(Image: Activision Blizzard)Sony is sweating as multiple countries’ antitrust watchdogs inspect Microsoft’s proposed takeover of Activision Blizzard. Just this weekend, Sony’s official responses to Brazil’s probe became public—and it’s clear the company is worried about one intellectual property in particular.
Idas, a member of the online video game forum ResetEra, found Sunday that Brazil is legally required to keep its regulatory reviews accessible to the public. Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defense (known locally as CADE) requested comments from various major tech companies about the acquisition, including Ubisoft, Riot Games, Google, Apple, and Sony. According to Idas—who claims to be a tenured IT lawyer and native Spanish speaker—the former companies are largely unconcerned about the merger. Sony, however, feels differently.
Call of Duty, which currently has about 100 million players across several different platforms, might “influence users’ console choice” if acquired by Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony told the CADE. Right now gamers can play Call of Duty on PlayStation systems 2 through 5, meaning the popular franchise doesn’t (yet) act as an ultimatum for those who feel they must dedicate themselves to a single console. If Microsoft acquires Activision, however, it could easily put an end to the franchise’s availability on PlayStation, along with other fan favorites like Diablo and Starcraft.
This wasn’t originally expected to be a problem. When Microsoft first placed its bid for Activision in January, Sony told the Wall Street Journal that it expected Activision games to remain multiplatform due to “contractual agreements.” Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Gaming, solidified this expectation. “Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward,” Spencer said. But when it comes to Call of Duty specifically, only the next three titles are committed on paper to multiplatform availability. (This includes Modern Warfare 2, which is slated for later this year.)
According to translations conducted by Idas and gaming news outlet VGC, Sony views Call of Duty as “an essential game: a blockbuster, an AAA-type game that has no rival.” Sony doesn’t think it can match the money and time (read: hundreds of millions of dollars and at least 2,700 full-time employees) it would take to create a true Call of Duty competitor. “No other developer can devote the same level of resources and expertise in game development. Even if they could do that, Call of Duty is overly entrenched, so that no rival—no matter how relevant they are—can catch up.”
Sony went so far as to project a bit of its melancholy into the future, telling the CADE that “given its plans to recruit 2,000 additional developers, Activision probably expects Call of Duty to become even more successful in the future.”
How much of an impact Sony’s concerns will have on Brazil’s probe of the potential merger is unknown. Regardless, the merger has plenty of other regulatory hurdles to jump: the US Federal Trade Commission has been reviewing Microsoft’s bid since February, and the UK started its own probe earlier this summer. Microsoft is said to require clearance from several other countries’ regulatory entities as well, from Japan and Australia to China and South Korea.