It’s been another tumultuous week in the industry’s most followed acquisition. While regulators worldwide seemingly are coming around to the deal, Microsoft still faces significant barriers if it hopes to finalise the acquisition of Activision Blizzard, with some of the biggest players in tech standing in its way. If you’ve missed some of the fun lately, here’s the latest.
The story so far
Microsoft gaining a foothold in the mobile space is a topic of great interest to the industry. Despite its dominance in the PC space, and the healthy performance of the Xbox, the company has yet to make major inroads on mobile platforms, and with mobile being the most profitable sector of the gaming industry it has a notable incentive to break into the space.
Notably, Google has stood in firm opposition to the deal, following the reveal that Microsoft has plans to create a next generation games store across platforms, including mobile. This could allow the company to capitalise on Activision Blizzard’s strength in the mobile space, potentially cutting Google and Apple out of the equation. Nvidia also criticised the deal, only to later come around in its support following a new contract with Microsoft to bring Call of Duty to GeForce Now.
Despite this, Google has remained conspicuously silent about its opinions on the matter since voicing its initial concerns. Reuters reports that the company took part in an EU hearing last month regarding the deal, with a spokesperson for the company stating "We will continue to cooperate in any processes, when requested, to ensure all views are considered." This statement could indicate that the company still remains opposed to the deal, specifically as it could see a notable loss in revenue with the introduction of a new app store, especially should games such as Candy Crush Saga be made exclusive to Microsoft’s planned store.
Although Microsoft have repeatedly stated that the prime motivator of the acquisition is to gain a foothold in mobile gaming, Sony have repeatedly, and loudly, argued against the deal, citing its concerns that the deal would impact its own business, with Call of Duty being a significant point of contention.
Sony has taken its ongoing Call of Duty exclusivity complaints to the next level this week with claims that Microsoft may intentionally release bugged versions of the Call of Duty franchise for PlayStation consoles in its latest attempt to scupper the company’s attempts to acquire Activision Blizzard. In a new document submitted to the CMA, Sony stated:
“Microsoft might release a PlayStation version of Call of Duty where bugs and errors emerge only on the game’s final level or after later updates. Even if such degradations could be swiftly detected, any remedy would likely come too late, by which time the gaming community would have lost confidence in PlayStation as a go-to venue to play Call of Duty.”
Notably, Sony claimed that versions of the observations filed by both Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) and were redacted at Microsoft’s request - information which, crucially, includes the terms of an offer made by Microsoft regarding Call of Duty’s availability on PlayStation consoles.
New statement from Sony, says Microsoft's current Call of Duty offer "will irreparably harm competition" and says it was Microsoft that requested redactions of the public filing of the deal it offered to PlayStation pic.twitter.com/5rztGqTvku— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) March 10, 2023
Speaking to Eurogamer, a Microsoft spokesperson reiterated it has made a "guarantee of parity between Xbox and PlayStation on access to Call of Duty."
Activision Blizzard CCO Lulu Cheng Meservey, however, took a more pointed stance on the issue, claiming on Twitter that SIE CEO Jim Ryan had said "I don’t want a new Call of Duty deal. I just want to block your merger.”
To an extent, perhaps Sony’s concerns are understandable. While a long-term deal has been offered, the possibility remains that Xbox could choose not to renew it in the future. Activision Blizzard remains one of the largest developers in the world, and whether Sony’s fears are unfounded or not, seeing one of its chief competitors take control may be a bitter pill to swallow.
While Sony’s criticism of the deal is dominating discussion, it remains only a part of the story. While regulators are seemingly concerned about how the move will affect competing consoles, the fact remains that Microsoft is aiming to have skin in the mobile game, which is seemingly being overlooked by some groups who can confirm, or block, the deal. Whatever happens next remains to be seen, but we’ll be following with interest.
We listed Activision Blizzard as one of the top 50 mobile game makers of 2022.