Microsoft pledges to play fair on games as it tries to sell the Activision deal

Microsoft has pledged to ensure open distribution of its games as its senior management traveled to Washington to address regulators’ potential antitrust concerns over its $ 75bn takeover of Activision Blizzard.

A delegation including Satya Nadella, Microsoft chief executive, arrived in Washington this week to meet lawmakers three weeks after agreeing to buy the games developer, Microsoft’s largest deal yet.

The pledge, which was announced on Wednesday, addresses what Microsoft deems to be the principal means of games distribution: app stores. It included keeping a less restrictive distribution system than the mobile app stores run by Apple and Google, measures Microsoft had already taken with its existing, though little-used, app store on Windows.

The commitments also include allowing all developers to access the Microsoft app store and not compelling them to use its own payment system to process purchases in the app.

Brad Smith, president and vice-chair at Microsoft, said the pledge was developed “in part to address Microsoft’s growing role and responsibility as we start the process of seeking regulatory approval in capitals around the world for our acquisition of Activision Blizzard.”

Microsoft also committed to making popular Activision games including Call of Duty available on PlayStation under Sony’s existing agreements with the game developer, and even after they expire. Smith said Microsoft was also “interested” in building a similar arrangement to give Nintendo long-term access to leading Activision games.

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Microsoft is facing a gauntlet of 17 regulators globally in seeking approval to complete the tie-up, which has raised concerns around the size of the transaction and potential harm to other players in the gaming industry.

Experts have warned the Activision acquisition could become a test case for US antitrust agencies led by progressives appointed by President Joe Biden, including Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission and Jonathan Kanter as head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust unit.

The deal was announced just hours before the two agencies said they would be revamping merger rules to strengthen antitrust enforcement, including revisiting guidance on vertical mergers such as the Microsoft transaction.

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