Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion sometime in 2023. Since then the regulatory wheels have begun grinding, not least because an acquisition on this scale would be by some distance the largest in the industry's history: and some of Activision Blizzard's franchises, Call of Duty in particular, have attracted the most attention.
It's not all bad news for Microsoft: Investigations don't mean any action is necessarily going to be taken, and in some countries the deal's already been waved through. But the EU is investigating, and has recently been paying very close attention to big tech mergers, while the UK Competition and Markets Authority has announced it's opening an in-depth investigation Microsoft's competitor Sony has now submitted its arguments against the merger.
There have been various shots fired across the bow as the process has rumbled on, and Sony's latest filings repeat a lot of what we've heard before. To be frank about it, Sony just wants to make this acquisition as difficult as possible for Microsoft, and will say more-or-less anything in order to do so. Also keep in mind that what is in a filing like this has been written by a Sony legal team: This isn't a bare-chested Jim Ryan bellowing from the rooftops.
One of the key areas of focus for Sony is Call of Duty, which it believes Microsoft will look to make exclusive. Microsoft has given various assurances about keeping it on PlayStation, but Sony says it doesn't believe them, and points to previous Microsoft acquisitions where studios went on to produce games exclusively for PC and Xbox. But Sony goes even further than this, and claims that no other game in existence can compete with or replicate what Call of Duty is doing.
This leads Sony's lawyers to make the surprising choice of dunking on Battlefield. "Other publishers do not have the resources or expertise to match its success. To give a concrete example, Electronic Arts (one of the largest thirdparty developers after Activision) has tried for many years to produce a rival to Call of Duty with its Battlefield series."
So how has that been going? "Despite the similarities between Call of Duty and Battlefield and despite EA's track record in developing other successful AAA franchises (such as FIFA, Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and Star Wars: Battlefront)—the Battlefield franchise cannot keep up. As of August 2021, more than 400 million Call of Duty games had been sold, while Battlefield had sold just 88.7 million copies"
Just 88.7 million? Those paupers. This is what you get when a lawyer writes about games: It's not like Mass Effect or Star Wars: Battlefront are in any way comparable to an annualised series like FIFA or COD. And hilariously enough, Star Wars: Battlefront is developed by… DICE, best-known as the developers of Battlefield. No-one tell the regulators eh?
The surprising thing about this is seeing Sony, which tends to adopt the platform-holder position of being above it all, throwing shade like this at Battlefield. It's not that what is being said is necessarily inaccurate, because there's no denying one series sells more than another, but it feels a bit like Sony's saying stuff out loud that it wouldn't usually do.
There's little else new in the filing, beyond the vaguest of vague references to PlayStation 6, in the context of Microsoft offering to keep Activision Blizzard's games on Sony platforms until 2027. "By the time SIE launched the next generation of its console (which is likely to occur around [REDACTED], it would have lost access to Call of Duty and other Activision titles." So don't expect a PS6 until 2028?
Activision Blizzard's shareholders have long since approved the Microsoft deal, but due to the sheer size it's going to have to navigate all those regulators first. Even the US Federal Trade Commission is among those looking into it though, for what it's worth, we spoke to a lawyer who generally leaned towards the deal eventually being waved through.