Tech giant Microsoft has seen positive developments in recent days in both the US and the UK for its planned acquisition of video game publisher Activision Blizzard.
In a ruling on Tuesday (July 11), a judge in California, US, found against the attempt to block the acquisition by US’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC), while the regulatory body’s UK counterpart the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has indicated that it would be open to reconsidering its decision to block the purchase.
Denying the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction in a still ongoing antitrust trial between the FTC and Microsoft, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley said: “Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision has been described as the largest in tech history. It deserves scrutiny. That scrutiny has paid off: Microsoft has committed in writing, in public, and in court to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation for 10 years on parity with Xbox. It made an agreement with Nintendo to bring Call of Duty to Switch. And it entered several agreements for the first time to bring Activision’s content to several cloud gaming services.
“This Court’s responsibility in this case is narrow. It is to decide if, notwithstanding these current circumstances, the merger should be halted – perhaps even terminated – pending resolution of the FTC administrative action. For the reasons explained, the Court finds the FTC has not shown a likelihood it will prevail on its claim this particular vertical merger in this specific industry may substantially lessen competition. To the contrary, the record evidence points to more consumer access to Call of Duty and other Activision content. The motion for a preliminary injunction is therefore denied.”
Microsoft’s satisfaction with this decision was tempered somewhat yesterday (July 12), however, with the FTC having submitted an appeal ahead of the day’s deadline.
Of that, Microsoft president Brad Smith said: “We're disappointed that the FTC is continuing to pursue what has become a demonstrably weak case, and we will oppose further efforts to delay the ability to move forward.”
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Various experts quoted across media have suggested that it is unlikely the decision will be overturned.
It was also yesterday that the UK’s CMA, the first regulator to block the acquisition, appeared to soften its stance on the deal.
A spokesperson for the body said: “We stand ready to consider any proposals from Microsoft to restructure the transaction in a way that would address the concerns,” adding: “Microsoft and Activision have indicated that they are considering how the transaction might be modified, and the CMA is prepared to engage with them on this basis.”
In a statement announcing its initial decision to block the acquisition, the CMA had said it would risk suppressing competition in the cloud gaming market.
Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard in January 2022 in one of the biggest deals the video gaming industry has ever seen.
The agreement, which would be the most expensive acquisition ever for Microsoft, dwarfing its $26-billion takeover of LinkedIn in 2016, would see Microsoft paying $95 for each Activision Blizzard share.
The proposed takeover would create a gaming giant, adding Activision’s lineup of popular titles including Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Candy Crush Saga, and Overwatch to Microsoft’s growing stable of first-party developers and consoles.
The tech heavyweight said the acquisition will create the world’s third largest esports and video game company in terms of revenue, behind Tencent and Sony.
Following the decisions by the FTC in December 2022 and the CMA in April 2023 to block the acquisition, its approval in the European Union was announced in May.