Gaming

Microsoft’s $68.7BN play for Activision heads for in-depth EU antitrust probe too

Comment

Attendees stand next to signage for Activision Blizzard Inc.
Image Credits: Troy Harvey / Bloomberg / Getty Images

The $68.7 billion gaming mega-merger between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard is facing in-depth competition scrutiny in the European Union.

EU regulators had been taking a preliminary look at the proposed deal, after the transaction was notified to the bloc’s regulators at the end of September. But today the Commission confirmed it will open a deeper probe — following in the footsteps of the U.K.’s antitrust authority which announced its own in-depth investigation back in September.

In a statement today, the Commission said it’s concerned the proposed acquisition could reduce competition in the markets for the distribution of console and PC video games and also for PC operating systems — with the risk of driving up prices and reducing quality and innovation for consumers. “The Commission’s preliminary investigation shows that the transaction may significantly reduce competition on the markets for the distribution of console and PC video games, including multi-game subscription services and/or cloud game streaming services, and for PC operating systems,” it wrote.

“The preliminary investigation suggests that Microsoft may have the ability, as well as a potential economic incentive, to engage in foreclosure strategies vis-à-vis Microsoft’s rival distributors of console video games, such as preventing these companies from distributing Activision Blizzard’s console video games on consoles or degrading the terms and conditions for their use of or access to these video games.”

Game on for UK’s deeper antitrust probe of Microsoft-Activision

“When it comes to multi-game subscription services and/or cloud game streaming services in particular, the Commission is concerned that, by acquiring Activision Blizzard, Microsoft may foreclose access, to the detriment of its rival distributors of console and PC video games that offer such services, to its own PC and console video games, which are key for the provision of the nascent services of multi-game subscription and cloud game streaming,” it added, noting that it is particularly concerned of the risk of foreclosure affecting “high-profile and highly successful games” (so-called ‘AAA’ titles) — such as Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty franchise.

As regards PC operating systems — an area where Microsoft’s Windows platform dominates — the Commission has concerns that the deal could reduce competition on the PC OS market by reducing the ability of rival providers to compete with Windows if Activision Blizzard’s games get combined with Microsoft’s distribution of games via cloud game streaming to Windows.

“This would discourage users to buy non-Windows PCs,” it suggested, adding: “The preliminary investigation suggests that Microsoft may have the ability, as well as a potential economic incentive, to engage in such conduct vis-à-vis rival providers of PC operating systems.”

Commenting in a statement, Margrethe Vestager, Commission EVP in charge of competition policy, added:

Video games attract billions of users all over the world and are among the fastest growing forms of digital entertainment. For years, Microsoft has been a major player across the gaming supply chain. It is acquiring Activision Blizzard, a highly successful producer of gaming content. We must ensure that opportunities remain for future and existing distributors of PC and console video games, as well as for rival suppliers of PC operating systems. The point is to ensure that the gaming ecosystem remains vibrant to the benefit of users in a sector that is evolving at a fast pace. Our in-depth investigation will assess how the deal affects the gaming supply chain.

The Commission now has 90 working days — until March 23, 2023 — to take a decision on whether to clear or block the acquisition.

Alternatively, the EU could agree to a conditional approval by accepting commitments from the parties which have the opportunity to propose and negotiate remedies to address competition concerns during the merger review process.

Such a conditional approval might include an agreement to sell part of the combined business or licence technologies to other market players, for example.

Microsoft has previously said it is committed to working with international competition regulators to allay concerns — but it remains to be seen what the pair might propose to get the deal waived through.

Given the scale of the mega-merger some form of conditional clearance seems the most likely outcome for Microsoft-Activision in the region — although the Commission’s PR contains its standard disclaimer that “the opening of an in-depth inquiry does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation”.

Microsoft looks to build an Xbox mobile gaming store with Activision and King content

More TechCrunch

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

14 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

16 hours ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise

X, formerly Twitter, turned TweetDeck into X Pro and pushed it behind a paywall. But there is a new column-based social media tool in town, and it’s from Instagram Threads.…

Meta Threads is testing pinned columns on the web, similar to the old TweetDeck

As part of 2024’s Accessibility Awareness Day, Google is showing off some updates to Android that should be useful to folks with mobility or vision impairments. Project Gameface allows gamers…

Google expands hands-free and eyes-free interfaces on Android