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Playstation's Court Leak Is The Latest In A Long Line For Sony

Sony has an unfortunate history of leaks, with info about upcoming projects and even customer information being made public. As the gaming arm of Sony's empire, PlayStation is susceptible to these breaches, which seem to become more common as the denizens of the internet become more connected than ever. Earlier this week, a series of court documents were accidentally made public, which revealed some of the interesting goings-on at PlayStation.

And believe it or not, this latest leak didn't come from hackers, but instead a court hearing between Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is seeking a preliminary injunction to block Microsoft from closing its massive acquisition deal with Activision Blizzard, which regulators and rival companies fear could cause an unfair monopoly in the video game market. Sony is among those concerned about the effects of this merger, and so the company provided documents to the court for the purposes of the hearing. Unfortunately, Sony neglected to properly redact sensitive financial information in these documents, leading to a number of the company's secrets making their way online.

Sony's game budgets are massive, according to leaked info

After court officials scanned and uploaded the documents from Sony onto the internet, people began to notice something strange. Sony appears to have used pen or Sharpie to mark out sensitive financial information, but the original words can still be seen in the scanned copy. First spotted by The Verge, these documents — which have since been deleted, but not before being spread all over social media and news sites — paint a picture of ballooning first-party game budgets and major concerns for the future of the "Call of Duty" franchise.

Both "Horizon Forbidden West" and "The Last of Us Part 2" cost in excess of $200 million, with "Forbidden West" spending five years in development and "The Last of Us 2" nearly six years. Both games had hundreds of people on their development staffs (not uncommon in modern AAA game development), and the documents mention that the aforementioned figures don't include marketing costs. Sony is essentially spending the budgets of most superhero movies to get its AAA first-party games onto shelves.

But with those kind of expenses, it's no wonder why Sony is so adamant on keeping the steady stream of customers afforded to them by the long-running "Call of Duty" series, as noted elsewhere in these court files.

Sony fears for Call of Duty's future in leaked documents

Ever since the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard acquisition was announced, the question of exclusivity has been one of the biggest concerns for both PlayStation and its fans. Namely, once the deal goes through, will gamers be able to play titles like "Overwatch," "Call of Duty," or "Diablo" on any platforms outside of the Xbox/PC ecosystem? 

It makes perfect sense for Sony to be worried about losing a juggernaut franchise like "Call of Duty," particularly after reading through the leaked court documents. In a letter to the FTC, also included in these papers, Sony Interactive CEO Jim Ryan explained just how seriously "CoD" fans take their favorite franchise: "About 1 million users spent 100% of their gaming time on '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."

In other words, there are enough gamers out there playing solely "Call of Duty" on their PlayStations, or at least a majority of their gaming time is spent with the series. Losing "Call of Duty" to Xbox would be a huge blow to PlayStation's user base. These concerns have only grown more intense as the merger has become closer to reality, especially since Sony's contract with Activision only covers new "CoD" releases up through 2023.

Microsoft and Activision both have repeatedly reassured Sony that "Call of Duty" will still be playable on PlayStation for the foreseeable future. Despite this fact, Sony has also expressed concerns that Microsoft would purposefully sabotage "Call of Duty" PlayStation ports to make its own consoles look better. As Sony battles these newer leaks, the biggest takeaway here is that there's a real fear for the future of "Call of Duty."

Sony's history of PlayStation data breaches

There's a lot of drama surrounding this court case, to say the least, and the leaked documents have certainly not helped Sony to sweat less. And unfortunately for the tech giant, this is far from the only time that leaks have impacted its business and the PlayStation brand.

Back in April 2011, a shocking 77 million PlayStation Network users had their accounts compromised by hackers, leading to Sony shutting down the service for weeks while the culprit was found. The hackers gained access to personal information from all of these accounts, including email addresses and phone numbers. At the time, Sony was heavily criticized for not going public about the cyberattack until well over a week after it happened. In 2017, another hacker group called OurMine stole PlayStation customers' information in a bid to get the company's attention. In both cases, it seems none of this private data was released to the public, thankfully.

Of course, both of these incidents paled in comparison to the infamous Sony email leaks of 2014, at which time hackers managed to intercept and steal 100 TB of data from Sony Pictures. Not only were secretive plans for upcoming film projects revealed to the public, but Sony employees sued the company for damages. This all added up to make many fans waiver in their confidence in Sony's ability to keep confidential info, well, confidential.

Sony's first-party 'security problem,' and what's next

In late 2022, a handful of first-party Sony video games were leaked ahead of their official announcements. The most notable of these was arguably "The Last of Us Part 1," the reveal of which was supposed to be the grand finale to that year's Summer Game Fest livestream. Instead, info regarding the enhanced remaster of Naughty Dog's landmark action game was leaked in the days leading up to the event, and footage from the game continued to leak online up until launch day. Not long afterwards, spoiler-filled footage from "God of War Ragnarok" began to surface online well before the game's official launch.

During an episode of "The XboxEra Podcast" — in which the hosts discussed the also-leaked Black Panther/Captain America game — the panelists speculated that some kind of "security problem" was going on behind the scenes at Sony. This has yet to be confirmed, but it does seem like every major new Sony release is getting leaked juuuust before it's announced.

Of course, the latest leaked court documents are a much more benign case of Sony's private discussions being made public. It doesn't seem as though any of these papers contained anything truly damaging on an economic or personal level. However, this incident does seem to continue an unfortunate and unintentional trend on Sony's part. Basically, we'll probably know if a new "Call of Duty" game is coming to PlayStation a little bit before the company decides to officially announce it.

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