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The Federal Trade Commission is suing to block the proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft. It contends that the acquisition, if completed, would give Microsoft an unfair advantage over its competitors.
This morning, the four-person commission voted to issue the lawsuit. The three Democrat members (chair Lina Khan, Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya) voted in favor and the Republican (Christine Wilson) voted against. The commission allegedly met with Microsoft the day prior to discuss concessions, according to a report from The Washington Post.
If its news release is anything to go by, the commissioners weren’t convinced that Microsoft wouldn’t withhold Activision Blizzard’s popular games from competing services. The FTC cited Microsoft’s acquisition of Zenimax, and how games such as Starfield and Redfall became exclusive following its close.
Holly Vedova, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement, “Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals. Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”
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The FTC is not the only government body to express concern about the implications of the acquisition. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating. It recently closed Phase One of the investigation, and expressed concerns in its issues statement.
The history of the planned acquisition
Microsoft announced its intention to acquire the publisher in January. Through this acquisition, it would become the regent of popular gaming franchises such as Call of Duty, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and many others. Reportedly, it offered around $69 billion for Activision Blizzard.
The concerns about the scale of the acquisition emerged almost as soon as it was announced. The FTC reportedly moved to investigate the deal almost immediately. Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad said at the time that Microsoft would have to pay Activision $3 billion if the deal was blocked.
The current focal point of the antitrust concerns is the Call of Duty franchise. Sony has repeatedly contended, in public statements primarily aimed at the CMA’s investigation, that Microsoft could undermine its competition via these popular and lucrative games. It could, according to Sony, either outright stop publishing them on Sony’s platforms, or it could offer them on its Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Sony claims Call of Duty on Game Pass would diminish demand for Sony consoles even if Call of Duty is still published on them.
Microsoft has, in turn, responded that its competitors have plenty of exclusive titles of their own. It’s also offered to sign 10-year deals with Sony, Nintendo and Valve (the company behind PC games store Steam) to offer Call of Duty titles on their platforms. It announced earlier this week that it has inked such a deal with Nintendo.
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president, said in a statement to The Verge, “We continue to believe that this deal will expand competition and create more opportunities for gamers and game developers. We have been committed since Day One to addressing competition concerns, including by offering earlier this week proposed concessions to the FTC. While we believed in giving peace a chance, we have complete confidence in our case and welcome the opportunity to present our case in court.”
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