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Ubisoft set to buy cloud streaming rights to Activision Blizzard games from Microsoft

Microsoft's attempt to appease UK regulators

A screenshot from Ubisoft's teaser trailer for Assassin's Creed Codename Red, showcasing a shinobi perching on a rooftop in front of a red sky.
Image credit: Ubisoft

In an attempt to appease the UK’s Competition And Markets Authority (CMA), Microsoft have restructured their proposed Activision Blizzard buyout. Should the deal finally close, cloud streaming rights to existing and future Activision Blizzard games released over the next 15 years will (surprisingly) fall under Ubisoft’s control. Those rights will then stay with Ubisoft “in perpetuity.”

In a statement published today, Microsoft president Brad Smith said: “Under the restructured transaction, Microsoft will not be in a position either to release Activision Blizzard games exclusively on its own cloud streaming service - Xbox Cloud Gaming - or to exclusively control the licensing terms of Activision Blizzard games for rival services.” Essentially, Ubisoft will be able to licence Call Of Duty, Diablo and other ActiBlizz games to different streamers.

The Assassin’s Creed publisher also has plans to put some of these games on their own quiet streaming service, Ubisoft +, although they’ll “announce more about how and when Activision Blizzard titles will be added… in the future.” So it’s not totally clear whether Ubisoft + will get Call Of Duty on day one just yet. Worth noting that Microsoft plans to fulfill contractual obligations they have with other streamers, including Nvidia.

Subjects like console exclusivity made plenty noise for months, but the CMA originally blocked the deal over concerns about what it could do to the budding cloud gaming market. In April, the British regulator said the deal could lead to “reduced innovation and less choice for UK gamers.” But now the restructured deal has again been submitted to the CMA, triggering a new investigation with a deadline of October 18th.

“This is not a green light,” said the CMA’s Sarah Cardell. “Our goal has not changed – any future decision on this new deal will ensure that the growing cloud gaming market continues to benefit from open and effective competition driving innovation and choice.”

While this acquisition patch (?) makes the deal an easier swallow for regulators, concerns around industry consolidation are still alive and kicking. Alice Bee wrote about the deeper implications and long-term impacts of the ActiBlizz buyout last year, and I’m not sure that an annual COD dropping on Ubi's streaming service soothes any of those anxieties. Re-reading that piece has also reminded me that this saga began 20 months ago and, oh dear.

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