Microsoft acquisition derailed in UK by “important” rivalry with Sony

By Lee Brady,

The "important" rivalry between Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox was cited by the CMA as one of the key reasons why the regulator would be contesting Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

For Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard King, the Xbox maker will have to appease or contest the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK, who has provisionally concluded that the deal "could harm UK gamers." Among its reasons, the CMA has ruled that Call of Duty ownership and the rivalry between PlayStation and Xbox cannot be ignored if Microsoft wishes to have the merger approved.

Sony XBoxPlayStation vs Xbox — an important rivalry.

PlayStation, Call of Duty, and cloud gaming derail Microsoft's Activision acquisition

The CMA has issued a press release to confirm the UK Government will contest the Xbox Activision Blizzard merger. The regulator's biggest concerns focus on the harm the acquisition might deal to the price of gaming in the UK, the advantage Microsoft might gain in the future cloud gaming market, and the nature of the relationship between Sony, Call of Duty, and Microsoft.

Specifically, on that last point, the CMA outlines that the "deal could also harm UK gamers by weakening the important rivalry between Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles." Much of the CMA's reasoning draws upon past arguments, such as the PlayStation-Xbox "Network Effect" and the short-term focus of Microsoft promising a Call of Duty 10-year-deal remedy.

The CMA has issued Microsoft a series of remedies which it can either contest, counter, or — in the most unlikely of timelines — comply with. While the remedies are provisional, meaning they can be updated or amended if sufficient reason is supplied, Microsoft is currently being left with the following options:

  1. Divest (remove) Call of Duty and the parts of Activision that run it from its parent company and the deal
  2. Divest Activision from the deal and simply acquire Blizzard and King
  3. Divest Activision Blizzard from the deal and simply acquire King
  4. Prohibit (effectively cancel) the merger
That's quite the ultimatum — one that certainly helps better understand the feeble threats Activision CEO Bobby Kotick issued this morning. Or, at least the intention behind them, the threat itself was pitiful (you see, instead of saying the UK would be "Silicon Valley," he said it would be "Death Valley," because death is bad). These remedies are effectively non-options for either Microsoft or Activision Blizzard, so there's no doubt Kotick and the Microsoft elite will be throwing every argument under the sun out there to help mend their case; even really bad ones.

Call of DutyThe war over Call of Duty continues.

We suspect Microsoft will pull Sony further into the line of fire to contest this, especially when one of the sections in the CMA's report basically dismisses Microsoft's promises to share Call of Duty with Sony due to the company's habit of "buying gaming studios and making their content exclusive to Microsoft’s platforms." Sony definitely does this too — while Microsoft picked up Bethesda the other year, Sony did ensure Insomniac Games couldn't make another Sunset Overdrive for Xbox — so don't expect that to go unnoticed.

That said, given that the CMA has reviewed over 3 million documents regarding the case, we think they're probably well aware of the comings and goings of both video game giants by now. The CMA has issued timelines to Microsoft and interested parties to respond before it makes its final report on the acquisition on the 26th April, 2023. Let us know in the comments whether you think this acquisition will still go ahead, and any other thoughts you have on Sony's role in all of this.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee loves writing about the game design of classic PS Plus Premium games and upcoming PS5 games like Marvel's Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI. He's a big proponent of video games as an evolving artistic medium, though he's also a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog games, so the medium might want to keep looking for a better spokesperson.
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