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Sony sued over PlayStation’s digital store ‘monopoly’

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday as the Apple vs. Epic trial continues

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At left, a PlayStation 4 with a DualShock 4 controller. At right, a PlayStation 5 with a Dualsense controller. Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

A PlayStation user is seeking class-action status for a new lawsuit that alleges Sony has an illegal monopoly over digital game purchases on its platform. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday night in a California court. Lawyers claim that Sony’s 2019 decision to stop PlayStation users from buying third-party download codes is violating antitrust and unfair competition laws.

Bloomberg first reported the lawsuit on Thursday morning.

Sony previously allowed players to purchase games via download codes from third-party retailers like GameStop and Amazon. But in 2019, after a leaked memo circulated online, Sony confirmed that download codes were only purchasable via the PlayStation Store, not third-party retailers. Those restrictions established the alleged “monopoly over the sale of digital PlayStation games,” according to the lawsuit.

“Sony’s monopoly allows it to charge supracompetitive prices for digital PlayStation games, which are significantly higher than their physical counterparts sold in a competitive retail market, and significantly higher than they would be in a competitive retail market for digital games,” lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Lawyers claim that popular games sell for, on average, 75% more digitally on the PlayStation Store than those sold physically. That number could be up to 175% more at its highest, according to the lawsuit. Sony made $17 billion in revenue over the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2021, from digital PlayStation games and other content purchased on the PlayStation Network, the company said in an earning report; lawyers said $7 billion of that may be due to overcharging via the alleged monopoly on downloads from the PlayStation Store.

Polygon has reached out to Sony Interactive Entertainment for comment.

The lawsuit was filed as Apple and Epic Games continue to fight in court over Apple’s alleged antitrust violations. Both Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their respective marketplaces in 2020 after Epic Games added its own payment system to the game — breaking the app stores’ rules. Epic then filed two lawsuits, against Apple and Google, citing antitrust violations. Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is currently playing out in court, which has revealed lots of information about the notoriously secretive industry.

(Epic, for its part, is partially funded by Sony: Sony has invested $450 million into the Fortnite and Unreal Engine maker.)

For a long time, console users and developers accepted these app store restrictions and rules as industry norms. That appears to no longer be the case, as companies like Epic take on the monolith of Apple — and now, a group of PlayStation users seeks to take on Sony.