Microsoft have justified their $68.7 billion ($56 billion) purchase of Call Of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard by telling regulators that the company doesn’t produce “must have” games. If that’s making you ask why they’d stump up more than any other tech buyout in history for the privilege of owning a company that doesn’t have any killer apps in its stables, then you can line up right behind me, bosmang.
Microsoft have been in the process of buying Activision Blizzard since the deal was announced in January this year, with their buyout pending approval by competition regulators in many countries. The UK's Competition And Markets Authority issued a statement saying they were investigating the deal early in July, with a provisional deadline for any further investigation set for the beginning of September.
“Specifically, with respect to Activision Blizzard video games, there is nothing unique about the video games developed and published by Activision Blizzard that is a ‘must have’ for rival PC and console video game distributors that could give rise to a foreclosure concern,” read Microsoft’s response to the New Zealand Commerce Commission, published in a report from June. That means that Microsoft don’t consider their future ownership of Activision Blizzard’s franchises such as Call Of Duty to cause issues that would prevent their rivals – among whom they identify Valve in the PC space – from competing against them.
Bear in mind that Call Of Duty alone has raked in $27 billion (£22 billion) for Activision Blizzard since the series debuted in 2003, as an earnings call revealed last year. At the time of that call, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre said Call Of Duty was “one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time”. It’s just not a must have, I guess.
Microsoft clarified in their responses to the New Zealand Commerce Commission that they won’t be withdrawing support for Activision-Blizzard’s games from platforms that aren't their own Xbox and Microsoft Store. That’s already been borne out by the upcoming reappearance of the Call Of Duty series on Steam with October’s Modern Warfare 2. As Alice Bee pointed out earlier this year though, there are plenty other reasons why corporate consolidation in the games industry isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Activision Blizzard are still dealing with legal issues and reports alleging a discriminatory and harassing working environment. Actiblizz’s shareholders voted at their annual meeting in June to re-elect CEO Bobby Kotick to the board of directors for another year, in spite of calls from employees for him to resign.
“Must have” is a legal term of art and not a statement about the value we place on Activision Blizzard’s gaming portfolio. We love every one of their games and have enormous admiration and respect for the creative talent behind them.