Xbox boss Phil Spencer has issued a new blog post detailing plans for Call of Duty and other Activision Blizzard franchises, following today’s announcement from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority that it will scrutinise the deal in detail.
As you would expect, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Diablo will be made available via Xbox Game Pass, Spencer said, if and when Microsoft’s $68bn buyout of Activision Blizzard is completed.
Spencer also made the guarantee that Xbox was “committed to making the same version of Call of Duty available on PlayStation on the same day the game launches elsewhere”.
“We will continue to enable people to play with each other across platforms and across devices,” Spencer continued – the suggestion being to expect Call of Duty crossplay without interruption.
Of course, the timing of this blog post has been designed to coincide with this morning’s ruling by the CMA that it will now refer the Microsoft-Activision deal for a more detailed investigation, which cited concerns around some of the very issues Spencer discusses here.
Spencer’s blog makes numerous mentions of “choice” – for example the choice to play Call of Duty via Game Pass, or alternatively on PlayStation – likely to combat any suggestion it was actively hampering competition.
This morning, the CMA wrote that Activision games – and “especially Call of Duty” were “important and capable of making a material difference to the success of rivals’ gaming platforms”, singling out PlayStation in particular.
The CMA stated concerns over Call of Duty’s continued availability on PlayStation, and that, post-merger, Xbox could potentially use its ownership of the franchise to “harm the competitiveness of its rivals” by offering it via its subscription.
Spencer’s blog does not mention the UK’s CMA by name, but offers a clear response – on top of Microsoft’s own – to today’s news in a mention of its ongoing work with regulators.
“We will continue to engage with regulators with a spirit of transparency and openness as they review this acquisition,” Spencer wrote. “We respect and welcome the hard questions that are being asked.”
Spencer also makes a cheeky note that Microsoft is not the only company currently involved in mergers and acquisitions – by far.
“The gaming industry today is robust and dynamic. Industry leaders, including Tencent and Sony, continue to expand their deep and extensive libraries of games as well as other entertainment brands and franchises, which are enjoyed by players everywhere.
“We believe that a thorough review will show that the combination of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard will benefit the industry and players,” Spencer concluded.
In separate statements, Microsoft president Brad Smith said the company was “ready to work with the CMA on next steps and address any of its concerns”.
“Sony, as the industry leader, says it is worried about Call of Duty, but we’ve said we are committed to making the same game available on the same day on both Xbox and PlayStation,” Smith continued. “We want people to have more access to games, not less.”
Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick meanwhile stated he “still believe[s] the deal is most likely to close” before June 2023.
“This seems an aggressive take on antitrust protection from the CMA, especially in respect of suggesting the separating out of subscription and cloud services into their own markets,” video games industry lawyer Richard Hoeg told Eurogamer today. “That said, given the current political environment on both digital market access and ‘big tech’ generally, it is not one that Microsoft is likely to have failed to anticipate.
“While a complication, I don’t expect it to scuttle the deal, and the UK concessions will likely be organised to mirror settlement/consent decree negotiations that likely are or will be otherwise in the works with the other major regulatory authorities. I still see a deal closing sometime next year.”