Sony’s confidential PlayStation secrets just spilled because of a Sharpie


Photo by Anthony Wallace / AFP via Getty Images

Sony highly confidential information about its PlayStation business has just been revealed by mistake. As part of the FTC v. Microsoft hearing, Sony supplied a document from PlayStation chief Jim Ryan that includes redacted details on the margins Sony shares with publishers, its Call of Duty revenues, and even the cost of developing some of its games.

It looks like someone redacted the documents with a black Sharpie — but when you scan them in, it’s easy to see some of the redactions. Oops.

The court has scrambled to remove the document, but the damage is done; reporters and Sony’s competition have already downloaded all the documents while they were in the public domain. Among other things, the document shows that Horizon Forbidden West apparently cost $212 million over five years with 300 employees, and The Last of Us Part II cost $220 million with around 200 employees:


Image: Sony

It’s not just how much games cost to make that’s been revealed here, either. Sony says 1 million PlayStation gamers play nothing but Call of Duty. My colleague Sean Hollister has analyzed the document, and it appears to show:

In 2021, over [14?] million users (by device) spent 30 percent or more of their time playing Call of Duty, over 6 million users spent more than 70% of their time on Call of Duty, and about 1 million users spent 100% of their gaming time on Call of Duty. In 2021, Call of Duty players spent an average of [116?] hours per year playing Call of Duty. Call of Duty players spending more than 70 percent of their time on Call of Duty spent an average of 296 hours on the franchise.

Sony supplied this information in an attempt to show that its revenues would be heavily impacted if Call of Duty was an Xbox exclusive. In multiple filings to regulators, Sony has maintained that it fears Microsoft could make Call of Duty exclusive to Xbox or even sabotage the PlayStation versions of the game.

And we may have an inkling of that revenue impact because Sony also accidentally revealed how much money Call of Duty is worth to PlayStation. We already knew the figure was over a billion dollars, but the document suggests CoD was worth $800 million for PlayStation revenue in just the US during 2021 — and we think the document says $1.5 billion globally. And that’s just the game alone, but when you count accessories, subscriptions, and everything else, then that jumps to (what appears to our eyes) to be $15.9 billion a year — or perhaps $13.9 billion. Either way, it’s a huge amount.


Image: Sony

How much does Sony share with third-party publishers like Activision? This one’s fuzzy enough we can’t confidently translate it, but the “typical margin” looks like it might be 10 percent? See below:

Does that first bit say 14 percent of PlayStation games sold are Sony’s own first-party games? We’re not quite sure, but comparing to other numbers in the document it looks like “1” and “4”. Image: Sony

The document also reveals that Sony only has one more Call of Duty game as part of its exclusive marketing deal with Activision. “[T]he last game covered by the contract is a Call of Duty title to be released in late 2023,” reads part of the document from Jim Ryan that wasn’t properly redacted.

Sony also says around half of PS5 owners also have a Nintendo Switch. The FTC and Microsoft have continually been arguing over whether the Switch is a competitor to the Xbox and PS5 during this hearing, and Sony’s data is even clearer evidence of the makeup of console ownership in the US:

According to SIE internal surveys, almost half of PlayStation 5 owners in the United States also own a Nintendo Switch, while less than 20% of PlayStation 5 owners in the United States also own an Xbox Series X or S.

Sony isn’t the only one affected by document redaction issues, though. A confidential Microsoft document revealed all of the company’s Xbox acquisition targets earlier this week, and now that document has disappeared and has been replaced with a heavily redacted version.

That one wasn’t redacted with a Sharpie, though.

Update, 6:28PM ET: We originally wrote that Sony failed to properly redact this information, but it’s not clear who performed the redaction; Sony is not a party to the case and had repeatedly asked the courts to seal and/or redact portions of the material.