In an astonishing twist of events, Sony’s endeavor to conceal sensitive data using black marker technology has backfired, allowing vigilant investigators to decode classified numbers. Unveiled in a US district court during the ongoing hearing on Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a leaked Sony document has revealed staggering development costs associated with highly anticipated games like Horizon Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 2.

The budget allocated for Horizon amounted to a substantial $212 million — while The Last of Us Part 2 surpassed that with a staggering $220 million. While exorbitant budgets are not uncommon in the gaming industry (as evident from Star Citizen‘s remarkable $600 million in funding), it is rare to obtain precise figures directly from companies such as Sony.

The inadvertent revelation can be attributed to the peculiar nature of blacked-out text on scanned paper, where the marker’s residue allows for legibility. The responsibility for redacting the document remains unclear, opening the door to scrutiny regarding Sony’s choice of marker.

Beyond the financial aspects, the document sheds light on the extensive development processes involved; Horizon Forbidden West took 5 years to create and involved a team of up to 300 employees at its peak, while The Last of Us Part 2 engaged 200 individuals — these details, originally concealed by the black ink, have now become discernible.

Furthermore, The Verge analyzed a challenging section of the document, hinting at a significant PlayStation user base exclusively dedicated to the Call of Duty franchise, numbering in the millions. Under the current agreement between Sony and Activision, only the upcoming Call of Duty installment, scheduled for release later this year, is confirmed for PlayStation.

FTC vs. Microsoft: Sony Supports Opposition to Acquisition, Revealing Potential Consequences

The backdrop of this disclosure lies within the legal battle between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Microsoft concerning the latter’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Seeking temporary intervention to delay the deal until an ultimate judgment in August, the FTC aims to prevent Microsoft from gaining excessive market power. Naturally, Sony, as a gaming rival of Microsoft, aligns itself with the FTC’s cause.

The document serves as PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan‘s contribution to establishing the potential consequences of Microsoft controlling Call of Duty, including the possibility of Xbox exclusivity. In its defense, Microsoft has committed to maintaining Call of Duty on PlayStation, at least for the time being — still, their precedent of making Starfield an exclusive title after acquiring Bethesda raises questions and fuels speculation.

This hearing has uncovered numerous intriguing details, inadvertently exposed through document mishaps, including Microsoft’s prior contemplation of acquiring Bungie, Sega, IO Interactive, Square Enix, and others. Although the inadequately redacted Sony document has been removed from its original server, the cat is already out of the bag.

The fate of Microsoft’s acquisition hinges on the outcome of this hearing, with the FTC striving to block it, and UK regulators also expressing concerns. All will be decided by Thursday (07/29/2023), shaping the future of this jeopardized deal.

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