The FTC has filed a legal challenge to try and block Microsoft’s plan to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.
Via the press release from the regulator –
The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to block technology giant Microsoft Corp. from acquiring leading video game developer Activision Blizzard, Inc. and its blockbuster gaming franchises such as Call of Duty, alleging that the $69 billion deal, Microsoft’s largest ever and the largest ever in the video gaming industry, would enable Microsoft to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.
In a complaint issued today, the FTC pointed to Microsoft’s record of acquiring and using valuable gaming content to suppress competition from rival consoles, including its acquisition of ZeniMax, parent company of Bethesda Softworks (a well-known game developer). Microsoft decided to make several of Bethesda’s titles including Starfield and Redfall Microsoft exclusives despite assurances it had given to European antitrust authorities that it had no incentive to withhold games from rival consoles.
“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” said Holly Vedova, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “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.”
Microsoft’s Xbox Series S and Series X are one of only two types of high performance video game consoles. Importantly, Microsoft also offers a leading video game content subscription service called Xbox Game Pass, as well as a cutting-edge cloud-based video game streaming service, according to the complaint.
Activision is one of only a very small number of top video game developers in the world that create and publish high-quality video games for multiple devices, including video game consoles, PCs, and mobile devices. It produces some of the most iconic and popular video game titles, including Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch, and has a combined 154 million monthly active users around the world, according to the FTC’s complaint. Activision currently has a strategy of offering its games on many devices regardless of producer.
But that could change if the deal is allowed to proceed. With control over Activision’s blockbuster franchises, Microsoft would have both the means and motive to harm competition by manipulating Activision’s pricing, degrading Activision’s game quality or player experience on rival consoles and gaming services, changing the terms and timing of access to Activision’s content, or withholding content from competitors entirely, resulting in harm to consumers.
The Commission vote to issue the complaint was 3-1, with Commissioner Christine S. Wilson voting no. A copy of the administrative complaint will be available shortly.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The issuance of the administrative complaint marks the beginning of a proceeding in which the allegations will be tried in a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.
Via TheVerge –
The FTC has filed a legal challenge to try and block Microsoft’s plan to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, according to a press release from the regulator. The lawsuit was filed today after weeks of back and forth between Microsoft, Sony, and regulators over competition concerns and the future of Call of Duty. The FTC argues that the acquisition would “enable Microsoft to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business.”
The vote from the FTC commissioners today means Microsoft now faces significant hurdles to getting its Activision Blizzard deal complete. Regulators in the UK and EU are also scrutinizing the deal closely, despite Microsoft’s repeated attempts to appease regulators.
“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” Holly Vedova, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said in a statement. “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.”
Microsoft offered Sony a 10-year deal on new Call of Duty games last month, but Sony hasn’t yet accepted the offer. A similar deal was agreed upon between Nintendo and Valve, though. It could see Call of Duty heading to Nintendo consoles if the Activision Blizzard deal is approved.
Microsoft’s frustrations over Sony’s objections to its Activision Blizzard deal have been clear. “Sony has emerged as the loudest objector,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith in a Wall Street Journal op-ed recently. “It’s as excited about this deal as Blockbuster was about the rise of Netflix.” Microsoft also described the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) concerns as “misplaced” and accused the regulator of adopting “Sony’s complaints without considering the potential harm to consumers.”
Microsoft has also accused Sony of paying developers to keep their content off of its Xbox Game Pass service, and Sony has even argued that Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition could “hurt developers and lead to price rises.”
Microsoft didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. The company’s corporate vice president of communications, Frank X. Shaw, tweeted a link to a document titled: “Get The Facts: How Microsoft is Committed to Growing Gaming Communities.”