What the FTC Ruling Means For Xbox’s Activision Blizzard Acquisition

While Xbox has cleared yet another hurdle in its quest to purchase Activision Blizzard, Microsoft can’t take a victory lap just yet.

Xbox Series X/S
Photo: Microsoft

Is there more news regarding Microsoft and its attempts to own the publishers of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft? Must be a day ending in “Y.” This time, though, we’ve got major (and potentially good) good news for everyone keeping an eye on the biggest potential acquisition in video game history.

Earlier today, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled to deny the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) request for a preliminary injunction, which would have delayed Microsoft’s $70 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard. In an extensive 53-page decision regarding the ruling, she noted the following:

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 to for the first time 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 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.

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On the surface, this ruling seems very cut and dry. Judge Corley has seemingly given the merger her blessing and support, or, at the very least, suggests there are no notable grounds for an injunction at this time. As she pointed out, contrary to the FTC’s claims, Microsoft has promised to port Call of Duty games to other platforms, including the Nintendo Switch (which is interesting given that Nintendo gamers have gone 10 years without a Call of Duty game on their console). Moreover, according to Judge Corley, many of the FTC’s arguments ignored previous Microsoft acquisitions (such as the acquisition of Mojang) that have, to date, not resulted in the Xbox team denying PlayStation and Nintendo fans access to major franchises like Minecraft.

So, does this ruling mean Microsoft has finally completed the Activision Blizzard acquisition? Well, no. In fact, it doesn’t even necessarily mean that Microsoft is finished with the FTC just yet.

In response to Judge Corley’s ruling, Douglas Farrar, spokesperson for the FTC, said “We are disappointed by this outcome given the clear threat this merger poses to open competition in cloud gaming, subscription services, and consoles. In the coming days we’ll be announcing our next step to continue our fight to preserve competition and protect consumers.”

The FTC’s most obvious course of action will be an attempt at appeal, but right now, the FTC can’t technically prevent Microsoft from closing its deal before a previously proposed July 18th deadline. In fact, Activision Blizzard’s higher-ups might push for the acquisition to go through sooner than that since the company’s stock prices shot up shortly after the ruling.

Currently, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) actually poses a more significant roadblock to the merger than the FTC, but even that barrier doesn’t appear to be as insurmountable as it once was. While the organization previously voted against the acquisition back in May, shortly after the recent ruling, the CMA seemingly became more open-minded about the purchase. According to an organization spokesperson, the CMA is “ready to consider any proposals from Microsoft to restructure the transaction in a way that would address [the CMA’s] concerns.” That’s a considerable change in language that comes at a rather interesting time.

Given these developments, the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard merger certainly appears to be more of a done deal than ever before, but it is by no means a guarantee. Don’t hold your breath if something happens last minute to prevent the purchase from finalizing, but don’t be too surprised if Call of Duty games are published by Microsoft starting in 2024 either.

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