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Blow for Microsoft as UK competition watchdog delays merger with Call of Duty maker Activision

Call of Duty video game  (Activision Blizzard)
Call of Duty video game (Activision Blizzard)

Microsoft’s hopes to acquire Call of Duty maker Activision suffered another blow today after the UK competition watchdog said it would be delaying its decision on whether to approve the deal by almost two months.

The Competition and Markets Authority said the deadline for the outcome of its inquiry into the deal would be pushed back by eight weeks from the beginning of March to the end of April.

In a statement the CMA said: “In taking this decision, the Inquiry Group had regard to the scope and complexity of the investigation and the need to consider a large volume of evidence.”

The regulator first began its probe into the acquisition in September on grounds that the deal could damage the video games market by blocking access to Activision’s games or giving access on unfavourable terms. It said the Seattle-based X-box maker failed to offer reassurances to address competition concerns.

The maker of Xbox rivals PlayStation has also sounded the alarm on the merger’s potential to hurt competition in the games industry. Jim Ryan, the boss of PlayStation owner Sony Interactive Entertainment said: I feel the need to set the record straight…Microsoft has only offered for Call of Duty to remain on PlayStation for three years after the current agreement between Activision and Sony ends.”

Microsoft vice president Brad Smith hit back at those concerns, telling the Reuters news agency: “We want people to have more access to games, not less,” adding he was committed to making Activision’s latest Call of Duty release “available on the same day on both Xbox and PlayStation.”

Xboss boss Phil Spencer said in December he would bring the Call of Duty franchise to Nintendo consoles if the merger is approved, in a bid to appease concerns by the competition watchdog.

The deal, which was first announced in January, is set to close in June 2023 if it clears regulatory hurdles. Microsoft is understood to face a $3 billion break-up fee if the deal falls through.

Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty game is the best-selling first person shooter game series ever made, with over 400 million copies sold since it was first released in 2003.