• January 26, 2023

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Console exclusivity for games has taken many forms over the years. There are the basics, you have an in-house studio that makes games for your hardware specifically. But in recent years this escalated into things like console-specific content within games, or paying for timed exclusive launch windows.

Now? Things may have escalated in the ongoing battle between Microsoft and Sony, with an explosive new claim made.

As part of the regulatory approval process of Microsoft attempting to buy Activision Blizzard, Microsoft has pushed back against Sony’s recent objection to the purchase. Sony’s argument was that the purchase would be anti-competitive to PlayStation with such a big publisher under Microsoft’s umbrella, but now Microsoft is firing back, hard.

Microsoft has accused Sony of paying for “blocking rights” to keep third party games off of Game Pass:

“Microsoft’s ability to continue expanding Game Pass has been hampered by Sony’s desire to inhibit such growth,” Microsoft said in documents filed with Brazil’s national competition regulator. “Sony pays for ‘blocking rights’ to prevent developers from adding content to Game Pass and other competing subscription services.”

No specific games or developers are listed, nor is how much Sony has paid and how often they’ve done this, but it does feel like the logical extension of the practice of paying for timed exclusivity, where you are effectively paying to keep a game off a rival platform for a period of time. Both Microsoft and Sony have done this in the past.

This accusation does feel like an escalation, however. A “normal” process here would maybe be some sort of bidding war between Sony and Microsoft as to which game gets to come to PS Plus or Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft is instead saying that Sony is just paying developers not to come to Game Pass only, apparently meaning that the game would just be sold for full price on both the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems. It also does not feel out of character for Sony, who has been known to charge developers so crossplay could be implemented using the PlayStation ecosystem.

I am kind of amazed that Sony could be offering more money to developers to keep games off Game Pass than Microsoft is offering to put them on Game Pass, but there may be more to it than that. There could be some sort of implied consequence, like Sony wouldn’t promote your game as heavily on PlayStation if you take that deal. I doubt Sony would just straight-up refuse to release a game because it has done a Game Pass deal, but who knows.

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Console fanboy wars aside, there really is no defense of this practice from a consumer perspective. This is not company’s battling over the rights to offer games as part of their subscription service, but literally one company paying developers to not go on its rival’s service. PlayStation players do not “win” or gain anything in this scenario, Xbox players just lose. And I think that’s the argument Microsoft is making here, that Sony doesn’t want this deal to go through because they’ve long been scared of Game Pass and have been actively working to sabotage it. So their objections to the acquisition should not be given weight.

We will see if Sony responds to what Microsoft has claimed in these documents, and this fight is likely far from over.

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