UK regulators investigate Microsoft’s $69B Activision-Blizzard acquisition

The news: Microsoft’s blockbuster Activision-Blizzard acquisition is facing an antitrust probe from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), per TechCrunch.

The game is afoot: The CMA, the UK’s leading antitrust watchdog, says it has until September 1 to decide if the $68.7 billion gaming consolidation push could harm competition. Specifically, it will decide whether Microsoft could use first-party Activision-Blizzard title exclusives to shut out competing consoles or gaming platforms.

  • Microsoft stands to acquire the rights and intellectual property of Activision-Blizzard’s games including World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Candy Crush, Crash Bandicoot, and StarCraft, among others. 
  • The CMA said it will engage “as appropriate” with its competition authority counterparts around the world who are also looking into the merger. In context, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also reviewing the wider effects the acquisition could have on competition.
  • Responding to the CMA, Lisa Tanzi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and general counsel, said, “We will fully co-operate with the CMA’s merger review. We expect and think it’s appropriate for regulators to take a close look at this acquisition. … We remain confident the deal will close in fiscal year 2023 as initially anticipated.”

Why this matters for Microsoft: The software giant has managed to stay clear of major antitrust probes for close to 20 years. Prolonged inquiries by the CMA and FTC might affect the company’s reputation, which could damage its value.

Why this matters for Activision-Blizzard: The investigation casts a pall on Activision-Blizzard, which recently saw the formation of the first major video game union in the US and has been under fire for its toxic workplace culture.

The big takeaway: The Microsoft and Activision-Blizzard merger is far from safe.

The CMA successfully shut down Nvidia’s $40 billion acquisition of Arm and investigated Google’s ad tech monopoly and the smartphone duopoly

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