What just happened? The long-running saga that is Microsoft's attempted $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard appears to be almost over after the UK's competition watchdog provisionally approved the company's revised deal.
It was back in April when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) surprised a lot of people by blocking Microsoft's takeover of Activision Blizzard over concerns it could alter the cloud gaming industry, leading to reduced innovation and less choice for gamers.
Microsoft was dealt another blow in June when the FTC filed an injunction in a federal court to prevent Microsoft from finalizing the deal. But the Redmond giant came out victorious, leaving the CMA as the last remaining regulator that needed appeasing.
Soon after the victory against the FTC, the CMA agreed to renegotiate with Microsoft. To win approval, Microsoft had announced that it would be restructuring the transaction to acquire a narrower set of rights. This includes transferring the cloud streaming rights for all current and new Activision Blizzard PC and console games released over the next 15 years to Ubisoft (this excludes the European Economic Area). The agreement will be effective upon the closing of the merger, and the rights will be in perpetuity.
On Friday, the CMA said the sale of the cloud streaming rights substantially addresses its previous concerns and opens the door to the deal being cleared.
The CMA wrote in a press release that it has identified limited "residual concerns" that certain provisions in the sale of Activision's cloud streaming rights to Ubisoft could be circumvented, terminated, or not enforced. However, Microsoft has put forward remedies to ensure that the terms of the sale of Activision's rights to Ubisoft are enforceable by the CMA. As such, the watchdog has provisionally concluded that these remedies should address the issues.
"This is a new and substantially different deal, which keeps the cloud distribution of these important games in the hands of a strong independent supplier, Ubisoft, rather than under the control of Microsoft," said Colin Raftery, the senior director of mergers at the CMA.
"With additional protections to make sure that the deal is properly implemented, this will maintain the structure of the market, enabling open competition to continue to shape the development of cloud gaming in the years to come, and giving UK gamers the opportunity to access Activision's games in many different ways, including through cloud-based multigame subscription services."
The agency is now consulting on the remedies before making a final decision. It has opened a consultation until October 6 on Microsoft's proposals, ahead of the deal's extended October 18 deadline.
We are encouraged by this positive development in the CMA's review process. We presented solutions that we believe fully address the CMA's remaining concerns related to cloud game streaming, and we will continue to work toward earning approval to close prior to the October 18…– Brad Smith (@BradSmi) September 22, 2023
Microsoft Vice Chair and President Brad Smith said that the company was "encouraged" by today's development.
"We presented solutions that we believe fully address the CMA's remaining concerns related to cloud game streaming, and we will continue to work toward earning approval to close before the October 18 deadline."
Smith had made several veiled threats about Microsoft leaving the country in the wake of the CMA's previous decision to block the deal, calling the move "bad for Britain." He also said the European Union was a more attractive place to start a business than the UK and even mentioned how Microsoft helps defend the nation from cybersecurity threats.