Microsoft president Brad Smith admits UK regulator was «tough and fair» on Activision Blizzard deal

Microsoft president Brad Smith has changed his tone somewhat towards UK regulatory body the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), admitting its initial plan to block the company’s Activision Blizzard buyout was «tough and fair».

Speaking with the BBC’s Today Program earlier this week, Smith said it actually «pushed Microsoft to change the acquisition that we had proposed, for Activision Blizzard to spin out certain rights that the CMA was concerned about with respect to cloud gaming.»

Smith continued: «I think the CMA vindicated its position but still created a pragmatic path forward for innovation and investment. I think that is good for everyone.»

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Last year, the CMA initially made the rather surprising decision to block Microsoft’s then proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard. In April 2023, the CMA cited concerns over the deal’s proposed impact on the cloud gaming sector.

In response to this decision by the regulator, Smith declared it «bad for Britain», adding it was «probably the darkest day in our four decades» working in the UK.

«It does more than shake our confidence in the future of the opportunity to grow a technology business in Britain than we’ve ever confronted before,» Smith said at the time.

In a further U-turn on this shaken confidence, Smith highlighted to the BBC Microsoft’s £2.5bn commitment to invest in AI infrastructure in the UK over the next three years.

«The UK government actually acted more boldly in 2023 than any other government on earth in committing £900m to build out that kind of infrastructure for the UK’s researchers,» said Smith.

After the CMA blocked the Activision Blizzard deal, Microsoft went on to submit a revised proposal in a bid to appease the regulator, saying it would sell the streaming rights for all Activision Blizzard games released in the next 15 years to Ubisoft should the new deal be accepted. This appeased the CMA, and it provisionally approved the deal in September.

The CMA subsequently went on to formally approve Microsoft’s acquisition of the Call of Duty maker in October.

After almost two years of negotiations and legal proceedings, Microsoft finally purchased Activision Blizzard for a cool $68.7bn that same day.

As a result of this acquisition, Microsoft now owns the likes of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Overwatch, alongside the rights to titles such as Spyro, Skylanders, and Guitar Hero. It also now owns Activision Blizzard’s giant mobile division King, which is known for its smash hit Candy Crush Saga.

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