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Microsoft-Activision Blizzard merger nearly clear of obstacles – but future for gamers remains unclear

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Microsoft has cleared nearly all of the major obstacles in its path to securing the biggest acquisition in gaming history but, for gamers, the future remains unclear.

The technology giant is nearly at the finish line of its protracted bid to take over Activision Blizzard, the hit video game developer, for $69bn (£52.9bn).

But after 19 months of fevered back-and-forth with regulators, governments and competitors since it first announced plans to buy the developer, Microsoft now has to stop and wait while the UK’s competition regulator reviews its amended offer.

Earlier this week, a London tribunal formally paused Microsoft’s appeal against the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) move to block its planned takeover after both sides requested a two-month extension following the CMA’s announcement that it would consider an amended deal.

The full hearing of Microsoft’s appeal, which was due to start at the end of this month, has now been adjourned.

After America’s top antitrust watchdog failed in several attempts to halt the deal – which has already been approved in the EU and China – securing UK approval is the biggest remaining milestone.

However, the assurances the company has given to its competitors, gamers and regulators across the world are limited.

The tension surrounding the deal boils down to whether a successful merger would give Microsoft too much power and end up limiting choice for gamers.

Regulators fear that popular games developed by Activision Blizzard could be made exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox, meaning gamers that use PlayStation, Nintendo or other consoles can no longer access them.

It would not be the first time the company’s Xbox offering was bolstered by its acquisition of a game maker.

After Microsoft paid $7.5bn (£5.7bn) for the maker of the hit games Fallout and Skyrim in 2020, executives promised that some future titles created by the Bethesda studio would be exclusive to Xbox and PC users.

Among the lucrative games Microsoft would own are Call Of Duty, World Of Warcraft and Candy Crush. Modern Warfare II, which is the latest instalment in the Call Of Duty series, made $1bn (£767,000) in its release weekend alone.

However, Microsoft insists that it doesn’t want to limit choice and has signed agreements with Sony and Nintendo guaranteeing that Call Of Duty – Activision’s most valuable asset – will be available on their consoles if the merger goes ahead.

In spite of the Call Of Duty deal, it is not clear what will happen with a host of other popular titles developed by Activision, or whether full access to the series will be renewed after the agreed period.

For Nintendo, this is 10 years.

The CMA, which had initially blocked the takeover, said last week it was ready to reopen talks with Microsoft after the company agreed to halt legal proceedings over its planned merger with Activision Blizzard.

The UK regulator said it would spend six weeks giving “full and proper consideration” to the submissions from Microsoft before coming to a decision by 29 August.

The deal also faces opposition from a group of individual plaintiffs, who earlier this week asked America’s Supreme Court to temporarily halt the deal.

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