As Sony fights tooth and nail to get regulators to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, poor Battlefield is getting caught in the crossfire. In a filing with the UK’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Sony argues that Call of Duty is a uniquely important franchise to have on PlayStation consoles, and can’t be replaced by the likes of Battlefield. Microsoft would control the franchise if its deal to acquire Activision Blizzard is allowed to proceed.
Here’s Sony’s relevant paragraph in full, emphasis added:
“Call of Duty is not replicable. Call of Duty is too entrenched for any rival, no matter how well equipped, to catch up. It has been the top-selling game for almost every year in the last decade and, in the first-person shooter (‘FPS’) genre, it is overwhelmingly the top-selling game. Other publishers do not have the resources or expertise to match its success. To give a concrete example, Electronic Arts — one of the largest third-party developers after Activision — has tried for many years to produce a rival to Call of Duty with its Battlefield series. 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.”
Arguments like this aren’t uncommon when company lawyers are arguing with regulators about who should or shouldn’t be allowed to acquire who. But it’s an odd experience watching a business switch from marketing to roasting.
Microsoft, for example, has been doing exactly the same thing as Sony in its own filings with the CMA. Here’s how my colleague Tom Warren described Microsoft’s arguments:
“Microsoft’s full response to the CMA, seen by The Verge, also includes parts where the company tries to, comically, make it look like it somehow sucks at gaming and it can’t compete. Microsoft says Xbox ‘is in last place in console’ and ‘seventh place in PC’ and ‘nowhere in mobile game distribution globally,’ and Microsoft argues it has no reason to harm or degrade rival cloud gaming services as it wants to ‘encourage the major shift in consumer behavior required for cloud gaming to succeed.’”
And it was a similar story when Meta was trying to argue that it should be allowed to buy Giphy in its own filings with the CMA, when it said that GIFs actually suck and young people hate them. “There are indications of an overall decline in GIF use,” Meta said, adding later that “marketplace commentary and user sentiment towards GIFs on social media shows that they have fallen out of fashion as a content form, with younger users in particular describing GIFs as ‘for boomers’ and ‘cringe.’” The CMA didn’t buy it.
In fairness, IGN points out that Sony kind of has a point about Battlefield and Call of Duty. While Activision’s franchise just enjoyed the its biggest opening weekend ever, EA said that the launch of the most recent Battlefield game, Battlefield 2042, “did not meet expectations.” Microsoft may have said it wants to keep Call of Duty games on PlayStation “as long as there’s a PlayStation out there to ship to,” but Sony is arguing against it controlling the franchise in the first place.
As well as the UK’s CMA, the European Commission is also investigating Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and the USA’s Federal Trade Commission has reportedly also been expressing an interest in taking a closer look at the deal. It suggests the deal might not be ready to close for months to come.