Microsoft is still hard at work convincing antitrust regulators that its planned Activision Blizzard purchase won’t hurt competition in the gaming industry. Today, the company announced a 10-year agreement with Boosteroid for the cloud gaming provider to stream Activision’s PC titles if the deal goes through.
It’s Microsoft’s latest attempt to demonstrate to EU, UK and US regulators that it won’t use the deal to muscle out competitors and stifle competition. Similarly, it recently struck 10-year deals with Nintendo and Nvidia to bring the Call of Duty franchise to platforms like the Switch and GeForce Now. Microsoft has said it offered Sony a similar agreement for PlayStation licensing (which Sony hasn’t agreed to) and committed to supporting Steam availability at the same time as Xbox. Sony expressed its concerns about the deal earlier this month, including the prospect of Microsoft shipping buggy versions of Call of Duty on PlayStation, diminishing gamers' trust in playing the immensely popular shooter on Sony consoles.
“If the only argument is that Microsoft is going to withhold Call of Duty from other platforms, and we’ve now entered into contracts that are going to bring this to many more devices and many more platforms, that is a pretty hard case to make to a court,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told The Wall Street Journal. “The reason we want to buy Activision Blizzard is to round out our titles to have a fuller library, especially to have more mobile titles where we don’t have a strong presence, and build a stronger gaming business.”
Boosteroid is the biggest independent cloud-gaming service in the world. Like GeForce Now, it supports multi-device streaming access but requires purchasing paid games on other platforms (including Steam, Epic Games, Battle.net and Origin). Boosteroid's current library includes Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone (among many others). It can stream games in web browsers and offers native apps for Windows, macOS, Android, Android TV and Linux. (iOS is missing because it doesn’t allow native cloud-gaming apps without clunky workarounds.) Boosteroid has servers in Romania, Ukraine, Italy, Slovakia, France, Spain, the UK, Sweden, Serbia and the US.
The European Commission, in charge of EU competition regulation, was reported earlier this month to be satisfied enough with Microsoft’s commitments to “likely” give the go-ahead. However, the commission hasn’t said so publicly and has until April 25th to decide. UK regulators’ decision is expected the following day. Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission sued Microsoft to block the deal in December out of concerns it could raise prices or cut off access for non-Microsoft hardware, something Microsoft has denied it would do. The company has until July to satisfy the FTC, or it will need to renegotiate the deal or abandon the purchase, putting it on the line for up to a $3 billion breakup fee.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, which favors structural changes over behavioral promises like licensing deals, recently suggested Microsoft could divest itself of Activision’s publishing unit, which Microsoft has indicated it has no interest in doing; deals like the Boosteroid one are part of its fight to avoid that fate.