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Sony claims Microsoft would sabotage Call of Duty on PlayStation

Regulation battle around Activision Blizzard merger becomes fiercer
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The battle between Microsoft and Sony around the $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard is becoming fiercer as the UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA) emerges as what could be the key regulator in approving or stopping the deal.

In its response to the CMA’s provisional report about the merger, Sony demands that the deal either be stopped or only be approved after structural remedies, which in effect would mean a forced sale of parts of Activision Blizzard. The PlayStation manufacturer claimed that Microsoft would not be bound by behavioral remedies, like the deals it made with Nintendo and NVIDIA.

Sony claimed Microsoft would intentionally release buggy versions of Call of Duty on PlayStation to sabotage Sony’s platform and circumnavigate any deals made. “Swiftly detecting any diversions from, and ensuring compliance with, a commitment as to technical or graphical quality would be challenging,” Sony stated towards the CMA.

The statement continued:

“For example, Microsoft might release a PlayStation version of Call of Duty where bugs and errors emerge only on the game’s final level or after later updates. Even if such degradations could be swiftly detected, any remedy would likely come too late, by which time the gaming community would have lost confidence in PlayStation as a go-to venue to play Call of Duty.

Indeed, as Modern Warfare II attests, Call of Duty is most often purchased in just the first few weeks of release. If it became known that the game’s performance on PlayStation was worse than on Xbox, Call of Duty gamers could decide to switch to Xbox, for fear of playing their favorite game at a second-class or less competitive venue.

Even if Microsoft operated in good faith, it would be incentivised to support and prioritize development of the Xbox version of the game, such as by using its best engineers and more of its resources. There would be no practical way for the CMA (or SIE) to monitor how Microsoft chooses to allocate its resources and the quality/quantity of engineers it devotes to the PlayStation version of Call of Duty, to ensure that SIE would be treated fairly and equally.”

The UK seems to emerge as the key battleground between Microsoft and Sony. The Xbox producer seems confident that it can win a legal case in the US to hammer the deal through, while the European Union’s regulators seem satisfied with the behavioral remedies Microsoft already made. Microsoft placed big advertisements in UK newspapers on March 8, 2023, saying “Call of Duty for 150 million more players” in a bid to keep the pressure on Sony and the CMA.

Microsoft has offered Sony the same deal as Nintendo and NVIDIA, even guaranteeing it could put Call of Duty on PS Plus on launch day.

Lulu Cheng Meservey, the CCO of Activision, who previously argued in favor of the deal, claimed that PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan wasn’t at all interested in making a deal and simply wanted to sabotage it. According to her, Ryan said during the recent hearing in Brussels: “I don’t want a new Call of Duty deal. I just want to block your merger.”

Final decisions from both the CMA and the EU regarding the deal are scheduled to be made in April 2023 – expect things to get even more heated until then.