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Sony tells regulators Microsoft could sabotage its ability to win Digital Foundry comparisons

Sony tells regulators Microsoft could sabotage its ability to win Digital Foundry comparisons


Sony says that Microsoft could intentionally make Call of Duty worse on PlayStation — and that players will notice.

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Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge

Sony told regulators in the UK that they were “irrational” for having sided with Microsoft in the fight over the proposed Microsoft-Activision merger. One reason: Microsoft could sabotage future Call of Duty games by making performance even slightly worse on PlayStation — because gamers are apparently so perceptive that it might make them move to Xbox.

Although Sony stated previously that Microsoft’s merger with Activision Blizzard, which makes Call of Duty games, could hurt the franchise on PlayStation, the company’s latest arguments get even more specific. This time around, Sony’s saying Microsoft won’t feel the need to “make use of the advanced features in PlayStation not found in Xbox.” It even goes so far as to say that “degrading the experience on PlayStation would benefit Xbox.”

In an attempt to prove what seems like how attentive to detail — or nerdy — gamers are, Sony cites articles from Digital Foundry and VG Tech that compare the performance of Modern Warfare II on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S. Sony says that if there are even the “slightest changes in a game’s performance” players will convene in forums, chatrooms, and gaming sessions to discuss it. I can’t really argue with this point since this absolutely does happen, but I still can’t imagine a single Call of Duty blip on PlayStation resulting in someone switching consoles entirely.

“Gamers engage with each title in the franchise immediately after its release, are keenly aware of a game’s price, quality, and features, and regularly compare the quality, performance, and features of their favourite games across PlayStation and Xbox,” Sony writes. “The level of social conversation surrounding consoles and games is extremely high.”

As my colleague Tom Warren previously wrote, it’s not likely that Microsoft would try to sabotage Call of Duty on PlayStation following its merger, as the company would almost inevitably receive a huge amount of backlash from players by doing so. If anything, Microsoft and Activision may just prioritize fixing bugs on Xbox first because developers are more accustomed to it.

And while the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) initially cited Minecraft as an example of a game that Microsoft continued to license the title to other platforms after acquiring it, Sony says that’s not a fair comparison to make. “Minecraft is very different from Call of Duty,” Sony says, noting that it has “blocky graphics” that doesn’t offer a “major showcase of a new console’s technical capability.” It also states that Minecraft “does not drive anything like the level of gameplay, engagement, or purchasing decisions as Call of Duty.” Okay, as a Minecraft player, that kind of hurts.

Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard has come under scrutiny by the CMA and Federal Trade Commission over potential antitrust concerns. The Xbox maker has responded by extending an olive branch to both Nintendo and Sony, offering them both 10-year Call of Duty licensing deals. Although Nintendo has signed off on the agreement, Sony has yet to sign on and instead believes Microsoft could raise the price of Call of Duty on PlayStation or make it an Xbox Game Pass exclusive.

While Sony does have some valid concerns, I think it might be the one that’s getting borderline “irrational” — not the CMA.