It was almost a year and a half ago when we first reported on the news that Microsoft was seeking to acquire the gaming juggernaut that is Activision Blizzard. Microsoft had previously purchased “Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout” developer Bethesda, as well as its parent company, ZeniMax. Adding Activision Blizzard and their portfolio of “Diablo,” “Overwatch,” “Call of Duty” would give Microsoft a lot of clout; perhaps too much according to some governments. While both the UK and US have halted progression of the buyout, there has been one large hurdle crossed in the EU.
In a ruling from EU regulators, it was determined that the acquisition should be allowed to go through for a number of reasons varying from cloud gaming accessibility, to financial incentives, to lack of harm to the competitive console market. Effectively, the EU is saying that Microsoft would have very little to gain by not releasing Activision titles to Sony platforms and that even if it didn’t release them, it wouldn’t be detrimental to the console market. The issues the EU did have surrounded cloud gaming, but it would appear as if Microsoft capitulated to those concerns in a way that appeased the regulatory board.
The Xbox and PC gaming company told the EU board they will allow 10-year licensing deals for all current and future Activision Blizzard games to be cloud streamed through a service of the player’s choice, so long as they have purchased a valid license for it. This was something that the European Commission specifically requested in order to allow the buyout to go through, and Microsoft has agreed to it. Considering cloud gaming was one of the specific issues that the UK had with the agreement, this could potentially mean that the regulators out of that region could reassess the acquisition in a more positive light.
If there’s anything that should worry gamers about this whole situation, it’s not so much the idea that games like “Call of Duty” would become exclusive to Microsoft services, but the talk about cloud gaming and licenses. The gaming industry has been trying to push itself more and more towards digital distribution and the idea that a consumer does not own the game that they purchased, they merely own the license to play the game. There are a lot of implications with that distinction, and the regulatory boards are rightly realizing the concerns this could have for consumers as game streaming and cloud servers become more prevalent.
The fight for the completion of this acquisition is far from over as the United States Federal Trade Commission still needs to hear arguments from Microsoft over why this buyout doesn’t pose competitive concerns. Of course, the UK would still need to approve things as well when Microsoft invariably tries to appeal their previous decision. We’ll continue to provide updates as the saga continues.