Sony Argues Microsoft Made Starfield and Future Elder Scrolls Games Xbox-Exclusive After ZeniMax Acquisition

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In its full response (published today) to the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s provisional findings from the MicrosoftActivision deal review, Sony has reiterated its desire for the acquisition to be blocked on account of Microsoft’s past behavior with acquisitions and the likelihood of the significant lessening of competition (SLC) scenarios outlined by the CMA. The Japanese gaming giant argues that Microsoft’s claims of maintaining existing properties’ multi-platform presence post-acquisition are not relevant to the current situation. Instead, Sony points towards Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield and Elder Scrolls titles, and states that Microsoft making these properties Xbox-exclusive post-acquisition is the better indicator of what it plans to do with Activision Blizzard’s IPs.

The CMA’s provisional findings from its Phase 2 review of the Microsoft-Activision deal remain a major bone of contention between Microsoft and Sony a month into their release. To address the regulator’s concerns of anti-competitive behavior on its part, Microsoft has signed multiple access agreements with the likes of Nintendo, Nvidia, Boosteroid, and Ubitus to provide Activision Blizzard’s video game offerings (including Call of Duty) to these companies’ hardware and services. The Redmond corporation also made public the details of a similar offer to Sony itself, which the latter has not accepted.

In its own response to the CMA’s provisional findings, Sony has expressed support for the UK antitrust watchdog’s stance and has pointed to Microsoft’s behavior with Bethesda’s previously-multi-platform IPs after the ZeniMax acquisition as a direct indicator of its plans for Activision Blizzard’s games:

First, Microsoft argues that “its past business practices are consistent with its stated position” that it does not intend to remove Call of Duty from PlayStation (or degrade access to it). This is difficult to square with what has actually happened. The CMA “reviewed Microsoft’s strategy following its previous acquisitions” and found that Microsoft “typically makes games exclusive to Xbox”. Microsoft has never disputed this.

Microsoft is fond of arguing that, with its prior acquisitions, it did not make the existing, already released games it acquired exclusive to Xbox. But the foreclosure concern in this case is not about past releases of Call of Duty. It is about the impact of Microsoft making new Call of Duty releases (which are launched every year) exclusive, as it has done for the new releases of Starfield and Elder Scrolls following the acquisition of ZeniMax in 2021. As the PFs explain, these releases were announced in 2018 and were not expected at that time to be Xbox exclusives. It was only after acquiring ZeniMax that Microsoft’s Phil Spencer revealed that, all along, the deal had been about “delivering great exclusive games” for Xbox.

Second, Microsoft points to Minecraft as an example of an acquisition where it did not pursue exclusivity. But this example is not relevant to an exclusivity strategy regarding future releases of Call of Duty. Minecraft is a single release game that is already in users’ hands: unlike Call of Duty, there are no future releases of Minecraft. The CMA correctly points out that Minecraft’s “legacy monetisation model of a one-time fee for lifetime access and updates…differs significantly from Call of Duty, where users buy the new premium iteration of the game every year for a higher fee”. SIE therefore agrees with the PFs that the more relevant indicator of Microsoft’s intentions on exclusivity for Call of Duty is the ZeniMax deal.

Sony further argues that besides direct foreclosure strategies such as raising the price of Call of Duty titles on PlayStation or offering them on cloud gaming services for a “commercially unviable price” (claims Microsoft has shot down), it could also indirectly engage in foreclosing behavior such as by dedicating its best teams to the Call of Duty experience on Xbox hardware and services. In conclusion, it agrees with the CMA’s prediction of the deal’s consequent SLCs, and reiterates its belief that the deal should be blocked altogether.

Source: CMA (spotted by CharlieINTEL)

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16 thoughts on “Sony Argues Microsoft Made Starfield and Future Elder Scrolls Games Xbox-Exclusive After ZeniMax Acquisition

  1. They also hurt the game’s development immensely. Starfield was already half way through its “next gen console only” development in 2020 and then that garbage series s got introduced to the studio. I wonder will it get delayed yet again and will everyone in the games industrry pretend that they don’t know why it did again???

  2. As a player that only plays on playstation is wrong on Microsoft to make an IP like Elder Scrolls solely theirs when has always been open to all. If Microsoft wants more exclusive content than Halo then they need to reflect on what works for them and expand on it like Sony has been doing for years. Yet Sony has been allowing some Playstation exclusive content out to other platforms lately. Where is the same consideration from Microsoft? A large portion of the player base can only afford one or the other not both.

    1. What a disingenuous statement. First, Elder Scrolls has NOT always been available on all platforms. Part 1 and 2 were PC only, part 3 Morrowind was PC and Xbox. Playstation got part 4 and 5. Part 6 isn’t even in full production and has not been announced as an exclusive. Secondly, Microsoft has been allowing their “exclusives” to go to PC for MUCH longer than Sony. Everything you said is wrong.

    2. You do realize for over 10 years, Microsoft has been trying to get Sony to allow cross platform and Sony has been saying no and making a bunch of big name games exclusives. This is The first time since halo that Microsoft has made anything exclusive. Microsoft has been trying to make it so anyone anywhere can play any game no matter the console and Sony is the only ones that don’t want anything to do with it. Sony has the most exclusives out of anyone, they are the ones who don’t want to play fair

      1. Has not Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy, and now The Last of Us part 1 not be allowed a pc port? Sony does not have as those games are made by playstation studio companies. Is a slow process that Microsoft can also do for those unable to afford a second console. I have given up trying experience Halo and accept Destiny as the main sci-fi shooter besides Mass Effect for me. Sony is trying to appease but seems like ain’t enough.

    3. Ummm…sorry to burst your bubble here but Microsoft invented MS DOS, the very first platform that TES was on. And TES wasn’t on any console until Morrowind. And btw Morrowind was not actually the third TES game.

  3. And as this article mentioned how Minecraft is not relevant, because of it being a one time purchase of sorts—the same would apply with Starfield, a seemingly one time purchase with future updates…

  4. So a company known mainly for having the best exclusives, is now intimidated because the competition is gaining it’s first big traction with exclusives? Where is this energy about spider man? It’s apparently wrong for Microsoft to gain Bethesda and make those previously multi platform games exclusive, but Sony can cut the availability of one of the most popular superheroes ever made in half and it’s alright just cause it ended up on their half? This is so petty.

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