Sony's advanced black marker technology fails to stop super sleuths from reading confidential numbers

Image for Sony's advanced black marker technology fails to stop super sleuths from reading confidential numbers
(Image credit: Sony)

A couple games we expect to see on PC someday, Horizon Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 2, cost a whole lot of money to develop: $212 million for Horizon, and $220 million for The Last of Us Part 2, according to a Sony document.

It's no shocker that big games cost a lot to make (the current king of spending, Star Citizen, has raised almost $600 million so far), but we don't usually get specific figures straight from companies like Sony, and we're not getting these numbers now because Sony has entered a new era of transparency. Transparency does have something to do with it, though.

It turns out that when you put a piece of paper through a scanner, printed text that's been blacked out by a marker can shine through just enough to be legible. That's what happened with the document these numbers come from, which Sony submitted to a US district court as part of the ongoing hearing over Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard. (Who specifically was responsible for redacting the document is an open question, so perhaps Sony's taste in markers will be vindicated upon further investigation.)

Along with their development costs, the document reveals that Horizon Forbidden West took five years to make with 300 employees at its peak, and that The Last of Us Part 2 involved 200 employees. The numbers are easy to see through the black ink.

The Verge also examined a slightly harder-to-read portion of the document which appears to indicate that there are a million PlayStation owners out there who only play Call of Duty, and that only the next CoD (the one releasing later this year) is confirmed for PlayStation under Sony's current deal with Activision.

(Image credit: Sony)

The backstory here is that the FTC and Microsoft are presently duking it out in court over Microsoft's pending Activision Blizzard acquisition, which the US agency hopes to block temporarily until it can seek a permanent judgment in August. As one of Microsoft's gaming rivals, Sony naturally favors the FTC in this fight, and this document is part of PlayStation boss Jim Ryan's effort to establish that Microsoft would gain too much market power if it had control of Call of Duty, which it could make exclusive to Xbox if it wanted. 

As part of its defense, Microsoft has pledged not to pluck CoD off of PlayStation for now. It did make Starfield an Xbox console exclusive after buying Bethesda, though, and if you're wondering what makes Starfield different, so is Bethesda—that was another juicy bit of information this hearing produced.

The poorly redacted Sony document has been removed from the server where it resided, but it is of course too late now. Microsoft had a document problem of its own during this hearing, accidentally revealing that it once considered buying Bungie, Sega, IO Interactive, and others. Separately, we learned today that Microsoft had also been interested in buying Square Enix

This hearing will end on Thursday, and if the FTC doesn't get its temporary injunction, Microsoft may be able to find a path to closing the acquisition, which has also been opposed by UK regulators. If the FTC comes out ahead, things get even hairier for the already jeopardized deal.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.