The catchy headline at the top of this blog post was the title Reuters selected for its article. It is an ominous sounding title, indicating that Microsoft will have difficulty with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) lawsuit against the company.
Reuters reported that Facebook is Microsoft’s antitrust boogeyman. The U.S. regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission, is seeking to block the software titan’s $69 billion deal for gaming giant Activision Blizzard, partly to stop domination of the industry as it evolves. The FTC’s leader Lina Khan might be making up for regulators who waved through Mark Zuckerberg’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram. Though Microsoft’s deal is different, punishment under Khan’s regime seemed inevitable.
According to Reuters, the FTC is concerned that Microsoft, the owner of the Xbox gaming console, will withhold popular games made by Activision, including Call of Duty and World of Warcraft from competing platforms including Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Switch. Microsoft has tried to appease this concern. This month, the company led by Satya Nadella agreed to offer games to Nintendo and Sony for 10 years.
The New York Times posted an article titled: “Lina Kahn, Aiming to Block Microsoft’s Activision Deal, Faces a Challenge”. This is a more optimistic title than the one Reuters chose. The New York Times reported that Lina Khan has pledged to usher in a new era of trustbusting of America’s corporate giants, recently saying the agency plans to “enforce the antitrust laws to ensure maximal efficacy.”
According to The New York Times, Ms. Khan has staked that ambitious agenda on a case that may be highly challenging for the agency to win. Ms. Khan and the FTC face hurdles in trying to stop the Microsoft-Activision deal, experts said. That’s because courts have been skeptical of challenges to so-called vertical mergers, where the two businesses don’t compete directly. In this case, Microsoft is best known in gaming as the maker of the Xbox console, while Activision is a major publisher of blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty.
The New York Times also reported that Microsoft has vowed to fight the FTCs lawsuit against the Activision purchase. On Thursday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said the company had “complete confidence in our case and welcome the opportunity to present it in court.” On Friday Microsoft pointed to previous statements that it believes the deal would expand competition and create more opportunities for gamers and game developers.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in the typical antitrust case, the government challenges a horizontal merger, or one involving rivals that compete head-to-head. Such mergers, by removing a competitor from the marketplace, can increase concentration, a factor that can be used to infer harmful effects such as higher prices.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the government has struggled to win cases on vertical mergers because making claims about the potential future harms posed by such deals is less straightforward and can require complex speculation about how market forces might play out.
Personally, I think it is going to take a very long time to sort this situation out in court. This is happening during the holiday season, and I cannot help but wonder if gamers who wanted to buy a console will hold off until they know the outcome of the Microsoft – Activision Blizzard acquisition.