Microsoft's $69 Billion Activision Blizzard Deal Hits FTC Roadblock
The fate of Microsoft's proposed $69 billion takeover of video gamemaker Activision Blizzard hangs in the balance as federal regulators and Microsoft engage in a legal battle. The contrasting arguments presented in court highlight the potential impact of the deal on the video gaming industry. While Microsoft sees the acquisition as an opportunity to make popular games more widely available at lower prices, regulators are concerned about the deal's anticompetitive implications, according to AP News.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is determined to prevent the takeover from being finalized before a comprehensive administrative trial commences in August. The FTC fears that Microsoft's control over Activision could lead to exclusivity of popular franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft on Microsoft's Xbox consoles and online subscription services. With the video game market surpassing the movie and music industries combined at a value of $210 billion, the FTC worries about the potential impact on competition, pricing, and quality.
FTC's lead lawyer James Weingarten emphasized that Activision produces highly sought-after games, and said, "Having differentiated content is critical to selling more consoles and getting more subscribers." The agency plans to present evidence indicating that Microsoft would employ various strategies to withhold games from rival platforms, raise prices on loyal audiences, and degrade game quality. Weingarten's argument centers around the notion that exclusive content is crucial to Microsoft's ability to dominate the console market and subscription services.
Microsoft lead lawyer Beth Wilkinson dismissed the FTC's claims as "very naive," underscoring the company's need to deliver profit margins that justify the significant investment in Activision. Wilkinson argued that withholding popular franchises from other platforms, such as Call of Duty, would provoke a fierce backlash from passionate video game fans. She also highlighted Microsoft's commitment to making Call of Duty available on Nintendo's Switch console and Nvidia gaming subscription service as evidence that the deal would benefit consumers.
Microsoft attempted to present evidence suggesting that Sony, the leader in the console market, is seeking to undermine the deal to protect its position. Wilkinson revealed an email from Sony executive Jim Ryan, expressing confidence that Call of Duty would remain available on PlayStation for years to come. However, Sony has yet to respond to Microsoft's offer of a binding commitment to keep the franchise on PlayStation. The involvement of Sony adds another layer of complexity to the proceedings.
The broader implications
These hearings serve as a significant test of the FTC's intensified scrutiny of Big Tech, driven by Chairperson Lina Khan's belief that previous regulatory oversight was too lenient. This legal confrontation follows the FTC's recent court battle with Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) over a virtual reality fitness company acquisition. Additionally, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority has taken action to block Microsoft's takeover, leading Microsoft to appeal the decision and express opposition to UK government officials.
Awaiting the ruling
The outcome of this legal battle will have far-reaching consequences for the video gaming industry and the power dynamics among major tech companies. US District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley is expected to issue a ruling after the conclusion of the hearings. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick are set to testify, providing further insights into the deal's potential impact. As the proceedings continue, the video gaming industry eagerly awaits the decision that will reshape its future.
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