Sharpie scanning goof reveals major PlayStation budgets and revenues

sony sharpie redact 760x380.jpg
sony sharpie redact 760x380.jpg
Sharpie with magic sparks shooting out, on top of redacted Sony documents
Enlarge / Sharpies are great for many things—labeling leftovers, writing “bedroom” on packing boxes, ruining dry erase boards. They’re not the best tool for sensitive documents submitted in a federal hearing.

Aurich Lawson

Most people know AAA games cost a lot to make, but they can also be cash cows if they’re hits. Now, because Sharpies can fail to fully redact paper documents if you scan them, we can quantify some of Sony’s PlayStation game budgets, earnings, headcounts, and other figures.

As reported by The Verge, the documents were supplied by Sony’s CEO of PlayStation Jim Ryan. Ryan’s submission is part of the ongoing FTC v. Microsoft hearing resulting from the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to block Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard on antitrust grounds. By giving the FTC confidential numbers on AAA game performance, Sony aimed to show how Microsoft having Call of Duty as an exclusive franchise could hurt Sony (despite emails to the contrary).

But because of the interplay of paper, printer ink, Sharpie ink, and optical scanners, a lot more people, including journalists, can see those numbers. Some of the big ones are:

Elsewhere in the documents, Sony’s Ryan suggests that 1 million PlayStation owners exclusively play Call of Duty games, with up to 20 million more spending either significant or majority portions of their PlayStation time in the game.

Microsoft, too, has shown more of its hand than it intended in the hearing so far. Earlier this week, internal Microsoft emails show the Xbox division considering purchases of Sega, Bungie, or Hitman creator IO Interactive. The aim, back in 2020, was to “spend Sony out of business,” according to Xbox Game Studios chief Matt Booty. Microsoft told The Verge that the email represented “industry trends we never pursued” and had nothing to do with the Activision Blizzard acquisition.

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