Microsoft CEO Brad Smith participates in a meeting at The Westin Palace Hotel, on 20 May, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.
Cezaro De Luca | Europa Press | Getty Images
The Federal Trade Commission’s challenge to the proposed $68.7 billion acquisition stands out as the biggest government pushback Microsoft has dealt with on home turf since facing off against the Justice Department two decades ago over the dominance of Windows in the operating system market.
Under President Donald Trump, Google’s umbrella company Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Facebook parent Meta all faced inquiries from U.S. competition officials. That left Microsoft to go about its business and continue expanding with acquisitions through the election of President Joe Biden, even after Biden’s appointee, technology critic Lina Khan, took over at the FTC. But then Microsoft revealed its plan to buy Activision Blizzard. On Dec. 8 the FTC argued that the transaction would violate federal law.
“Even with confidence in our case, we remain committed to creative solutions with regulators that will protect competition, consumers, and workers in the tech sector,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and vice chair, said in a statement provided to CNBC. “As we’ve learned from our lawsuits in the past, the door never closes on the opportunity to find an agreement that can benefit everyone.”
To relieve government opposition to the deal, Microsoft has offered concessions.
In October Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft’s gaming unit, said Microsoft had committed to bringing Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty games to Nintendo consoles for a decade and keeping the games on Valve’s Steam game store. Microsoft has also offered to sign a 10-year agreement with Sony to release Call of Duty games on PlayStation consoles on the same day they reach Microsoft Xbox consoles. “Sony refuses to deal,” Microsoft said in its filing.
Activision Blizzard has not put immediately made its new games available through subscription services such as Microsoft’s Game Pass, Microsoft said.
“The acquisition of a single game by the third-place console manufacturer cannot upend a highly competitive industry,” Microsoft said in its response. “That is particularly so when the manufacturer has made clear it will not withhold the game. The fact that Xbox’s dominant competitor has thus far refused to accept Xbox’s proposal does not justify blocking a transaction that will benefit consumers.”
Microsoft said that after taking almost a year to investigate the deal and examining millions of documents from Activision Blizzard and Microsoft, the FTC has not shown evidence that Microsoft is looking to yank the game series from the PlayStation. Ensuring the games will be widely available is good for business, the company said.
Outside the U.S., Brazil gave the OK for the deal to proceed, while the United Kingdom has been scrutinizing it.
Members of the public sent more than 2,100 emails to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority in response to a statement from the agency describing three ways the deal could lessen competition. Around 75% of the emails expressed support for the acquisition, the agency said on Wednesday.
If the deal does close, Microsoft would be “the world’s number three gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony,” Spencer said on a conference call on the day of the deal announcement.
In the months since then, two groups of Activision Blizzard employees have voted to form unions. Microsoft has said it’s committed to efforts that would make it easier for employees to decide on whether to join or start a union.
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