Microsoft has claimed Sony pays publishers and developers "block fees" to stop them from putting their titles on Xbox Game Pass. In response to Sony's assertions that the Call of Duty franchise influences "users' console choice" and lacks a proper rival, the Xbox Series X|S maker has said Sony is stalling the company's ability to grow its subscription service. This is because of payments made to developers that prevent them "from adding content to Game Pass and other competing subscription services".
The comments appear in a document justifying Microsoft's acquisition of Activision, sent to the Brazilian Administrative Council for Economic Defense, and as spotted by ResetEra member Idas. Sony and other third-party companies were asked to submit their thoughts on the purchase last month — which is where Sony originally made its concerns known — and Microsoft's response suggests it thinks Sony is fearful of Xbox Game Pass.
Microsoft explains: "Considering that exclusivity strategies have been at the core of Sony's strategy to strengthen its presence in the games industry, and that Sony is a leader in the distribution of digital games, Sony's concern with possible exclusivity of Activision's content is incoherent, to say the least."
It then continues: "It only reveals, once again, a fear about an innovative business model that offers high-quality content at low costs to gamers, threatening a leadership that has been forged from a device-centric and exclusivity-focused strategy over the years." Sony has recently introduced two new tiers to its PS Plus service in PS Plus Extra and PS Plus Premium, but these focus more on delivering a large catalogue of older titles rather than releasing first-party hits straight into the service on day one. At the time of writing, Stray appears to be an outlier from a third-party that immediately joins the list of All PS Plus Games.
The Xbox platform holder argues Sony doesn't "want attractive subscription services to threaten its dominance in the digital distribution market for console games. In other words, Sony rails against the introduction of new monetization models capable of challenging its business model." The fact Sony refuses to put its upcoming PlayStation Studios titles straight into PS Plus Extra or PS Plus Premium suggests Microsoft's claim could be true. Instead of paying a subscription fee, God of War Ragnarok will be a £69.99/$69.99 title when it launches in November.
But the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will almost certainly outsell anything Sony has on its docket. In its original statement, the company voiced its worries over how "players would be unlikely to switch to alternative games, as they would lose that familiarity, those skills, and even the friends they made playing the game". While it notes Call of Duty: Vanguard represented a weaker year for the series, "players remain loyal to the brand and continue to buy the game".
Of course, exclusivity deals are commonplace on both sides of the pond. Sony paid for timed exclusivity over Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo. It also has a deal in place for 2023's Forspoken. Microsoft, meanwhile, has short windows of exclusivity on many indie releases.
Microsoft has said time and time again the Call of Duty series will remain multiplatform, but Sony has still voiced its concerns on the buyout and what it means for the PlayStation player base. In response, Microsoft says Sony is holding Xbox Game Pass back through these payments to block titles appearing on the service. What's your take on this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.