Microsoft shook the gaming industry earlier this year when it announced an agreement to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. That deal is not yet finalized because Microsoft is clearing regulatory hurdles around the world to seek approval. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says it has concerns and will carry out an in-depth investigation.
This has led to Microsoft issuing public pleas to the CMA, asking the authority to allow the merger to go ahead. However, the CMA admits it has issues with the acquisition and will conduct a thorough review.
According to the watchdog, there are concerns “Microsoft's anticipated purchase of Activision Blizzard could substantially lessen competition in gaming consoles, multi-game subscription services, and cloud gaming services.”
Sony has been a vocal leader in the backlash against the deal. One of Sony's main concerns is that Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard will create a gaming monopoly. The PlayStation company is not alone, it is a worry shared by many. In buying the developer, Call of Duty, Diablo, Warcraft, Candy Crush, Watchdogs and other triple-A franchises will be under Microsoft's control.
Microsoft could use these titles to boost its Xbox Game Pass service. Titles from Activision Blizzard will almost certainly come to Game Pass, the questions are about exclusivity. Is Microsoft going to make Call of Duty and other franchises exclusive to Xbox and limit availability on other platforms?
The company insists this is not its intention. Just recently, Microsoft gaming head, Phil Spencer, spoke about how the company is being transparent with regulators.
This seems to be not enough for the CMA, which says it is moving to “Phase 2” of its investigation into the deal if Microsoft cannot provide the answers it needs within five working days. A Phase 2 probe would mean using an independent panel to look more deeply into the acquisition.
Spencer published a blog this week aiming to ease the CMA's concerns.
“We've heard that this deal might take franchises like Call of Duty away from the places where people currently play them,” says Spencer. “That's why, as we've said before, we are committed to making the same version of Call of Duty available on PlayStation on the same day the game launches elsewhere.
“We know players benefit from this approach because we've done it with Minecraft, which continues to be available on multiple platforms and has expanded to even more since Mojang joined Microsoft in 2014,” says Spencer.
Addressing the CMA directly, Microsoft presider Brad Smith makes it clear Microsoft has no intention to withdraw major franchises:
“We're ready to work with the CMA on next steps and address any of its concerns. Sony, as the industry leader, says it is worried about Call of Duty, but we've said we are committed to making the same game available on the same day on both Xbox and PlayStation. We want people to have more access to games, not less.”
Microsoft has said in the past preventing major franchises on other platforms would not be profitable.
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