It is not one but several sticks that are lodged in the wheels of Microsoft in the context of its takeover of Activision Blizzard. Just two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opposed the takeover, a new complaint surfaced. It comes this time from 10 American players. Representing the consumer side of the case, they hope to weigh in the balance in order to defeat “the largest technology transaction ever in the video game market”.
If it may seem pretentious to see a handful of people oppose a financial agreement from large companies, the plaintiffs are nevertheless in their right. Under the Clayton antitrust law, US consumers have rights similar to those of industry competitors to object to such acquisitions. This allows courts to assess competition issues from the perspective of consumers. And these players have arguments to put forward to demonstrate that this takeover risks causing many harms to consumers.
Microsoft, the kingpin of the industry
The complaint refers to the “grossly oversized market power” that Microsoft will own in the event of a takeover of the studio. Players fear that the acquisition of licenses from Activision Blizzard will cause prices to soar and affect the quality of games released. The plaintiffs claim in the court document that players are particularly sensitive to the rise in prices imposed by publishers, since it is difficult for them, if not impossible, to replace their favorite games, each license being particularly unique, without equivalent. .
Microsoft’s stranglehold on flagship licenses such as call of duty would allow, if the firm wishes, to deprive players of access to certain platforms or services outside Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem. A concern shared by Sony, fearing that certain games from its PlayStation console would disappear.
Words in the air
Despite Microsoft’s promises and commitments to make accessible call of duty on Nintendo Switch for the next 10 years, the plaintiffs point out that the company could go back on its word once the acquisition is finalized, especially since it has done so in the past with Starfield and the acquisition of Zenimax in 2020. Even if Microsoft keeps its commitment, there is no guarantee to players that games available on other consoles and ecosystems will be available at the same time, with the same quality and the same updates as on the Microsoft products.
Finally, the plaintiffs claim that such a takeover would lead to a dangerous competitive monopoly situation. The complaint argues that the industry could suffer from reduced wages, restricted freedom and worsening working conditions, with Microsoft in a strong position to dictate industry standards: “The industry competition brought by Activision Blizzard must be preserved to ensure the next generation of video game innovation and value is empowered by competition, not stifled by coalition.” So it seems that no one apart from Microsoft is looking at this deal very favorably.