According to Xbox head Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard is a move designed to serve gamers by keeping a close eye on their needs.
Microsoft’s proposed merger with triple-A gaming studio Activision Blizzard left the company with concerns that the merger would do more harm than good to the gaming industry. But in an interview for the podcast Second request (opens in new tab)Spencer explained that despite scrutiny from regulatory authorities, he believes Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of the Call of Duty publisher will ultimately benefit gamers if allowed to proceed.
“Since I’ve been in this role, thinking about how we’re going to grow Xbox and what our role is in gaming, we’ve tried to put the gamer at the center of all our decisions,” said Spencer. “To me it looks like the regulator [opposing the merger] looks forward to what is best for the consumer, but this deal is in the best interest of the gamers.”
One of the fears of both US and European regulators is complaints that Microsoft would actively hinder their rivals’ business, preventing users of Sony or Nintendo consoles from accessing Activision’s flagship titles by turning them into Xbox exclusives.
Paved with good intentions
One of the biggest questions surrounding the proposed merger with Activision Blizzard arose afterward Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax acquired in 2021: whether Microsoft will end taking major titles away from other consoles. In the interview with Second Request, Spencer used the ZeniMax merger as an example of how Microsoft is not planning this with Activision Blizzard titles.
“All the ZeniMax games we said would ship PS5we have,” he said, referring to how Microsoft has continued to support cross-platform updates to Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. “There’s not a single game from ZeniMax that we’ve pulled from PlayStation.”
Spencer also commented on how Microsoft has respected the agreements made between ZeniMax and its competitors’ pre-purchase, suggesting that Microsoft can be trusted to stay true to its word. “The first two games we shipped from ZeniMax [after the merger] were actually PS5 exclusives, and those are just contractual. Sony signed a deal to exclude those games from Xbox, and we made good on that [that commitment].”
That said, we know that upcoming Bethesda-made games like Star field will be Xbox exclusive titles. This means they will only ship to Xbox and PC platforms. Spencer reiterated that first-party games are nothing new, stating that “exclusives are part of the history of how people sell consoles.”
His comments were more aimed at allaying fears that Microsoft would limit Activision’s core titles to Xbox consoles only, should the merger succeed. “How we want to grow and nurture it [flagship] franchises, taking a game like Call of Duty off the biggest console platform is totally at odds with all of that.
In the interview, Spencer highlighted Xbox’s commitment to providing its cross-platform gamers with a consistent, fun, and diverse experience. “[Xbox Game Pass] allows them to play great games on the devices they want to play on,” he said, later commenting on the stark differences between Xbox and PlayStation, evidenced by their shipping of day one releases directly to PC and Xbox platforms. players through Game Pass.
Spencer also hinted at his desire to enter the mobile gaming scene. This, then, is one of the main reasons Microsoft would want to buy Activision: it would allow Xbox to further immerse itself in the mobile gaming space. “The place where we’re totally irrelevant is on the biggest platform, [which is] mobile,” Spencer said, suggesting that if the Microsoft-Activision merger goes ahead, it would be something Microsoft would pursue.
You’ve been served
Despite Spencer’s attempts to label the merger a good thing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has since aired the podcast filed a complaint to block Microsoftacquisition of Activision Blizzard.
The redacted complaint (opens in new tab) outlines the FTC’s concern that Microsoft would use the merger as a means to negatively impact markets and its competitors. Despite Spencer’s comments that Xbox exclusives are “nothing new,” the FTC’s complaint highlights the regulatory body’s concerns that Microsoft went back on commitments made to the European Commission (EC) during an antitrust hearing. At the hearing, the company claimed it would not withhold ZeniMax games from rival consoles, but both Starfield and Redfall are Xbox console exclusives.
While this lawsuit could threaten and ultimately block the proposed merger, Microsoft will be able to argue its case in court.