Microsoft, in a bid to downplay the possible ramifications of its attempted acquisition of Activision to various international regulating agencies, is arguing that the Call of Duty publisher it’s spending billions of dollars on doesn’t actually produce any games that could be considered “must haves.” Meanwhile, Sony is pushing back and explaining that Call of Duty games are “essential” and even influence some people’s console-buying decisions.
Since Microsoft announced its intentions to buy up Activision Blizzard back in January of this year, the company has spent months bouncing around the world, arguing with lawmakers and regulatory groups in an effort to show why this deal is totally fine and not bad for the industry. One way the Xbox company is doing this is by arguing that Activision Blizzard doesn’t release games that are so big and unique that the acquisition would stifle competition with other game companies, stores, or console makers.
You can find an example of this tactic in a report from the New Zealand Commerce Commission published in June. In the doc, Microsoft claimed that there is “nothing unique about the video games developed and published” by Activision—a company it’s spending nearly $70 billion on—further adding that none of the games, including military shooter franchise Call of Duty, are “must have” games for any rival gaming company or distributor.
As you might expect, not everyone agrees with Microsoft’s assertion that owning one of the biggest video game franchises in the world won’t provide Xbox with some sort of advantage over its competition. Specifically, Sony has pushed back against the proposed Xbox / Activision deal in new legal docs out of Brazil.
As reported by VGC and users on ResetEra, Sony’s responses to questions from the Brazilian government about the Microsoft/Activision deal were published online and it shows that the PlayStation company believes Call of Duty is an “essential” AAA game, one that could help sell more consoles for whoever controls it.
According to a 2019 study, ‘The importance of Call of Duty to entertainment, in general, is indescribable.’ The brand was the only video game IP to break into the top 10 of all entertainment brands among fans, joining powerhouses such as Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings.
Call of Duty is so popular that it influences users’ choice of console, and its community of loyal users is entrenched enough that even if a competitor had the budget to develop a similar product, it would not be able to rival it.
Neither Microsoft’s response nor Sony’s pushback should be surprising. When buying such a large company as Activision, it makes sense to downplay how big or influential the company actually is when speaking to regulators or government officials, as these people could cause headaches for Xbox or even stop the deal entirely.
And of course, Sony doesn’t want to lose Call of Duty, a game that regularly tops the best-selling games on PlayStation charts each year. Sure, Microsoft has signaled that Call of Duty will remain a multiplatform franchise, but contractually it’s reported that after three games, Call of Duty could leave PlayStation and become a console exclusive for Xbox. So it makes sense that Sony is trying to play up how important the long-running FPS series is to PlayStation and the video game industry.
As other regulatory groups and more governments continue or begin poking and prodding at the Activision Blizzard deal, it’s likely we will continue to see Microsoft downplay the company’s size and scope while Xbox’s competitors do the exact opposite in an attempt to stop what could be one of biggest examples of video game consolidation we’ve seen yet.