Is Sony right to fear Call of Duty games could be sabotaged on PlayStation?
Sony is doing everything in its power to disrupt Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision amid genuine fears of losing access to Call of Duty on PlayStation
Microsoft has fought back against Sony’s claims that the PlayStation version of Call of Duty may be inferior, but past precedents speak for themselves.
Microsoft’s attempted $68.7 billion takeover of Activision-Blizzard continues to expose the darker sides of the games industry’s two major platform owners. On one side you have Microsoft trying to reassure UK regulators by laying out its intentions for Call of Duty going forward while downplaying its own position in the market. On the other hand, you have its main competitor, Sony, which is doing everything it can to prevent the deal from being approved by drilling holes in these obvious plans.
The latest disagreement came from Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan, who was admittedly quite bonkers that any of the Call of Duty games released on PlayStation could have issues, “where bugs and errors only appear at the last level of the game or after updates occur”, the franchise was intended to become exclusive to Xbox. In fact, he accused Microsoft of sabotaging other versions of the popular military shooter series to make the company’s consoles the superior way to play — or at least implying that Microsoft might be able to.
On the surface, he’s not wrong. Once Call of Duty becomes a first-party exclusive alongside other Xbox franchises like Halo, Gears of War and most recently Starfield, Microsoft could always tell its developers to underperform the PS4, PS5 and later PS6 versions should make some capacity. While it’s a contingency that’s entirely possible, the question is: would Microsoft actually do it and stoop to such petty tactics in reality? Probably not.
Because even if Call of Duty is owned by Microsoft, the publisher wants to sell as many copies as possible, including on platforms such as PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft has already said that the Switch and subsequent Nintendo consoles will continue to receive support for at least 10 years. It’s worked out pretty well for Minecraft, which Microsoft acquired in 2014 and has since continued to release spinoffs of — like Minecraft Legends and Minecraft Dungeons — on consoles other than Xbox, while still supporting and supporting the main Minecraft title with post-launch updates also elsewhere.
The truth is that sabotaging Call of Duty on any platform doesn’t make very good business sense. Microsoft has now even refuted PlayStation’s claim as such, saying (via Eurogamer) that it will offer a “guarantee of parity between Xbox and PlayStation when accessing Call of Duty” after the buyout is approved. Of course it would say to try and approve the acquisition, and only until April 26, 2023, when the CMA makes its final decision.
While sabotage of this sort is unlikely, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible in other areas. Ryan is rightly wary of how Call of Duty will be handled going forward, especially given how other Microsoft publisher acquisitions have been handled in the past. For example, when Bethesda joined the Xbox family in September 2020, Xbox head Phil Spencer strongly hinted in an interview with GQ that The Elder Scrolls 6 would be exclusive to Xbox, much like Starfield was taken off the PlayStation table though previously announced for the platform. Who says the same thing couldn’t happen in Call of Duty?
For the payers
The mere fact that Microsoft has been so adamant about its 10-year minimum warranty for other platforms would suggest it’s its ultimate goal Is to make Call of Duty a true Xbox exclusive. As much as Microsoft may try to give the impression that it wants to bring the franchise to more people – apparently 150 million more if it’s brought to Nintendo Switch and Nvidia users – the future of Call of Duty doesn’t lie on PlayStation .
Sony is so concerned about Microsoft’s willingness to break its promises that in the same documentation to the CMA where it raised concerns about sabotage, it also referenced previous examples of about-faces the company has made on its promises. From the time European antitrust authorities fined Microsoft $1.3 billion for abusing its dominant position in Windows operating systems in 2008, to another $731 million fine for a similar situation with Internet Explorer in 2013, it’s clear that Jim Ryan doesn’t go beyond digging deep to throwing punches.
I feel that consolidations of any kind are not good for players. It leads to less competition, fewer independent studios working on ideas they’re passionate about, and an increased likelihood that we’ll get less interesting games as a result. Neither PlayStation nor Microsoft are at odds with these Call of Duty considerations, but it does point to an industry fighting over who retains the largest financial stake.
Sony is rightly afraid of Microsoft’s sabotage, just as Microsoft would be of Sony if it had been the other way around. Whatever the CMA’s verdict, it’s us players who will ultimately be caught in the crossfire.