(Photo: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons)The Federal Trade Commission is launching an antitrust review of Microsoft’s bid to acquire Activision Blizzard—AKA one of the biggest potential acquisitions the video games industry has seen for a while.
The FTC and the Justice Department share antitrust enforcement duties and have decided that the FTC will be reviewing the $68.7 billion Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal, a source for Bloomberg says. Though the deal wouldn’t close for at least the next year and a half, it would theoretically give Microsoft control over a massive chunk of game design and publication, which presents obvious concerns for the government bodies responsible for preventing monopolization.
Generally speaking, the FTC has been working on developing a slightly tougher approach to antitrust reviews. Last month it announced its plan to rewrite its guidance for mergers as many industries become “more concentrated and less competitive.” FTC Chair Lina Khan has also mentioned that a different lens may be required for antitrust investigations related to digital markets, which may come into play during the agency’s review of the Microsoft bid, considering that the tech giant’s revenue streams nowadays focus on digital products and services. That being said, sources speculate that the review will spotlight both Microsoft’s gaming portfolio and its hardware, so it’s difficult to say whether the FTC has any new tricks up its sleeve.
For those of us who found the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard bid stomach-twisting (the deal would make Microsoft the world’s third-largest video game maker, after Sony and Tencent), the FTC’s intervention is a sign of potential relief. The acquisition could easily peel Blizzard games from PlayStation and turn them into Xbox and PC exclusives; given the number of major franchises owned by Blizzard, like Overwatch, Diablo, and World of Warcraft, this could drastically impact gamers’ ability to enjoy their favorite titles on the platforms they already own and love. (Not to mention the discomfort of knowing a beloved industry may be rapidly approaching oligopoly status.)
Microsoft, meanwhile, believes its bid represents a move to “provide building blocks for the metaverse”—something many gamers aren’t even looking for, but are nevertheless subjected to amid all the recent metaverse hype. Microsoft already considers Minecraft and AltspaceVR to constitute metaverses, and may similarly see opportunity in large-scale multiplayer games under Activision Blizzard’s umbrella. Whether it gets to jump on that opportunity, though, will be up to the FTC.