Sony Accused of Gaming the System in Latest Antitrust Suit

A civil complaint filed in the Northern District of California on Tuesday accuses video game console manufacturer and game seller Sony of monopolizing the market for downloadable, digitally-delivered video games compatible with its PlayStation consoles. The class action claims that Sony’s policies funneled business away from retailers and to the PlayStation Store, causing consumers to pay supracompetitive prices for digital copies of games.

The complaint is the latest of several filed against Sony for its purportedly anticompetitive practices relating to the sale of digital video games. According to this week’s filing, Sony’s PlayStation 5, launched last November, is predicted to become the best-selling video game console ever. The lion’s share of PlayStation franchise profits, however, come from the sale of digital video games and other digital content sold through the PlayStation Store and Network rather than through consoles themselves, the complaint explains. 

For the fiscal year ending March 31, that revenue stream allegedly generated more than $17 billion for the company. These profits are, however, the alleged result of policies enacted in 2019 when Sony prohibited retailers from selling download codes for digital PlayStation games. 

This reportedly had the dual effect of establishing the PlayStation Store “as the only source from which consumers can purchase digital PlayStation games, and the only source to which video game publishers can sell digital PlayStation games.” Additionally, the Sony PlayStation Store requires game publishers to relinquish price control, thereby foreclosing price competition, the filing asserts.

In turn, prices for digital video games are allegedly much higher than physical-copy video games and significantly higher than they would be but for the anticompetitive conduct. The policies have also caused a “reduced output of PlayStation games than would exist in a free and unrestrained competitive market,” the complaint says.

The complaint states four claims under the Sherman and Clayton Acts and California’s analogue statute, including one for injunctive relief. The consumer and putative class seek to recover treble damages and their attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman PLLC.