Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the publisher of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch, has been delayed past its July 18 deadline, the companies announced Wednesday. The deadline has been extended until Oct. 18 as Microsoft and Activision negotiate with the U.K.’s antitrust regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority.
The CMA blocked Microsoft’s buyout of Activision Blizzard in April, arguing that the merger would lead to “reduced innovation and less choice for UK gamers over the years to come” in the burgeoning cloud gaming market. Microsoft and Activision quickly appealed that decision, but on Monday, the Xbox maker and the CMA asked a judge to stay that process — the parties are reported to have held “productive” talks on remedies that Microsoft could agree to in order to help the deal pass. Bloomberg has reported that these remedies may include Microsoft selling off the rights to its cloud gaming operation in the U.K.
“Together with Activision, we are announcing the extension of our merger agreement to 10/18 to provide ample time to work through the final regulatory issues,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said on Twitter. “We will honor all commitments agreed upon with the [European Commission] and other regulators and continue to work with the CMA on the issues raised in the UK. We are confident about our prospects for getting this deal across the finish line.”
“The recent decision in the U.S. and approvals in 40 countries all validate that the deal is good for competition, players, and the future of gaming,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. “Given global regulatory approvals and the companies’ confidence that CMA now recognizes there are remedies available to meet their concerns in the U.K., the Activision Blizzard and Microsoft boards of directors have authorized the companies not to terminate the deal until after October 18. We’re confident in our next steps and that our deal will quickly close.”
Activision will pay shareholders a $0.99 per share cash dividend, presumably as a thank you for their patience. Microsoft said that the termination fee that it will owe Activision if the deal fails to close will increase from $3 billion to $4.5 billion in stages over the coming months, but stressed that this fee would only be payable if the agreement is terminated outright.
Microsoft and Activision will be hoping to close the deal well before the Oct. 18 deadline. The U.K.’s Competition Appeal Tribunal has given Microsoft and the CMA until late September to reach an agreement, while the CMA says it expects to have finalized its conclusions well in advance of its own deadline on Aug. 29.
Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard, including its mobile division King, in January 2022. When the acquisition was announced, head of Xbox and Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said the deal would “make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse lineups of gaming content in the industry,” and bolster Microsoft’s internal game development group to 30 studios.
Rival Sony attempted to block the deal, arguing that the Xbox maker snapping up franchises like Call of Duty would kill competition in the console market, because Microsoft would withhold the games from PlayStation or release inferior versions there. Microsoft struck deals with multiple companies, including its console and cloud gaming competitors at Nintendo, Sony, and Nvidia, to ease regulators’ concerns about the merger. This worked for many regulators, including in the European Union, which gave the deal the green light. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission was swayed by Sony’s arguments, but lost a court battle to block the deal in early July.