UPDATE 6.14pm: Microsoft has responded to Sony’s suggestion it could deliberately introduces bugs and errors into Call of Duty to make it unplayable on PlayStation, reiterating it has made a “guarantee of parity between Xbox and PlayStation on access to Call of Duty”.
In a statement provided to Eurogamer, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “Since the CMA issued its Provisional Findings, we have offered solutions which address its concerns and increase the deal’s benefits to UK players and game developers. These include a guarantee of parity between Xbox and PlayStation on access to Call of Duty and legally binding commitments to ensure that Call of Duty is available to at least 150 million more players on other consoles and cloud streaming platforms once the deal closes.”
Referencing its proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard more generally, Microsoft added, “The decision now lies with the CMA on whether it will block this deal and protect Sony, the dominant market leader, or consider solutions that make more games available to more players.”
ORIGINAL STORY 5.09pm: Sony has suggested a number of ways Microsoft could hinder Call of Duty on PlayStation should regulators approve Microsoft’s proposed $69bn takeover of Activision Blizzard, including purposefully releasing a version with bugs and errors.
A new document from 22nd February 2023 has been released containing Sony’s observations on remedies from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. One section in particular is focused on the “different mechanisms available to Microsoft to avoid its obligations” concerning the Call of Duty franchise.
In short, this is Sony’s view on how Microsoft could withhold access to existing or future Call of Duty games to “impair PlayStation’s competitiveness”.
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The strategies Sony suggests include: raising the price of Call of Duty on PlayStation; degrading the quality and performance of the game on PlayStation compared to Xbox; degrading the game to ignore PlayStation-specific features; restricting, degrading, or not prioritising investment in CoD multiplayer on PlayStation; and making the game available on a subscription service only on Game Pass.
Sony’s position on technical and graphical quality is particularly eye-opening, suggesting Microsoft could purposefully sabotage PlayStation releases.
“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,” reads the document.
Further, Sony suggests Microsoft will always prioritise its own Xbox versions of games.
“Post-Transaction, Microsoft will need to make choices about the support it will provide to develop any PlayStation version of Call of Duty. Even if Microsoft operated in good faith, it would be incentivised to support and prioritise development of the Xbox version of the game, such as by using its best engineers and more of its resources,” reads the document.
It’s through these strategies that Sony believes a “behavioural commitment” from Microsoft to deliver Call of Duty to PlayStation owners “would be difficult”. Sony claims Microsoft has “not shown any real commitment to reaching a negotiated outcome” and that the company “have dragged their feet, engaged only when they sensed the regulatory outlook was darkening, and favoured negotiating in the media over engaging with SIE.”
Further, Microsoft’s proposal “fails to provide adequate protection for PlayStation’s access to Call of Duty or for competition. Instead, it reveals Microsoft’s lack of commitment to ensuring full and equal access to Call of Duty, confirms the risks of a behavioural remedy outlined in the Guidelines, and reinforces SIE’s belief that Microsoft intends to use Call of Duty strategically to dominate the gaming sector.”
Eurogamer has contacted Microsoft for comment.
Over the course of Microsoft’s attempted buyout of Activision Blizzard, the importance of Call of Duty has been hotly debated.
Recently, Microsoft struck a deal to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo’s platforms in a bid to appease regulators.
Earlier this week, Microsoft claimed the CMA has significantly overcounted the potential impact of Call of Duty going exclusive to Xbox and PC.
The deadline for the CMA’s final ruling on the deal is April 26th, a day after the deadline for European regulators.