Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it was planning to Acquiring Activision Blizzard for $68.7 Billion sometime in 2023. Since then, the regulatory wheels have begun to grind, not least because an acquisition on this scale would be by far the largest in industry history: and some Activision Blizzard franchises, most notably Call of Duty, have most attention.
It’s not all bad news for Microsoft: investigations don’t necessarily mean action is taken, and in some countries, the deal has already been approved. But the EU is investigatingand has recently paid a lot of attention to major tech mergers, as announced by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority it opens an in-depth investigation Microsoft’s competitor Sony now has has submitted its arguments against the merger.
Several shots have been fired across the bow as the trial progressed, and Sony’s latest documents echo much of what we’ve heard before. To be fair, Sony just wants to make this acquisition as difficult as possible for Microsoft, and will pretty much say anything about doing it. Also keep in mind that what’s in a file like this was written by a Sony legal team: this isn’t a bare-chested Jim Ryan roaring from the rooftops.
One of the main areas of focus for Sony is Call of Duty, which Microsoft believes will be exclusive. Microsoft has made several guarantees to keep it on PlayStation, but Sony says it doesn’t believe them, pointing to previous Microsoft acquisitions that saw studios produce games exclusively for PC and Xbox. But Sony goes even further than this, claiming that no other existing game can compete with or replicate what Call of Duty does.
This leads Sony’s lawyers to make the surprising choice to dunk on Battlefield. “Other publishers don’t have the resources or expertise to match its success. To give a concrete example, Electronic Arts (one of the largest third-party developers after Activision) has spent years trying to produce a rival to Call of Duty with its Battlefield Series.”
So how did that go? Despite the similarities between Call of Duty and Battlefield, and despite EA’s track record in developing other successful AAA franchises (such as FIFA, Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and Star Wars: Battlefront), the Battlefield franchise can not keeping up with the pace. As of August 2021, Call of Duty games had sold more than 400 million units, while Battlefield had sold just 88.7 million units”
Only 88.7 million? Those paupers. This is what you get when a lawyer writes about games: it’s not like Mass Effect or Star Wars: Battlefront are in any way comparable to an annual series like FIFA or COD. And hilariously, Star Wars: Battlefront was developed by… DICE, best known as the developers of Battlefield. No one tells the regulators, do they?
The surprising thing about this is that Sony, which tends to take the position of platform holder to be above all else, casts shadow on Battlefield. It’s not that what’s being said is necessarily inaccurate, as there’s no denying that some series sell more than others, but it does feel a bit like Sony is saying things out loud that it normally wouldn’t.
There is little else new in the filing, other than the vaguest vague references to PlayStation 6, in the context of Microsoft’s offer to keep Activision Blizzard’s games on Sony platforms until 2027. “By the time SIE releases the next generation of its console launched (which is probably close to occur [REDACTED]it would have lost access to Call of Duty and other Activision titles.” So don’t expect a PS6 until 2028?
Activision Blizzard shareholders have long since approved the Microsoft deal, but because of its sheer size, it will have to navigate through all those controls first. Even the US Federal Trade Commission however, is one of those looking into it, for what it’s worth, we spoke to a lawyer who generally leaned towards the deal was eventually forwarded.