As Sony and Microsoft continue to battle over the latter’s proposed $69 billion dollar purchase of Activision Blizzard, more and more people—relatively powerful and influential people—are being drawn into the debate.
One of those people is Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell (representing the state of Washington), who raised the spectre of Sony’s monopoly of the “high-end game market” earlier today, and went as far as calling on US trade representatives to discuss the issue with Japan as part of ongoing digital trade negotiations.
During a Senate finance committee hearing on “The President’s 2023 Trade Policy Agenda”, Cantwell said—among a bunch of other international trade talk—“I’m told that Sony controls a monopoly of 98% of the high-end game market, yet Japan’s government has allowed Sony to engage in blatant anti-competitive conduct through exclusive deals and payments to game publishers, establishing games that are among the most popular in Japan.”
I’m going to pretend she’s talking about Final Fantasy there.
Accusing Japan’s Federal Trade Commission of failing to investigate this “exclusionary conduct”, she then asks US Trade Representative Katherine Tai “What do you think we can do to address these issues and create a level playing field?”
In response, Tai says that while there are currently discussions between the US and Japanese governments over the digital economy, “This is new for me, but let me take this back and I’m happy to follow up with you and your team on this”.
Aside from turning this from a video game industry thing into an international trade and diplomatic relations thing, it’s wild seeing Cantwell casually put this stuff on record. Like, we all know that politicians can’t be experts on everything they’re ever talking about, that’s part of the job (and is why they have advisors, and is why there are lobbyists), but anyone with even a passing understanding of the video game market knows this is a truly bizarre thing to say.
She’s referring to the Japanese market with her “98% of the high-end game market” statistic, one very carefully selected (by the USA’s own FTC last year) to exclude the PC, Nintendo and mobile games, and which in this case pits the supposedly monopolistic PlayStation against the underdog Xbox (which is true in Japan, a market Microsoft has been freely and fairly failing to crack for over 20 years). Which of course explains why the Japanese government has never given a fuck, since they would realise that the video game market is a larger and more complicated one than pitting two consoles against each other like it was still 1992.
On a global scale Sony doesn’t even have a 98% share of the God of War market, a series they own, since Steam is getting 30% of every sale on PC. Everyone from Epic to Microsoft (both American companies) hand out “exclusive deals and payments to game publishers” all the time. And if she wants to talk about monopolies, the latest Steam stats for the PC show that 96% of the platform’s install base is using Windows.
It’s very strange that, with so many actual and credible ways she could be criticising Sony’s opposition to the deal, she’s settled on some wildly inaccurate statistics and a direct attack on the Japanese government. Ah well! Let’s finish this blog and leave them to it, taking note that over the course of her political career Cantwell’s biggest individual contributors of campaign finances have been Microsoft employees .