Call of Duty

The FTC (USA's Federal Trade Commission) has confirmed it will attempt to block Microsoft's $69 billion acquisition of Call of Duty developer Activision. In a statement on its official website, the FTC pointed to Microsoft's record of buying other developers to suppress content from its rivals. "Microsoft decided to make several of Bethesda's titles including Starfield and Redfall Microsoft exclusives despite assurances it had given to European antitrust authorities that it had no incentive to withhold games from rival consoles."

The Commission voted 3-1 to issue the complaint, with the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition Holly Vedova adding: "Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals. Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets."

To try and get other platforms and hardware manufacturers on board, Microsoft offered a 10-year deal to companies to ensure Call of Duty would remain on their consoles. Nintendo and Steam accepted the offer, but Sony did not. "With control over Activision’s blockbuster franchises, Microsoft would have both the means and motive to harm competition by manipulating Activision’s pricing, degrading Activision’s game quality or player experience on rival consoles and gaming services, changing the terms and timing of access to Activision’s content, or withholding content from competitors entirely, resulting in harm to consumers."

Sony's sticking point over the acquisition has clearly been access to the Call of Duty franchise, but it appears the FTC is taking a wider perspective, pointing to lesser-known exclusives like Redfall. It sees the move as enabling Microsoft "to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription content and cloud-gaming business". Sony has argued its PS Plus service is losing to Xbox Game Pass when you at least look at the more expensive tiers PS Plus Extra and PS Plus Premium.

EVP Corporate Affairs and CCO of Activision Blizzard Lulu Cheng Meservey responded with the following: "This vote departs from precedent but the law hasn’t changed. Any claim the deal is anticompetitive ignores facts; the deal benefits gamers and the industry, especially given competition from abroad. We look forward to proving our case in court and closing our deal with Microsoft."