Apr 14, 2023 - Technology

North Dakota Senator wants to see PlayStation's exclusivity deals

Photo of U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer in a suit, raising his left hand

Sen. Kevin Cramer. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) is the latest politician to call out Sony PlayStation over its exclusive gaming deals, adding to the bizarre side drama spinning out of Microsoft's $69 billion attempt to buy Activision Blizzard.

Driving the news: Cramer sent a letter on April 13 to Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida expressing "concern about Sony's efforts to protect its gaming console business from competition."

  • Cramer is asking Sony to provide "unredacted copies" of "all agreements that provide Sony with an exclusive right to distribute a game developed by an independent publisher, meaning deals behind PlayStation-exclusive games like Final Fantasy XVI that isn't also announced for Microsoft's Xbox.
  • He's also asking for agreements that bar publishers from releasing games on rival subscription or streaming services, like Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass.
  • Cramer also wants to see Sony's internal strategy documents around its 2022 purchase of Destiny-maker Bungie, plus "all correspondence" with federal or state regulators over competition in gaming.

Be smart: U.S. politicians who rarely weigh in on the game industry have recently found reason to question whether Sony is conducting business in a way that unfairly squeezes Microsoft and other gaming companies, though they keep only naming Microsoft.

  • This comes as Sony loudly opposes Microsoft's Activision Blizzard bid.
  • Sony has pressed regulators in the U.K., E.U. and U.S. to block the deal out of concern it'll let Microsoft buy its way to an overwhelming advantage, especially if it pulls Activision's Call of Duty franchise from PlayStation consoles.
  • Microsoft has denied it will make Call of Duty exclusive.

Between the lines: Sen. Cramer's letter echos points and some market share data expressed in letters signed by 11 other members of Congress last month. Those letters allege that Sony's behavior in the industry hurts Microsoft, among other American businesses.

  • Cramer casts Sony as a hypocritical opponent of Microsoft's Activision deal and describes Sony's lobbying of the Federal Trade Commission about it as "anticompetitive conduct."
  • In his letter, Cramer justifies weighing in on Sony's conduct by noting that the game industry has a $20.6 million impact on the state's economy and is responsible for 221 jobs, with the potential to grow to 6,320 jobs in the next 10 years.
  • Microsoft has previously acknowledged that its government affairs team has discussed issues around Sony's games industry conduct with members of Congress.

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