Sony is ferociously opposed to Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard, in large part out of purported concern that the ultra-lucrative Call of Duty series could eventually be made an Xbox console exclusive. But an email revealed during today's FTC hearing on the deal, reported by IGN, indicate that the company's initial reaction to the planned buyout was very different, and almost entirely untroubled by the prospect.
In an email written on January 20, 2022, two days after the proposed acquisition was announced, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan said the buyout was "not an Xbox exclusivity play at all."
"I’ve spent a fair bit of time with both Phil [Xbox chief Phil Spencer] and Bobby [Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick] over the past day," Ryan wrote in an email. "I’m pretty sure we will continue to see CoD on PS for many years to come."
Ryan also expressed confidence in Sony's own lineup of exclusive games: "We have some good stuff cooking. Keep your eyes peeled. I’m not complacent and I’d rather this hadn’t happened, but we’ll be OK, more than OK."
That email was sent the same day that Spencer said on Twitter that Microsoft will "honor all existing agreements" if and when the Activision acquisition is completed, and aims to "keep Call of Duty on PlayStation."
Ryan's email would seem to fly in the face of Sony's professed concerns about losing access to the Call of Duty series on PlayStation hardware. Specifics weren't publicly discussed at the time but in November 2022, Microsoft offered Sony a 10-year deal guaranteeing access to Call of Duty games on PlayStation consoles, a proposal Sony rejected. A few months earlier, Ryan had also said "no" to Microsoft's previous offer of guaranteed access "for at least several more years beyond the current Sony contract," describing it as "inadequate on many levels."
The real extent of Sony's concerns about the Call of Duty games previously came in question in March, when Activision Blizzard chief communications officer Lulu Cheng Meservey said on Twitter that Ryan had told executives at the company that he didn't want a new deal for Call of Duty, he only wants to "block your merger."
The CEO of SIE answered that question in Brussels.In his words: "I don’t want a new Call of Duty deal. I just want to block your merger.”March 8, 2023
It would seem to be a point scored for Microsoft, but Sony got one back—to a similar, which is to say vague, extent—when it came to light that MachineGame's upcoming Indiana Jones game was originally planned as a multiplatform release, but was made an Xbox console exclusive following Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda. Back in March, Arkane Austin studio director Harvey Smith said the same thing had happened with Redfall, which was also being developed for PlayStation5 prior to the Microsoft deal.
Cutting the PS5 versions of those games might be good for developers—Smith described it as "one less platform, one less complexity"—but it also lends credence to Sony's fears that Microsoft can and will leverage console exclusives to get a leg up in the console wars. Neither Redfall nor Indy are remotely comparable to the Call of Duty series beyond the fact that they're all videogames, but there's no doubting that CoD has the potential to be a very big stick.
At this point, neither side has struck a decisive blow, but this is only the first day of the FTC's hearing on Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The whole thing is scheduled to run until June 29.