Public squabbling between two of the biggest console gaming companies has intensified. On a recent podcast appearance, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer blasted Sony for wanting to grow by “making Xbox smaller.” The accusation comes after the Federal Trade Commission decided to sue to block Microsoft’s takeover of Activision because of a pattern of making recently acquired games like Starfield exclusive.
“Sony is leading the dialogue around why the deal shouldn’t go through to protect its dominant position on console, so the thing they grab onto is Call of Duty,” Spencer said during an interview with the Second Request antitrust podcast last week (via VGC). “The largest console maker in the world raising an objection about the one franchise that we’ve said will continue to ship on the platform.”
Spencer went on to contrast Xbox’s strategy of bringing its games day and date to PC and Game Pass with Sony’s focus on keeping its latest first-party blockbusters like Horizon Forbidden West and God Of War Ragnarök exclusive to console for the first few years. “Sony is trying to protect its dominance on the console,” Spencer said. “The way they grow is by making Xbox smaller.” The subtext is that Sony is lobbying hard to block the $69 billion Activision deal not because it’s bad for consumers, but because it’s not good for PlayStation.
Microsoft has been ramping up its PR offensive as regulatory agencies weigh the pros and cons of it absorbing the seventh-largest game publisher by revenue to buy its way into second place in the gaming space. The company agreed to a 10-year deal to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, as well as plans to bring the franchise back to Nintendo’s platform. It argues putting the likes of Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV on Game Pass means more player choice, not less. All while Sony continues to do everything that it accuses Microsoft of wanting to do, like paying to keep major games like Final Fantasy XVI off of Xbox.
But there’s been one major flaw in the argument: Starfield. Microsoft bought Bethesda for $7.5 billion in 2021, and months after the deal had closed, announced the next sprawling RPG from the Skyrim studio would be an Xbox Series X/S console exclusive. Redfall too. The tech giant tried to split hairs over why Starfield was a unique exception, and why Call of Duty and other Activision games wouldn’t fall into the same category. Unconvinced, the FTC pointed to the Starfield twist as one of its major reasons for launching an antitrust lawsuit.
And because of that lawsuit we’re likely to be subject to several more months of nauseating console war sniping from both sides. At the very least, it’s refreshing to no longer see the mega corporations trying to pretend to pal around on stage at The Game Awards. The companies aren’t your friends, or each other’s.