Saudi Arabia first country to approve Microsoft's acquisition of Activision

Flag of Saudi Arabia
(Image credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE (Getty Images))

Saudi Arabia has become the first country in the world to greenlight Microsoft's $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The country's General Authority for Competition (GAC) tweeted Sunday that it had no objection to the completion of the "process of economic concentration" between the two companies, making it the first regulatory hurdle Microsoft has cleared in its quest to acquire Activision.

The GAC didn't go into great detail about how it scrutinised the acquisition, but it's not really a surprise that they've waved it through. Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan aims to diversify the country's economy and wean it off its dependency on its unthinkably huge reserves of oil, and investments in the tech sector and videogames are a big part of that plan. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been doling out billions of dollars in investments to the likes of the Embracer Group, EA, Take-Two and, yes, Activision Blizzard.

Because of Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record, every one of those investments has been accompanied by some measure of controversy. Nevertheless, enormous games companies continue to accept Saudi billions, and the presence of the House of Saud in the games industry as a whole continues to grow because of it.

The Saudi government says it expects the games industry to make up about 1% of its economy—for a value of around $21 billion—by 2030. For that to be possible, Saudi Arabia needs to be an appealing place for videogame big business to do business. Authorising the Microsoft/Activision deal so quickly sends the larger message that Saudi Arabia wants to be sending right now. Throwing up any barriers would have had the exact opposite effect: indicating to the games industry that doing business in the country comes second to navigating the whims of its princes.

Microsoft still has plenty of regulators it needs to convince before the Activision deal can go through, although it doesn't seem likely it'll run into too much trouble. While Sony might be complaining to Brazilian regulators about the fallout of making Call of Duty an Xbox-exclusive, it's unlikely anyone will want to rock the boat too much. It's not just Saudi Arabia that wants to stay attractive to big business, after all.

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.