FTC lawsuit could stop Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of Activision

In a nutshell: Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard has faced challenges from regulators worldwide, but the deal has slowly been edging toward completion over the last few months. It could, however, be scuppered by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is likely to launch an antitrust lawsuit to block the takeover.

According to Politico, which cites three people with knowledge of the matter, an FTC lawsuit is not guaranteed. The publication adds that the FTC’s four commissioners have yet to vote out a complaint or meet with lawyers for the companies. But with FTC staff reviewing the deal reportedly skeptical of the two tech giants’ arguments, a lawsuit looks to be the most likely outcome.

Most of the FTC’s investigation has now been completed, with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Activision head Bobby Kotick having already been deposed, according to people familiar with the matter. If there is a lawsuit, it’ll probably arrive next month.

The deal has also come under increased scrutiny from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. Once again, most of the objections are from Sony, which believes Microsoft will make the Call of Duty series exclusive to Xbox/PC. This is despite repeated assurances from the Redmond firm that such a move won’t happen. Microsoft has even offered Sony a 10-year deal to keep the franchise on PlayStation.

In Sony’s submitted arguments to the UK watchdog, it noted that other games cannot compete with CoD, citing Battlefield as an example. “Despite the similarities between Call of Duty and Battlefield and despite EA’s track record in developing other successful AAA franchises (such as FIFA, Mass Effect, Need for Speed, and Star Wars: Battlefront)—the Battlefield franchise cannot keep up. As of August 2021, more than 400 million Call of Duty games had been sold, while Battlefield had sold just 88.7 million copies,” said Sony’s lawyers.

Interestingly, Sony’s filing also references the PlayStation 6. The company believes the console won’t arrive until at least 2027, giving the PS5 a seven-year life cycle.

Regulators in Saudi Arabia and Brazil have approved Microsoft’s acquisition. It’s still waiting to receive approval in other countries, including the UK, which has given March 1 as the deadline for its final decision. The European Commission’s investigation is also ongoing. With a possible FTC lawsuit on the horizon, could the deal end up going the same way as Nvidia’s attempted takeover of Arm?

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