The CMA Could’ve Blocked. They Didn’t.
The CMA in the UK has given its initial verdict on Microsoft’s purchase of Activision – and it’s not necessarily good news. But it isn’t bad news either.
The CMA has basically said that the potential of removing Call of Duty from PlayStation could cause harm to consumers, and the purchase would make it difficult for other companies to break into the cloud gaming market.
These don’t really stand up to scrutiny. That’s okay, because this isn’t a final decision. Regardless of how many opinion pieces and news articles you read today editorialising what this means for the future of Activision, Xbox and gaming everywhere, this hasn’t actually changed anything.
This is a massive deal. And while it’s a massive deal that isn’t going to have any effect on the ability of other companies to compete, it’s still a massive deal. It needs scrutinising. It needs regulators to go through every scenario and make sure this doesn’t have any unintended side effects. Had the CMA, or the FTC or the EU just passed it without saying there may be issues, that would have been poor on their part.
Which leads me to the point of today’s article. The CMA is all-powerful in this situation. They could have just shut it down and, so long as they followed procedure properly, there would be nothing Microsoft could do to save this deal. That’d be it. They’d be done. No appeals process, no suing, no closing the deal anyway. We’d be right where we were back in 2021.
The CMA could have done that. But it didn’t. Instead, it has given Microsoft a fortnight to offer remedies to its issues.
The CMA: Structural or Behavioural?
Its recommended remedies seem like something of a non-started from the outside. The CMA have suggested that Call of Duty be spun-off from the business and, if that isn’t enough, to consider spinning off Activision and ultimately Blizzard too.
But within the documents released today, the CMA said it would also consider Microsoft’s very publicised 10-year offer to other console manufacturers, and to Steam. This would keep Call of Duty on PlayStation, and would expand it to other places, until (presumably) 2033. Flying cars, entire meals in pill form and Call of Duty exclusively on Xbox – you heard it here first.
Whether that will be enough to reduce concerns about potential harm has yet to be seen. There will also have to be something done about cloud gaming, presumably ensuring that Activision games are and remain available to other services, should fair fees be paid. That’s a pretty easy thing to offer up in exchange for having Call of Duty (and Activision’s other offerings) on Game Pass by default.
Ultimately, this deal is not going to cause harm to anybody except fanboys and list warriors. It doesn’t create an environment where Nintendo and Sony will be forced out of the industry. Nor will it make Microsoft unstoppable. It might reduce the “PlayStation Advantage”. That’s Sony’s codeword for making sure as many third-party games as possible are best on PlayStation. That isn’t a bad thing.
Over the next few months, we should start to see more about where this deal is going. But before you celebrate today’s announcement, the CMA is still a long way from their decision. Everything is still to play for.