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Microsoft claims Sony is keeping games off Game Pass by paying developers 'blocking rights'

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Sony pays developers "blocking rights" to stop them from adding their games to Game Pass, according to remarkable claims from Microsoft.

Reported by the Verge (opens in new tab), the claims stem from a filing (opens in new tab) with Brazil's national competition regulator, as part of a review of Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The filing, which took place on August 9th and is translated from Portuguese, claims that Microsoft's attempts to expand Game Pass have been "hampered by Sony's desire to inhibit such growth." Going further, the filing alleges that Sony "pays for 'blocking rights' to prevent developers from adding content to Game Pass and other competing subscription services."

Microsoft's accusation comes in the wake of Sony's own claim that Microsoft's purchase of Activision Blizzard could influence players' decisions (opens in new tab) over whether to buy an Xbox or a PlayStation (specifically due to the massive appeal of Call of Duty) thereby stymying competition. Microsoft, for its part, has repeatedly stated its intention to continue developing Activision games for other platforms, including PlayStation.

There are two big questions here. The first is whether Sony is specifically targeting games to stop them appearing on Game Pass, or whether "blocking rights" is simply a provocative way of saying "exclusive deal". It's understandable that both companies would want games hosted specifically on their platforms, especially as they strive to make their respective subscription services more appealing to customers. 

The other question is whether these alleged blocking rights have any knock-on consequences for the PC. It's clear that both Sony and Microsoft are keen to feature their games on PC. All the games currently being developed by Microsoft and its subsidiaries are coming to PC Game Pass on day one of launch, while Sony has been drip-feeding its PS4 exclusives onto PC, and recently expanded its web-page (opens in new tab)outlining its broader plans for putting PlayStation games on PC. But if Sony is paying for so-called Game Pass "blocking rights", does that solely affect the Xbox proportion of Game Pass, the whole of Game Pass, or completely prevent those games from launching anywhere other than PlayStation?

Whatever the ramifications of these exclusive deals orbiting Game Pass, it's clear that Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard has heated up the rivalry between it and Sony, which all rather flies in the face of Phil Spencer's claims that he spends "zero energy" (opens in new tab)on the notion of console wars. These likely won't be the last shots exchanged between the two companies either, as Brazil also isn't the only country to be taking a close look at the Activision Blizzard deal. Both the UK competition watchdog and the FTC are scrutinising the acquisition (opens in new tab). Let's just hope this ongoing tit-for-tat doesn't inadvertently hinder the chances of any games coming to PC.