Instead of waving the white flag, Sony needs to suck it up. It’s purchased countless studios recently and has even launched its own Xbox Game Pass rival in the form of PlayStation Plus Premium. If Sony is worried about Microsoft owning Call of Duty, that’s good. Competition is why we get great games, fairer pricing, and more innovation, so long may it continue.
Sony will need to step up its game to stay ahead of Xbox. But honestly, Sony should be trying to ensure it can deliver regular PS5 restock drops right now, not arguing over the future of Call of Duty and the impact of exclusivity deals.
‘Till next time, Shortizens.
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