Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard Deal Changes the Game

After more than 20 months and more hurdles than a track meet, Microsoft has completed its $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Despite efforts from governments in the US and UK to keep tech giants from increasing in size and reach, Microsoft’s acquisition of the Call of Duty maker shows the enduring power of major technology companies—even in the face of regulatory obstacles. The last of those obstacles came in April when the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, or CMA, blocked the deal. On Friday, the CMA reversed the decision, clearing the way for Microsoft’s acquisition to complete.

“We now have all regulatory approvals necessary to close and we look forward to bringing joy and connection to even more players around the world,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement to employees.

The closing of the deal offers a peek at gaming’s future, one where Microsoft now holds a sizable chunk of the market. What’s most interesting about the decision that came out of the UK is the reason that it happened. Although a lot of hand-wringing about the deal had focused on whether Microsoft would have too much power in the gaming space broadly, the CMA’s focus had been on cloud gaming. In August, Activision agreed to sell its non-European cloud gaming rights to Ubisoft, a move that the CMA believes will ensure competition in the space.

“We delivered a clear message to Microsoft that the deal would be blocked unless they comprehensively addressed our concerns and stuck to our guns on that,” CMA chief Sarah Cardell said. “With the sale of Activision’s cloud streaming rights to Ubisoft, we’ve made sure Microsoft can’t have a stranglehold over this important and rapidly developing market.”

That doesn’t mean the deal still isn’t a huge consolidation of gaming under the umbrella of one company. When the US Federal Trade Commission originally sued to block the acquisition last December it did so over concerns that the deal would “enable Microsoft to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.” In July, a judge in California denied the FTC’s request for an injunction on the deal after Microsoft agreed to keep Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty on PlayStation for a decade and bring the game to the Nintendo Switch.

The FTC, though, isn’t entirely through with Microsoft. The agency is still appealing that ruling and, per a CNBC report on Friday, is sticking with a hearing on the matter scheduled for December. “Microsoft and Activision’s new agreement with Ubisoft presents a whole new facet to the merger that will affect American consumers,” spokesperson Victoria Graham said. “The FTC continues to believe this deal is a threat to competition.”

Even after making concessions to regulators, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is still huge in scale. In addition to having scores of the company’s games to offer on Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft will now add nine Blizzard game studios to Xbox Game Studios and bring some 8,500 Activision employees into the Microsoft fold.

What all of this means for gamers in the long term remains to be seen, but in a statement issued Friday Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer seemed to anticipate concerns about games ending up solely in the Microsoft ecosystem. “Whether you play on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, PC or mobile, you are welcome here—and will remain welcome, even if Xbox isn’t where you play your favorite franchise,” he said, adding “when everyone plays, we all win.” Today, though, the win is Microsoft’s.

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