Bobby Kotick blasts UK over Microsoft deal, says regulators lack 'independent thought' and Britain risks becoming tech 'Death Valley'

CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick, speaks onstage during "Managing Excellence: Getting Consistently Great Results" at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 19, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
(Image credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Activision overlord Bobby Kotick took to the airwaves for the first time in a while recently, telling us what a wonderful world it would be if various national regulators approved Microsoft's $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. In a chat with CNBC, the CEO made a case for the acquisition that differed slightly from talking points we've heard from Microsoft lawyers, arguing that the merger is the only way for western games companies to break into "protected markets" in China and Japan, and warning that the UK would become "Death Valley" if it shot down the deal.

To be clear, Kotick wasn't prophesying that the UK would be struck by drought if it defied his will, but rather suggesting that the country's tech sector ambitions would go down in flames if it thwarted Microsoft's acquisition. Kotick pointed at comments from UK prime minister Rishi Sunak about the UK becoming "the Silicon Valley of Europe," and warned that "if deals like this can’t get through, [the UK's] not going to be Silicon Valley, [it'll] be Death Valley".

Kotick said that a "post-Brexit UK" is "probably the first country where you’re seeing a recession, like the real severe consequences of a recession," and suggested that the country would want to draw on the technical talent of institutions like Cambridge to counteract that. "I would think you would want to embrace a transaction like this," he told CNBC presenters, "where you’re gonna see job creation and opportunity". Given that any plans to bolster Britain's tech sector will need buy-in from titans like Microsoft, it sounds like a threat just as much as a warning.

Kotick followed up his CNBC interview with a chat with the Financial Times, in which he blasted the UK government for lacking "any real vision in the leadership for pursuing these kinds of opportunities". "It seems like a bit of a fragile government," Kotick told the FT, "Where’s the leadership?". He also criticised the UK's Competition and Markets Authority for being "co-opted by the FTC ideology" and "not really using independent thought" to consider "how this transaction would positively impact the UK". In contrast, he said EU regulators had shown "a lot more insight and recognition" in their approach to the acquisition.

I have to wonder if Microsoft wishes it could restrain Activision executives from ever going near a microphone at this point. Kotick's inflammatory comments come barely a week after Activision's chief communications officer Lulu Cheng Meservey made the absolutely baffling argument that The Last of Us' success on HBO showed why the acquisition was a good idea. Now Activision's CEO is making the rounds and lambasting the very regulators Microsoft needs to persuade, which they probably don't teach you in PR 101.

Then again, Microsoft itself had to offer a crawling apology after a tirade in one of its FTC filings accused the US regulator of violating the US constitution, so perhaps lawyers in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. As the deal drags on and more and more wealthy people with a tenuous grasp on reality get more frustrated, I expect the heated comments will only get more frequent.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.