UK regulator U-turns on Activision acquisition, takes Microsoft's side on Call of Duty

An "Activision" sign on the facade of one of the company's office buildings in LA.
(Image credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

If you can cast your mind as far back as last month, you might recall the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suggested that if Microsoft was truly serious about acquiring Activision Blizzard, it should consider breaking up Activision Blizzard. The market regulator was particularly concerned about Call of Duty, so much so that all of the ways it proposed Microsoft could satisfy it involved breaking off COD from the rest of Activision, one way or another.

Well, clear that from your mind. The CMA now says it's received "a significant amount of new evidence" in response to its findings last month, and has now reached a new provisional conclusion that the Activision acquisition "will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in relation to console gaming in the UK," particularly insofar as COD is concerned.

That's quite the 180! While the CMA says it still has worries about the impact the acquisition will have on cloud gaming, it's no longer concerned that Microsoft will decide to yoink COD away from its competitors in the event the deal goes through unmodified. Why? It's all in the numbers.

Although its original data "indicated that this strategy would be profitable under most scenarios" for Microsoft, the CMA has since gotten new info—which it says "provides better insight into the actual purchasing behaviour of COD gamers"—and concluded that withholding access to COD "would be significantly loss-making under any plausible scenario" for Microsoft, which "will instead still have the incentive to continue to make the game available on PlayStation".

You can see the CMA's full revised findings here, but it's inconveniently redacted a bunch of the new maths it's now relying on.

These are still provisional findings, and the CMA is set to conclude its investigation properly by April 26, but it's great news for Microsoft and bad for Sony, which has made access to COD the centrepiece of its campaign against the Activision acquisition. 

Activision's execs are pretty thrilled about it, too: In a statement to PC Gamer, an Activision spokesperson said that the new findings "show an improved understanding of the console gaming market and demonstrate a commitment to supporting players and competition," and that "Microsoft has already presented effective and enforceable remedies to address each of the CMA’s remaining concerns". Activision also took a swing against Sony, declaring "Sony’s campaign to protect its dominance by blocking our merger can’t overcome the facts".

There's another month of investigation to go in the UK (not to mention ongoing investigations in the US and EU), so it's too early to say who is going to 'win' this thing. Nevertheless, if Sony's lawyers can't pull something miraculous out of the bag, the momentum feels like it's firmly back with Microsoft now.

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.