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21 months later, Microsoft finally owns Activision Blizzard

Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush join the Xbox portfolio

Artwork showing cover art for various Xbox, Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard games together, including Call of Duty, Halo, Warcraft, and Fallout Image: Xbox
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Microsoft has announced that it has — finally — completed its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the developer and publisher of Call of Duty, Warcraft, and Candy Crush.

It’s a deal of unprecedented scale in the game industry, which took 21 months to complete. Microsoft faced opposition from regulators in the U.S. and U.K., as well as from its competitor Sony, whose leaders feared losing Call of Duty to Xbox exclusivity.

In notes to Xbox and Activision Blizzard staff, Xbox head Phil Spencer and Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said that Kotick would stay on in his post until at least the end of 2023, in order to assist with the integration of the two companies.

In order to get the deal over the line, Microsoft defeated the Federal Trade Commission in a court case, and bowed to pressure from the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority by carving out the cloud gaming rights to Activision Blizzard games and selling them to Ubisoft. Microsoft also signed deals with PlayStation, Nintendo, Nvidia, and others promising to make Call of Duty — and, in some cases, other Activision Blizzard games — available on rival consoles and cloud platforms 10 years into the future.

What it gets in return is ownership of some of the biggest names in gaming, including annual shooter franchise Call of Duty from Activision; King’s all-conquering mobile game series Candy Crush; and Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch universes. There’s also a treasure trove of currently unused, or underused, gaming properties in the Activision vault, including Guitar Hero, StarCraft, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro. And the deal opens up the possibility of any and all Activision Blizzard games being added to Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service — including Call of Duty. (Activision Blizzard has said this won’t happen before 2024, while Phil Spencer told Xbox staff to expect more information about Game Pass “in the coming months.”)

Microsoft and its Xbox Game Studios development and publishing arm also now take control of a raft of game studios, including Infinity Ward, Raven Software, Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, Toys for Bob, and of course Blizzard’s internal teams. Many of these studios, especially Blizzard, have been embroiled in controversy and unrest for years over their workplace culture and Activision Blizzard’s management style, and some employees are reportedly looking forward to a new regime under Microsoft. Microsoft has already paved the way for smooth relations with the Activision Blizzard workforce by stating its pro-union approach, earning the Communications Workers of America’s endorsement of the deal.

“I’ve long admired the work of Activision, Blizzard, and King, and the impact they’ve had on gaming, entertainment, and pop culture,” Xbox head Phil Spencer said in Microsoft’s announcement. “Whether it was late nights spent playing the Diablo IV campaign with friends from start to finish, gathering the entire family in the rec room for our weekly Guitar Hero night, or going on an epic streak in Candy Crush, some of my most memorable gaming moments came from experiences their studios have created. It is incredible to welcome such legendary teams to Xbox.

“As one team, we’ll learn, innovate, and continue to deliver on our promise to bring the joy and community of gaming to more people,” he added. “We’ll do this in a culture that strives to empower everyone to do their best work, where all people are welcome, and is centered on our ongoing commitment of gaming for everyone. We are intentional about inclusion in everything we do at Xbox — from our team to the products we make and the stories we tell, to the way our players interact and engage as a wider gaming community.”

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