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Microsoft finally buy Activision Blizzard as last legal hurdles fall away

Microsoft have finally, finally, finally bought Activision Blizzard after many months of haggling with regulators in several countries. The total figure for the company behind Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Overwatch and Hearthstone, to say nothing of whopping mobile game publisher King and Candy Crush Saga? $68.7 billion, making this the biggest buyout in videogames industry history.

This follows the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s provisional approval of the acquisition last month, which the CMA upgraded to non-provisional just this morning, pronouncing themselves satisfied with Microsoft’s offer to sell Activision-Blizzard cloud gaming rights to Ubisoft so as to avoid having a monopoly of the cloud gaming market.

In an announcement post, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer trumpeted Activision-Blizzard’s games and offered some rosy thoughts for the future.

“As one team, we’ll learn, innovate, and continue to deliver on our promise to bring the joy and community of gaming to more people,” he wrote. “We’ll do this in a culture that strives to empower everyone to do their best work, where all people are welcome, and is centered on our ongoing commitment of Gaming for Everyone.

“We are intentional about inclusion in everything we do at Xbox,” Spencer continued. “From our team to the products we make and the stories we tell, to the way our players interact and engage as a wider gaming community.”

Spencer touched on the wrangle over cloud gaming, commenting that “as promised, we will also continue to make more games available in more places – and that begins now by enabling cloud streaming providers and players to stream Activision Blizzard games in the European Economic Area, a commitment made to the European Commission.”

He also made mention of bringing Activision, Blizzard and King games to Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service, promising to “share more about when you can expect to play in the coming months.” (We already know that Diablo 4 and Modern Warfare 3 will release on Game Pass no earlier than 2024.)

The talk of inclusivity and empowerment feels like a sop to those who remain concerned about widespread allegations of abuse, sexual harassment and unfair labor practices at Activision-Blizzard across 2021-2022. Another way of reassuring people might have been to remove Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who has himself been accused of misconduct, and allegedly tolerated much of the bad behavior, but it seems that Kotick will carry on at Activision until at least the end of 2023.

In a separate letter sent to Activision-Blizzard employees, Kotick offered his own recap of Activision’s successes and promised that “combining with Microsoft will bring new resources and new opportunities to our extraordinary teams worldwide”.

He added that “I have long said that I am fully committed to helping with the transition. Phil has asked me to stay on as CEO of ABK, reporting to him, and we have agreed that I will do that through the end of 2023. We both look forward to working together on a smooth integration for our teams and players.”

The Activision mega-buyout is the latest in a series of massive Microsoft acquisitions over the past 10 years, from Mojang and Minecraft in 2014 to ZeniMax and Bethesda in 2020.

The long-fought court battles over the Activision acquisition have been pretty dramatic themselves. Rather farcically, Microsoft recently managed to give away their plans for gaming hardware and services up to 2028 after uploading unredacted documents during legal proceedings with the US Federal Trade Commission. The FTC still plan to investigate aspects of the Microsoft Activision buyout, but it sounds like, for the most part, the deal is done.

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