BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has launched an investigation into Microsoft’s planned takeover of video game giant Activision Blizzard, over concerns the $69 billion deal could distort fair competition for popular titles like Call of Duty. .
Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, first announced the deal to buy the California-based games publisher in January, but it is still awaiting review from antitrust regulators in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. If it materializes, the all-cash deal would be the largest in tech industry history.
Members of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation bloc, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the aim is to ensure that the gaming ecosystem remains vibrant for the benefit of users in an industry that is evolving at a fast pace”.
“We must ensure that opportunities remain for future and existing distributors of PC and console video games, as well as competing PC operating system vendors,” the commissioners said. They have until March 23, 2023 to decide whether or not to approve the deal.
At the heart of the dispute is who controls future releases of Activision Blizzard’s most popular games, particularly the military first-person shooter Call of Duty. Activision said this week that its latest installment, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, has already achieved more than $1 billion in sales since its October 28 launch.
Microsoft’s console rival Sony, maker of the PlayStation, has raised concerns about losing access to what it describes as a “must have” gaming title to regulators around the world. In response, Microsoft promised to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation “for at least several years” beyond its current contract with Sony. He also said he could bring it to Nintendo’s Switch console, where the game is not currently available.
In a preliminary investigation, the EU uncovered potential antitrust issues with the distribution of video games and shutting down access to Microsoft’s rivals. The bloc said it fears the proposed acquisition could hurt Microsoft’s Windows operating system competitors, as computers without Windows may not be able to get the Xbox game streaming subscription service. and the growing collection of titles.
Microsoft said it would continue to work with the European Commission on next steps “and to address any valid market concerns.”
“Sony, as an industry leader, says it’s worried about Call of Duty, but we’ve said we’re committed to making the same game available the same day on Xbox and PlayStation,” Microsoft said in a statement on Tuesday. “We want people to have more access to games, not less.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in an email to employees on Tuesday that global competition in the video game industry makes it “understandable that regulators are trying to better understand the gaming industry.” But he said “the process is going according to plan” and expects the deal to be completed by June.
“We will continue to cooperate with the European Commission where in the countries they represent we have many employees,” Kotick wrote.
He pointed to Brazil’s recent approval, saying the country’s competition authority understood “we operate in a highly dynamic and competitive industry, and the merger will not harm competition in any way.”
Saudi Arabia also signed the deal, but it is still awaiting major decisions from the US Federal Trade Commission and UK and EU authorities.
Tuesday’s decision is another example of how the EU has led the way in regulating Big Tech companies, opening antitrust investigations, enacting tough data privacy regulations and pushing through rules. histories that threaten online platforms with billions in fines unless they meet fair market conditions and crack. on harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation.
It’s possible regulators will impose terms on the gaming deal that require Microsoft to keep access to Call of Duty open longer and ensure rivals don’t get an inferior version.
Among those listening to Sony’s concerns are UK antitrust regulators. Last month, they stepped up their investigation into whether Microsoft might make Call of Duty and other titles exclusive to its Xbox platform or “otherwise degrade access for rivals” by delaying releases or imposing price increases. license prices.
“These titles take thousands of game developers and many years to complete, and there are very few other games of similar caliber or popularity,” according to a September report from the UK Competition and Markets Authority. .
O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.
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