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Wild Card: Ubisoft Enters Acti/Xbox Merger

In what will hopefully be the final surprise twist in the wild Activision/Microsoft Merger – Ubisoft will control the cloud rights to Activision Blizzard games for the next 15 years.


Nobody saw it coming, but early this morning the companies involved made the announcement. Ubisoft will offer all classic and new Activision games for the next 15 years through Ubisoft+. They will also be able to license out the games to other streaming companies, including Microsoft. This has led to the kind of funny situation where Ubisoft is paying Microsoft for the overall rights, only for Microsoft to pay to get the rights back for xCloud. It’d be fascinating to see how this deal works, although presumably we never will.

This will cover all previous games and all future games for 15 years, at which point any new games will be licensed by Microsoft.

This will add an incredible string to Ubisoft’s bow. It won’t be the only place to play Call of Duty in the cloud, but being the company that controls that is going to be very rewarding.

And, hypothetically, it could mean any Xbox exclusives still make it to PlayStation. Via an equally hypothetical Ubisoft cloud app.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Microsoft will still get paid. They will receive “a one-off payment and through a market-based wholesale pricing mechanism, including an option that supports pricing based on usage”. And it means PlayStation fans will potentially still get access to otherwise unavailable games. And, I guess, that may incentivise Xbox to release native versions too. Because if people can play your games anyway, why not profit directly?

Ubisoft will control the global rights to streaming of Activision titles except in the EU, where Microsoft will retain them due to obligations already made in that jurisdiction.

Ubisoft: But Is It Good for Gamers?

This is the million dollar question. The CMA is supposed to protect consumers, and will this do that?

It’s hard to tell at this point. A third-party company selling the rights instead of Microsoft offering them up the way they were isn’t immediately a benefit. It could easily lead to less options than if Microsoft were controlling them themselves. Ubisoft needs to profit from this deal. Microsoft didn’t necessarily have so much riding on it.

But that’s the short-term reaction. Look further into the future and this deal could have a massive impact on the burgeoning cloud gaming industry. And, let’s be frank, it’s not a bad thing if that ball isn’t in Microsoft’s court.

But that in itself is hypothetical. As far as we know, there’s nothing stopping Ubi from just keeping the rights to themselves. I can’t imagine they will, and I’m imagining it’d be a mistake to do that financially, but still. How good this goes for consumers in the long-term depends on Ubisoft’s management of it. And since we’re all enjoying Beyond Good and Evil 2 and Skull and Bones so much, we know Ubisoft means good management.

At the very least, we can now say with some confidence that this will get the deal through. It removes almost all concerns from the UK’s CMA. It’s possible they say 15 years isn’t enough, or that Ubisoft isn’t a viable partner in this. Stranger things have happened, and in this merger doubly so. But we’re at the stage where it would be beyond surprising for this to not go ahead.

Famous last words, eh?


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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