Microsoft officially owns Activision Blizzard, ending a 21-month battle with regulators

The blockbuster $68.7 billion deal has finally closed after the companies cleared antitrust hurdles.

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The biggest acquisition in gaming history and one of the largest in the tech industry is in the books. Twenty-one months after the deal was announced, Microsoft has bought Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, the largest acquisition in the company's history. CEO of Microsoft Gaming Phil Spencer has asked Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to stay on until the end of 2023, at which point he'll be leaving the company. It's been a long road filled with plenty of twists and turns to get to this point.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) initially blocked the deal in April, though it and the companies agreed to pause Microsoft's appeal to try and resolve the regulator's reservations over the merger's impact on the cloud gaming industry. An appeal tribunal approved a request to delay the proceedings.

In an attempt to win over the UK regulator, Microsoft agreed to sell the cloud gaming rights for Activision Blizzard titles to Ubisoft. That means that not only should Activision Blizzard's games be on Xbox Game Pass, but they'll land on Ubisoft+ and any other game-streaming service Ubisoft decides to work with. Concerns about competition in the cloud gaming market was the CMA's reasoning for initially blocking Microsoft's takeover of Activision, but the watchdog said in September that the Ubisoft concession "opens the door to the deal being cleared." A few weeks later, the CMA has rubberstamped the merger.

Microsoft also signed 10-year agreements with Nintendo and several cloud-gaming companies to offer its titles on their platforms. Those moves led to the European Union giving the merger the green light. The bloc's competition officials reportedly didn't see anything in the amended merger agreement (with the Ubisoft plan factored in) that would prompt a fresh antitrust investigation.

The Federal Trade Commission's attempts to stop the deal over competition concerns haven't panned out. The agency sued to block it in December and an evidentiary hearing in that case was slated to take place on August 2nd. The FTC tried to temporarily block the merger with a preliminary injunction ahead of its administrative trial, but a judge denied that effort.

The FTC still plans to challenge the merger. If that effort is successful, Microsoft could be forced to divest some or all of Activision Blizzard.

But for now, the deal is done. It means, among other things, that Activision Blizzard titles will be available on cloud gaming platforms for the first time since the publisher pulled its titles from GeForce Now in early 2020. Its games will surely join Game Pass in the coming months, including on Xbox Cloud Gaming, and they'll pop up on Ubisoft+ and other platforms Ubisoft works with.

Those waiting for Activision Blizzard's two biggest games of 2023 to hit Game Pass will certainly need to remain patient, though. The publisher has said Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III and Diablo IV won't hit the service until next year.

Meanwhile, Blizzard games are already coming to Steam rather than being siloed on the launcher. We'll probably see them appearing on Xbox's PC app too. For what it's worth, in court filings, Microsoft called Activision's strategy of releasing PC versions of Call of Duty titles exclusively on in a bid to grow the platform a "resounding failure."

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One of the key reasons Microsoft gave for pursuing the deal was to accelerate its aim of becoming a major player in the mobile gaming market. With Activision Blizzard pulling in $1.9 billion in mobile revenue in the first six months of 2023 alone, it will achieve that goal practically overnight.

King, which is behind the hugely successful Candy Crush franchise, generated more revenue ($1.49 billion) than Activision ($1.15 billion) in the first half of this year. Thanks largely to the massive success of Diablo IV, Blizzard brought in the most of the three units during that period with a hair over $1.5 billion. Still, King had 238 million monthly active users as of June 30th, just over twice as many as Activision and Blizzard combined. It recently emerged that Candy Crush Saga has generated over $20 billion in lifetime revenue.

Blizzard has also been making a push into mobile gaming with the likes of Diablo Immortal. Activision, meanwhile, has Call of Duty Mobile in its portfolio and Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is on the way. The company said in its most recent earnings report Call of Duty has around 90 million monthly players, "with over half of all engagement on the mobile platform."

As for exclusivity of future projects, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer has promised to "do whatever it takes" to keep shipping Call of Duty games on PlayStation. After months of refusing to do so, Sony eventually signed a 10-year pact just before the initial merger deadline of July 18th to keep that particular franchise on PlayStation, conceding defeat in its efforts to halt the acquisition. However, Microsoft will likely opt to keep other Activision Blizzard games off of PlayStation platforms, as it has done with ZeniMax/Bethesda titles Redfall and Starfield, as well as MachineGames' upcoming Indiana Jones project.

Meanwhile, many observers hope that Microsoft will help stamp out the alleged toxic workplace culture at Activision Blizzard. Earlier this year, Activision Blizzard paid $35 million to settle SEC charges related to how it handled employees' workplace misconduct complaints.

In 2021, the California Civil Rights Department (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) sued the company and accused it of fostering a "frat boy" culture in which female employees were harassed and discriminated against. Activision Blizzard countersued the CRD in December. The case hasn't been resolved. In fact, the CRD's lawsuit (which, along with other events, sent Activision's stock tumbling) set the ball rolling on Microsoft's acquisition of the company in the first place.

FILE - The Activision Blizzard Booth is shown on June 13, 2013 the during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022,  for $68.7 billion to gain access to blockbuster games including Call of Duty and Candy Crush. The all-cash deal will let Microsoft accelerate mobile gaming and provide it building blocks for the metaverse, or a virtual environment.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Spencer hinted at efforts to improve the publisher's workplace culture. "Today is a good day to play. We officially welcome Activision Blizzard King to Team Xbox," he wrote on X. "Together, we’ll create stories and experiences that bring players together, in a culture empowering everyone to do their best work and celebrate diverse perspectives." Spencer added that "whether you play on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, PC or mobile, you’re always welcome here — even if Xbox isn’t where you play your favorite franchise. Because when everyone plays, we all win."

Now that the acquisition has closed, a labor neutrality agreement between Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America will go into effect for Activision Blizzard workers in 60 days. That should make it easier for more of the publisher's employees to unionize. Some of Activision Blizzard's quality assurance (QA) workers have already formed unions. Earlier this year, hundreds of QA workers at ZeniMax Studios, a Microsoft subsidiary, voted to unionize with the CWA.

Spencer sent the following note to Activision Blizzard employees to welcome them to the Microsoft fold:

Today I am thrilled and honored to welcome you all to Team Xbox.

I’ve long been a fan of the incredible games and stories that your teams have created, and admired the impact that you’ve all had on gaming, entertainment and pop culture. Whether it was late nights spent playing the Diablo IV campaign with friends from start to finish, gathering the entire family in the rec room for our weekly Guitar Hero night, or going on an epic streak in Candy Crush, some of my most memorable gaming moments have come from experiences your studios have created.

Bringing our teams together represents an incredible opportunity for us to learn from one another, unlock a world of possibilities, and continue doing what both of our companies have always done – create stories and experiences that bring players together. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this moment possible.

By combining Xbox with your teams’ skill and talent, energizing passion, and amazing legacy of games, we will bring the joy and community of gaming to even more players around the world. Our goal is to keep nurturing what makes you great, support you in doing your best work building groundbreaking games, and prioritizing our shared commitment to putting culture at the center of everything we do. We want to learn from your centers of excellence, exchange ideas and best practices, and empower you to bring your visions to life.

As of today, we couldn’t be more excited that Activision Blizzard employees are our colleagues, co-workers, and teammates. As mentioned in Bobby’s email earlier, he has agreed to remain in his role through the end of 2023, reporting directly to me, to ensure a smooth and seamless integration. We look forward to working together as a unified team and we will share more updates on our new organizational structure in the coming months.

Through this integration, we remain committed to being transparent and sharing information wherever possible. We have a dedicated team ensuring that you feel welcome, have opportunities to ask questions, and that we are creating a culture of trust, inclusion, and collaboration with you. Earlier today, I sent a note to Microsoft letting the rest of the company know that we can now officially welcome you. And there, I reiterate that we hold ourselves to a high bar in delivering the most inclusive and welcoming experiences for players, creators, and employees. We are one team – Team Xbox.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be visiting the Activision, Blizzard, and King offices, along with members of the Xbox Leadership Team. There, we’ll have the opportunity to address questions and hear from each other. We also look forward to welcoming you alongside Team Xbox at our next virtual all-hands. More to come on these.

Welcome to Team Xbox. It’s a good day to play.


Update, October 10, 2023, 9:34AM ET: This story has been updated to include comments from Phil Spencer, and to add context about the labor neutrality agreement and unionization efforts at Activision Blizzard and Microsoft.

Update, October 10, 2023, 10:06AM ET: Added Spencer's welcome note to Activision Blizzard workers.

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