Sony has laid out more concerns about Microsoft's planned takeover of Activision Blizzard in its latest response to the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Sony has opposed the deal from the start. Now, it's suggesting that Microsoft could (perhaps unintentionally) kneecap the performance and quality of Call of Duty on PlayStation, which might result in fans switching to Xbox.
"Microsoft might release a PlayStation version of Call of Duty where bugs and errors emerge only on the game’s final level or after later updates," the letter (PDF) reads. "Even if such degradations could be swiftly detected, any remedy would likely come too late, by which time the gaming community would have lost confidence in PlayStation as a go-to venue to play Call of Duty. Indeed, as Modern Warfare II attests, Call of Duty is most often purchased in just the first few weeks of release. If it became known that the game’s performance on PlayStation was worse than on Xbox, Call of Duty gamers could decide to switch to Xbox, for fear of playing their favourite game at a second-class or less competitive venue."
Sony claims there wouldn't be a viable way for it or the CMA to assess how "Microsoft chooses to allocate its resources and the quality/quantity of engineers it devotes to the PlayStation version of Call of Duty to ensure that SIE would be treated fairly and equally." Degrading the quality of Call of Duty on PlayStation, intentionally or not, perhaps wouldn't be the wisest course of action, as The Verge points out. A buggy Call of Duty release on PlayStation would probably lead to a bigger backlash against Microsoft and Activision than Sony.
In any case, Microsoft noted in its latest response to the CMA (PDF) that it has offered to "provide Sony with parity on release date, content, features, upgrades, quality and playability with the Xbox platform." That is, if Sony accepts Microsoft's proposed 10-year agreement to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation. Microsoft would be willing to agree to a third-party assessor to oversee the platform parity.
Sony's letter reiterates its concern that Microsoft would make Call of Duty a Game Pass exclusive and away from PlayStation. Again, that's something Microsoft has refuted. “As we have said all along: it makes zero business sense to take Call of Duty off of PlayStation,” Microsoft Competition Law Group corporate vice president Rima Alaily recently told Axios.
An Activision spokesperson provided the following statement:
Microsoft has shown its commitment to making more games available on more platforms, across console, PC, cloud and mobile. The solutions presented are legally binding, and beyond that, our passionate player community would hold Microsoft accountable for keeping its promises.
It’s unfortunate for consumers that Sony continues to deny the opportunity for a long-term agreement and is undermining the deal to protect its two-decade dominance in video games. In an industry dominated by growing competitors from protected markets — who have massive talent pools and strong libraries of IP — this merger will allow us to continue to create incredible games and make sure those games reach more people, however they want to play.
It will be a while yet before we know for sure whether Microsoft will be allowed to buy Activision Blizzard. The CMA is set to make a final ruling on the deal by April 26th. It has millions of Microsoft and Activision documents, and thousands of emails from the public to take into account, according to Sony. The CMA raised concerns about the deal in February, suggesting it could "harm UK gamers" and lead to a "substantial lessening of competition in gaming consoles."
Other major regulators have yet to rubberstamp the takeover, including in the US, where the Federal Trade Commission has attempted to block it. However, reports suggest the European Union is set to give the merger the green light following news that Microsoft will bring Call of Duty and other games to Nintendo and GeForce Now platforms.
In case you're wondering, Microsoft's letter details how Activision would get Call of Duty games to run on Nintendo Switch, which is much less powerful than PlayStation and Xbox consoles. It would do so "by optimizing the display resolution, in-game texture resolution, reducing the rendering speed (i.e., frames per second) and simplifying advanced rendering techniques (e.g., raytracing, shadow, lighting and antialiasing techniques)." In other words, Activision will have to make some compromises. It remains to be seen how the Switch will handle the mammoth file sizes of recent Call of Duty titles, though lower-res textures will help.
In the meantime, it seems Call of Duty fans have another bizarre crossover coming their way soon. A teaser posted on the series' Twitter account shows Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a date of March 21st.
Update 3/8 5:00PM ET: Updated some language regarding the Switch ports of CoD games.
Update 3/9 2:20PM ET: Added Activision's statement.