Sony is currently facing an investigation regarding market abuse allegations related to its practices on the PlayStation Store. Following recent scrutiny of Xbox for potentially anti-competitive behavior in its attempted acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Sony is now under the spotlight.
Back in 2019, Sony made an announcement that it would no longer sell digital download codes for the PS4 through third-party retailers. With the release of the PS5 in late 2020, Sony maintained the same store practices. Although customers can still purchase gift cards for the PlayStation Store from third-party sellers, the option to buy digital download codes directly is no longer available. This raised concerns about Sony having the ability to control game prices without other retailers offering competitive pricing options.
These concerns were previously discussed when Sony made the decision, but it has now escalated into an official investigation. In 2021, a group of consumers filed a lawsuit over this issue, but it was dismissed by the judge, who stated that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Sony’s exclusive sales through the PlayStation Store were intended to eliminate competition. Another antitrust lawsuit was filed against Sony in the UK by a consumer rights expert in August 2022, but the outcome of that case is currently unknown.
The Romanian Competition Council has issued an official statement regarding an investigation it has initiated into Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe Limited and its subsidiaries. The council is examining potential violations of competition rules by Sony related to its restriction on the sale of PlayStation-compatible games exclusively through the PlayStation Store, prohibiting third-party retailers from selling such games. The concern raised by the Romanian Competition Council is that this practice may discourage Romanian studios from developing games compatible with the PlayStation platform, especially considering the popularity of the PlayStation brand among Romanian gamers.
Based on available data, Romania is home to approximately 1.3 million gamers and 127 video game studios that could potentially be impacted by Sony’s decision to restrict the sale of PlayStation-compatible games through third-party retailers. The Romanian Competition Council has conducted inspections at Sony’s European headquarters as part of its investigation, aiming to gather additional information and evidence related to the case.
While the outcome of both the ongoing antitrust class-action lawsuit in the UK and the Romanian investigation is uncertain, considering the UK’s strict approach in dealing with similar issues concerning Xbox, it is possible that Sony may face challenging times ahead as it faces scrutiny over its practices in the PS Store from various angles.