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EU quizzes rivals over Microsoft-Activision access

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European antitrust enforcers are asking whether Microsoft would shut rivals out from Activision’s popular video game library as part of a review of the tech giant’s planned $69 billion deal for the game developer, according to people familiar with the matter and documents seen by POLITICO. 

The European Commission circulated questionnaires to competing firms in early July and officials have also been holding meetings with Microsoft’s rivals to discuss their concerns about the record-breaking deal, which is yet to be formally notified in Europe. 

According to the Commission’s request for information, regulators are keen to know whether and “how Microsoft could selectively degrade the compatibility and accessibility of Game Pass” on rival platforms. Game Pass is Microsoft’s video game subscription service for Xbox and PC users.  

Competitors have voiced concerns over Microsoft potentially restricting access to some of Activision’s titles — such as Call of Duty — for rival subscription gaming services if the deal is approved. 

While Commission’s formal review of a deal only kicks off once the companies file for approval, it frequently sends questionnaires during the so-called pre-notification period to gather information that lets it identify potential antitrust issues. 

Microsoft didn’t respond to POLITICO’s request for comment. The Commission declined to comment.

Microsoft could restrict access to some of Activision’s titles — such as Call of Duty — for rival subscription gaming services | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

US has broad questions

The FTC review is also far from over, with the agency still receiving information from third parties. And that review is wide-reaching — even touching upon Microsoft’s $7.5 billion buyout of ZeniMax Media, according to a separate document seen by POLITICO. 

Shortly after announcing the deal, Microsoft committed to not withhold Activision titles from other consoles including Sony’s PlayStation. Still unclear is whether Microsoft would allow those games on competing subscription services.

And while competitor access to Activision games makes up the bulk of the scrutiny, the FTC’s investigation is much broader, incorporating issues including the deal’s impact on consumer data and the market for game developers, according to people familiar with the review.

The FTC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wide scrutiny

Elsewhere, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority announced a formal probe of the deal in early July, the Brazillian competition watchdog is questioning competitors about the deal, as is the Australian competition authority. Competition enforcers in New Zealand have also been alerted to the merger.

Microsoft has been getting more antitrust attention in Europe in recent months, nearly a decade after it ended a long-running battle with the Commission. EU officials are examining complaints from cloud services over Microsoft’s licensing terms. The company tried to allay regulators with a series of commitments to cloud players in May.

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