Sony PlayStation Joins Video Game Industry Boycott, Stops Selling Hardware, Software in Russia

Sony Internactive Entertainment, corporate parent behind the PlayStation franchise, joined a growing boycott by video game companies to stop selling hardware and software in Russia due to President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

“Sony Interactive Entertainment is participating in the global community to call for peace in Ukraine,” the company said in statement. “We have stopped shipping software, hardware, launching Gran Turismo 7, and operating the PlayStation Store in Russia.”

The Gran Turismo franchise has generated more than $4 billion in sales since launching in 1997.

Sony Corporation said it has sent $2 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children, an international non-profit to help victims of the tragedy.

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Microsoft on March 4 stopped selling its branded Xbox Series X/S gaming consoles and related software in Russia, a move mirrored by other publishers. Sony joining Microsoft in halting business in Russia has been an objective for Ukraine officials since the hostilities began.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov last month called Microsoft, Sony and the e-sports market to cease operations in Russia.

“In 2022, modern technology is perhaps the best answer to the tanks, multiple rocket launchers and missiles,” Fedorov wrote in a March 2 tweet.

Microsoft Buying Video Game Giant Activision for $69 Billion

Microsoft Jan. 18 announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, a leader in video game development and interactive entertainment content publishing, for $68.7 billion in cash.

Activision properties include the “Call of Duty,” “Candy Crush,” “Diablo,” “StarCraft,” “Warcraft” and “Overwatch” franchises. The acquisition aims to accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s Xbox gaming business across mobile, PC, console and cloud and will provide building blocks for the metaverse — described as a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.

With 3 billion people actively playing video games, including 200 million Americans, and fueled by a new generation of interactive features, gaming is now the largest and fastest-growing form of home entertainment.

Microsoft will acquire Activision Blizzard for $95 per share, inclusive of Activision Blizzard’s net cash. When the transaction closes, Microsoft will become the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony. The planned acquisition also includes Activision’s global eSports activities through Major League Gaming. The company has studios around the word with nearly 10,000 employees.

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Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and he and his team will maintain their focus on driving efforts to further strengthen the company’s culture and accelerate business growth. Once the deal closes, the Activision Blizzard business will report to Phil Spencer, CEO, Microsoft Gaming.

“Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms,” Satya Nadella, chairman/CEO of Microsoft, said in a statement. “We’re investing deeply in world-class content, community and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive and accessible to all.”

Inclusivity and diversity remain a hot button issue at Activision, which saw thousands of employees reportedly sign an online petition last summer seeking improvements to a company culture that reportedly bordered on operating like a frat house. Activision has denied the claims.

Mobile is the largest segment in gaming, with nearly 95% of all players globally enjoying games on mobile. Activision Blizzard´s mobile business represents a significant presence and opportunity for Microsoft in this fast-growing segment.

“Players everywhere love Activision Blizzard games, and we believe the creative teams have their best work in front of them,” said Spencer. “Together we will build a future where people can play the games they want, virtually anywhere they want.”

The acquisition also bolsters Microsoft’s Game Pass portfolio with plans to launch Activision Blizzard games into Game Pass, which has reached a new milestone of over 25 million subscribers. With Activision Blizzard’s nearly 400 million monthly active players in 190 countries and three billion-dollar franchises, this acquisition will make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse lineups of gaming content in the industry. Upon close, Microsoft will have 30 internal game development studios, along with additional publishing and esports production capabilities.

“The combination of Activision Blizzard’s extraordinary franchises with Microsoft’s technology, distribution, access to talent, ambitious vision and shared commitment to gaming and inclusion will help ensure our continued success in an increasingly competitive industry,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard.

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and completion of regulatory review and Activision Blizzard’s shareholder approval. The deal is expected to close in fiscal-year 2023 and will be accretive to non-GAAP earnings per share upon close. The transaction has been approved by the boards of directors of both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard.

Government approval could be a sticky issue, says Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

‘[The deal] has great potential to hurt PlayStation, and that is likely to be the sticking point with regulators,” Pachter said in an email.

Specifically, the analyst contends consumers could be leery buying a PS5 if they aren’t assured that future Activision games would be available on the platform.

“That is a problem, and I expect regulators to raise it,” Pachter said. “The ultimate solution is likely to issue a consent decree [merger allowed] that requires Microsoft to continue to offer Activision games on PS5 for a number of years, but until the regulators look at this, we won’t know for sure.”

Xbox Adding Ubisoft Game Subscription Streaming Service

Ubisoft Jan. 5 announced it plans to add its Ubisoft+ video game subscription service to the Xbox platform. The software publisher also plans to offer Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction, a tactical first person-shooter (FPS) title, to Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass members when the game launches on Jan. 20.

Ubisoft+ offers more than 100 Ubisoft games, including the latest releases, DLC and classic games, rewarding users with customization items, boosters and other in-game perks. Ubisoft+ is currently available on PC, Stadia, and Amazon Luna.

“We’re demonstrating that we believe in the value and choice that game subscriptions offer to players,” Chris Early, SVP of strategic partnerships and business development at Ubisoft, said in a statement. “Rainbow Six Extraction for Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass members is just the beginning. Ultimately, we will offer the Ubisoft+ subscription service to Xbox owners so that they can enjoy the full extent of our Ubisoft+ game library, including new releases, on their consoles.”

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Rainbow Six Extraction builds on all the tactical gameplay elements introduced in Rainbow Six Siege. Ubisoft shared that Siege also will be available for PC Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members starting January 20 and will see its availability on Xbox Game Pass extended.

“With Rainbow Six Extraction, Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass members are getting another blockbuster added to their library on the same day the title launches,” said Sarah Bond, corporate VP, Game Creator Experience and Ecosystem at Xbox. “And because Rainbow Six Siege will be on both Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass as well, the Rainbow Six community and fans of tactical shooters will have plenty to look forward to playing together, no matter where they play.”

Movies Anywhere Available on Xbox Consoles

The cloud-based movie library service Movies Anywhere is now accessible on Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

Xbox users can download the Movies Anywhere app through the Microsoft store to access their movie collection on their console.

Users can playback their movies via their Xbox and purchase more movies from the Microsoft store once their retailer account is connected to their Movies Anywhere account.

Video playback on Xbox via Movies Anywhere supports 4K, HDR 10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

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Movies Anywhere participating studios include Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (including DreamWorks and Illumination Entertainment), The Walt Disney Studios (including Disney, Pixar, 20th Century Studios, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm) and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Other participating digital retailers include Apple TV, Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play/YouTube, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Verizon Fios TV and DirecTV.

JustWatch Bows App on Microsoft Xbox

JustWatch, an international streaming guide with more than 20 million users across 52 countries, has launched a branded app on Microsoft’s Xbox platform. The app allows Xbox and Series X and Series S console users to search for movies, TV shows, and where to watch from their gaming systems.

JustWatch posts weekly Top 10 lists of most streamed movies and television shows, in addition data analytics on specific platforms’ performance compared to their competitors.

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The recommendation software has apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, FuboTV, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount+, Discovery+, AMC+, The Roku Channel, IMDb TV, Starz, Epix, Showtime, YouTube, Tubi, Pluto TV, BritBox and Sundance Now, among others.

NPD: July Video Game Sales Increased 10% to Record $4.6 Billion

Following a brief downturn in April, sales of video games, hardware and accessories rose 10% in July to a record $4.6 billion, compared with revenue of $4.18 billion in July 2020 at the height of the pandemic, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Spurred by greater availability of new-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony, hardware sales skyrocketed 98% to $323 million — the best July sales tally since 2008. Hardware sales topped $161 million in the previous-year period. Year-to-date spending on consoles through July is up 50% to $2.7 billion from $1.81 billion in 2020.

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Game software sales rose 6% to $4 billion, from $3.7 billion in 2020. Year-to-date revenue rose 12% to $29.45 billion, from $26.29 last year. The top-selling game in July was Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, followed by perennial chart topper Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War from Activision.

Total consumer spending on gaming for seven months reached $33.5 billion, up 14% from $29.38 billion during the same period last year.

Roku Dominates ‘March Madness’ Streaming

With the 2021 NCAA College Basketball National Championship Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness, readying for the Sweet 16 elimination rounds, sports fans are increasingly streaming games via standalone media devices and connected televisions. The opening round set new records with more than a billion minutes streamed across 32 games in just two days, according to new data from Conviva.

The tournament thus far reveals an ongoing trend streaming games on the big TV screen. Historically the first day of round one sees the most viewership. This held true this year as day one netted 15% more time spent streaming than day two, according to the report.

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Streaming on television increased significantly in the first two rounds to 68% share of time spent in round one, from 48% in 2019 and just 41% in the opening days of 2018. While streaming games on the PC lost market share, the increase in TV consumption comes primarily at the expense of mobile viewing, which decreased to less than half the share held during the previous March Madness. The report attributed this to the pandemic-trend of in-home viewing and the overall, multiyear trend of increased streaming via televisions.

More than 40% of the tournament thus far has been streamed on TVs through Roku devices, followed by Amazon Fire TV (26%), Samsung TV (10%), and Apple TV with 8% share. LG TV and Xbox each tallied 4% share, with Chromecast picking up 3%. Irvine, Calif.-based Vizio, Android TV, and PlayStation lagged behind the field with under 2% share of viewing time.

Conviva reported that social media engagements per post rose an average of 164% for teams in round one as compared to the regular season. Teams tallied 3 million total cross-platform engagements over just two days in the first round of the tournament, with Wisconsin, Syracuse, and Illinois taking the top three spots for total cross-platform engagements.

March Madness often vaults unexpected teams into national view. This year it’s Oral Roberts with 15 times the number of social media engagements per post versus the regular season, and leading in cross-platform, Twitter, and Instagram engagement rates.

NPD: January Video Game Sales Reached Record $4.7 Billion

Strong video game sales momentum continued into 2021 as consumers seek hard-to-get new-generation gaming systems from Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox. Consumer spending across game hardware, content and accessories reached a record $4.7 billion, up 42% from $3.3 billion in the previous-year period, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Hardware sales totaled $319 million, up 144% from sales of $131 million a year ago. Accessories sales totaled $222 million, up 73% from revenue of $128 million. Software sales reached $4.17 billion, up 36% from revenue of $3 billion a year ago.

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Top 20 January physical and full-game digital games based on dollar sales:

Rank December 2020 Rank Title Publisher
1 1 Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Activision Blizzard
2 3 Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla Ubisoft
3 4 Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Sony
4 5 Madden NFL 21 Electronic Arts
5 6 Animal Crossing: New Horizons* Nintendo
6 7 Mario Kart 8: Deluxe* Nintendo
7 19 Ring Fit Adventure Nintendo
8 26 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Activision Blizzard
9 11 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate* Nintendo
10 8 NBA 2K21* Take-Two Interactive
11 10 Super Mario 3D All-Stars* Nintendo
12 14 FIFA 21 Electronic Arts
13 9 Immortals: Fenyx Rising Ubisoft
14 20 Mortal Kombat 11 Warner Bros. Interactive
15 12 Just Dance 2021 Ubisoft
16 17 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild* Nintendo
17 31 Minecraft: PlayStation 4 Edition Microsoft
18 2 Cyberpunk 2077* Warner Bros. Interactive
19 18 Super Mario Party* Nintendo
20 40 UFC 4 Electronic Arts
* Digital sales not included

 

Microsoft Bows 40-Foot Replica of Xbox Series X to Celebrate Nov. 10 Launch

Microsoft Corp. unveiled a 40-foot-tall replica of the Xbox Series X in the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington state the weekend before the Nov. 10 launch of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

The structure featured a rotation of dream-inspired art from local artists — a nod to the Xbox Power Your Dreams campaign for the new consoles.

Nov. 9 the installation footage started streaming online, revealing clues for #SolveForX, an online global scavenger hunt. Consumers can follow @Xbox Twitter to review rules and participate for their chance to win the Ultimate Xbox Experience bundle or one of seven Xbox Series X consoles. Select pieces of art will also be made available digitally after launch.

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The installation is one of many activations worldwide approaching launch day, all of which will be featured in the official Xbox launch livestream on Nov. 10 starting 11 a.m. PT.

Disney Offering ‘Mulan’ Access via Roku, Apple, Google Play

The Walt Disney Co. is a longtime champion of preserving the traditional theatrical window, eschewing industry efforts to push premium VOD in the home for new release movies.

As a result, the company’s decision to offer the live-action remake Mulan directly to consumers on Sept. 4 for $29.99 is a one-time bet requiring maximum distribution.

To that end, Disney will sell “premium access” to Mulan to Disney+ subscribers via Google Play, Apple and Roku. The move is significant considering that when CEO Bob Chapek first announced direct-to-consumer access to Mulan on the the company’s fiscal call, it was through Disney+ exclusively. Now Disney will share Mulan revenue with Apple, Roku and Google.

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The move suggests Disney might be having difficulty convincing Disney+ subs to directly purchase the film on its app.

“Starting Sept. 4, with Premier Access, you can watch Mulan before it’s available to all Disney+ subscribers,” Disney said in its FAQ section. “Disney+ will offer Premier Access to Mulan for $29.99 on DisneyPlus.com and select platforms, including Apple, Google and Roku. Once you have Premier Access to Mulan, you can watch as many times as you want on any platform where Disney+ is available. Your access to Mulan will continue as long as you are an active Disney+ subscriber.”

The movie thus far is not available through Amazon Fire TV, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox, despite the platforms affording access to the Disney+ app.