Microsoft: ‘Sony has more exclusive games … many of which are better quality’

The company is negging itself to push through the Activision Blizzard deal.

Sony Interactive Entertainment / Santa Monica Studio

Sony has more exclusive games than Xbox does, according to Microsoft, which claims that many of its rival's first-party titles "are better quality." Lest you believe Microsoft is dunking on its own game studios for no reason, the company made the assertion in a filing with the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is conducting an in-depth review of the planned Activision Blizzard acquisition. Although the filing is dated October 31st, Eurogamer notes that the document has just been made publicly available.

"In addition to being the dominant console provider, Sony is also a powerful game publisher," Microsoft wrote in its response to the CMA. "Sony is roughly equivalent in size to Activision and nearly double the size of Microsoft's game publishing business." The company added that "there were over 280 exclusive first- and third-party titles on PlayStation in 2021, nearly five times as many as on Xbox."

Along with Sony's own franchises — such as The Last of Us, Ghost of Tsushima, God of War and Spider-Man — the company signs deals with third-party publishers for exclusive rights to games. Microsoft cites Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Bloodborne, as well as the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI and Silent Hill 2 remake as major titles that aren't or won't be available on Xbox.

Console exclusives account for a higher percentage of global game sales for Sony than Microsoft, the latter claimed (Sony just revealed that it sold 5.1 million copies of God of War Ragnarok in the game's launch week). However, many Xbox players opt to access Microsoft's exclusives through Game Pass instead of buying them outright — a point that Microsoft doesn't touch on while discussing the companies' sales proportions for their exclusive games.

In addition, Microsoft pointed to review scores for PlayStation and Xbox games. "The average Metacritic score for Sony’s top 20 exclusive games in 2021 was 87/100, against 80/100 for Xbox," Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft is spotlighting these factors because game exclusivity and competition concerns are important considerations that regulators reviewing the proposed Activision buyout are exploring. From Sony's perspective, one of the key sticking points of the Activision merger is the possibility that Microsoft will make the Call of Duty franchise (said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to PlayStation) exclusive to Xbox. Microsoft said it offered Sony a 10-year deal to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation earlier this month. Nevertheless, Microsoft claimed in the filing "it is implausible that Sony, the leading console with a more than 2-to-1 lead, would be foreclosed as a result of not having access to a single franchise."

Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer suggested on The Verge's Decoder podcast last week that the Activision deal was largely about scooping up mobile gaming giant King. Mobile "is a place where if we don’t gain relevancy as a gaming brand, over time the business will become untenable," Spencer said. (Xbox Cloud Gaming runs on phones and tablets as well.)

Microsoft doubled down on the mobile side of the deal in its CMA filing. "As it stands, Xbox has no material presence in mobile and its ability to reach gamers on mobile is impeded by Apple and Google’s effective duopoly in the provision of mobile app stores. The acquisition of Activision provides Xbox with capabilities and content on mobile, which it currently lacks, while creating new distribution options for game developers outside of the mobile app stores." Of note, the CMA said this week it's investigating Apple and Google's "stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices."

This isn't the first time Microsoft has tried to downplay the significance of the proposed $68.7 billion Activision deal. It claimed over the summer that Activision Blizzard has no "must-have" games, despite being behind the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (which raked in $1 billion in sales in 10 days), Overwatch 2 (35 million players in its first month), World of Warcraft and Candy Crush Saga (3 billion downloads since launch). Activision Blizzard's games had 368 million monthly active users last quarter. However, Blizzard stands to lose millions of players in China when many of its games go offline there in January.

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