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Exclusive-Microsoft set to win EU nod on Activision with licensing offer, sources say

Illustration of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard game characters

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Microsoft Corp is expected to secure EU antitrust approval for its $69 billion acquisition of Activision with its offer of licensing deals to rivals, three people familiar with the matter said, helping it to clear a major hurdle.

Microsoft announced the Activision bid in January last year, its biggest ever, to take on leaders Tencent and Sony, in the booming videogaming market and to venture in the metaverse which is virtual online worlds where people can work, play and socialise.

The European Commission, which is scheduled to decide on the deal by April 25, is not expected to demand that Microsoft sell assets to win its approval, the people said.

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In addition to the licensing deals for rivals, Microsoft may also have to offer other behavioural remedies to allay concerns of other parties than Sony, one of the people said. Such remedies typically refer to the future conduct of the merged company.

Activision shares, which jumped 1.8% in pre-market trading after the Reuters' story was published, were up 2.6% in late trade.

Microsoft President Brad Smith last month said the U.S. software group was ready to offer rivals licensing deals to address antitrust concerns but it would not sell Activision's lucrative "Call of Duty" franchise.

Smith said it was not feasible or realistic to think that one game or one slice of Activision can be carved out and separated from the rest.

The EU competition enforcer declined to comment.

Microsoft said it was "committed to offering effective and easily enforceable solutions that address the European Commission's concerns."

"Our commitment to grant long term 100% equal access to Call of Duty to Sony, Steam, NVIDIA and others preserves the deal's benefits to gamers and developers and increases competition in the market," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Last month, Microsoft said it had signed 10-year licensing deals with Nintendo and Nvidia that will bring Call of Duty to their gaming platforms, with the agreements conditional on a green light for the Activision deal.

The deal faces regulatory headwinds in Britain, where the UK competition agency has suggested that Microsoft divests Call of Duty to address its concerns while the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has asked a judge to block the deal.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Elaine Hardcastle, Jane Merriman and Marguerita Choy)