Xbox boss Phil Spencer has published a new blog post detailing plans for Call of Duty and other Activision Blizzard franchises, following the announcement by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority that it will investigate the deal in detail.
As you might expect, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Diablo will be made available through Xbox Game Pass, Spencer said, if and when Microsoft’s $68 billion buyout of Activision Blizzard is completed.
Spencer also guaranteed that Xbox was “determined to make 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 on different platforms and on different devices,” Spencer continued – the suggestion was 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, raising concerns about some of the issues Spencer discusses here. .
Spencer’s blog makes frequent mention of “choice”—for example, choosing to play Call of Duty via Game Pass, or alternatively on PlayStation—which would likely counter any suggestion that it was actively hindering competition.
This morning, the CMA wrote that Activision games – and “especially Call of Duty” “were important and able to make a substantial difference to the success of rivals’ gaming platforms,” most notably PlayStation.
The CMA expressed concerns about the continued availability of Call of Duty on PlayStation and that after the merger, Xbox could potentially use its ownership of the franchise to “harm the competitiveness of its rivals” by offering it through its subscription.
Spencer’s blog doesn’t mention the UK’s CMA by name, but offers a clear answer – on top of Microsoft’s – to today’s news in a mention of his ongoing work with regulators.
“We will continue to work with regulators in a spirit of transparency and openness in assessing this acquisition,” Spencer wrote. “We respect and welcome the difficult questions that are being asked.”
Spencer also makes a cheeky comment that Microsoft is by far not the only company currently involved in mergers and acquisitions.
“Today’s gaming industry 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 players everywhere enjoy.
“We believe a thorough evaluation will show that the combination of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard will benefit the industry and players,” concluded Spencer.
In separate statements, Microsoft president Brad Smith said the company was “ready to work with the CMA on its next steps and allay its concerns.”
“Sony, as the industry leader, says it’s concerned about Call of Duty, but we said we’re committed to making the same game available on the same day for both Xbox and PlayStation,” Smith continued. “We want people to have more access to games, not less.”
Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick, meanwhile, stated that he “still believes”[s] the deal will most likely close before June 2023.
“This appears to be an aggressive take on the CMA’s antitrust protections, especially with regard to the suggestion to separate subscriptions and cloud services in their own markets,” video game industry attorney Richard Hoeg told Eurogamer today. That said, given the current political environment around both digital market access and ‘big tech’ in general, it’s not something Microsoft probably didn’t anticipate.
“While it is a complication, I don’t expect it to sink the deal, and the UK concessions are likely to be organized to reflect settlement negotiations/consent decree negotiations which are or are likely to be in the works.” with the other major regulators. I still see a deal closing sometime next year.”