FTC puts internal trial over Microsoft-Activision deal on hold | Engadget

    The Federal Trade Commission has formally put its administrative trial over Microsoft’s pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard on hold. The move, which was first reported by Bloomberg, allows the agency and companies to hold talks over a settlement for the eye-popping $68.7 billion merger.

    The FTC’s decision to pause its case is another major victory for Microsoft and Activision as they attempt to get the deal over the line. The agency sued to block the deal in December and an evidentiary hearing in the case was set for August 2nd. Last week, it lost a legal bid to prevent the companies from merging before the administrative trial was set to begin in early August. The FTC has appealed its court loss.

    “The FTC has not shown it is likely to succeed on its assertion the combined firm will probably pull Call of Duty from Sony PlayStation, or that its ownership of Activision content will substantially lessen competition in the video game library subscription and cloud gaming markets,” Jacqueline Scott Corley wrote in a ruling last week. Microsoft has since signed a deal with Sony to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation for 10 years if the merger goes through.

    In a motion filed on Tuesday, Microsoft and Activision urged the FTC to withdraw its case. FTC rules stipulate that the agency has to withdraw its case after the companies made the request, since it was denied a preliminary injunction to stop them from merging. Per Bloomberg, Microsoft and Activision can now try to convince the FTC to accept remedies that will resolve the agency’s concerns about the deal’s impact on competition in the gaming industry. Alternatively, they could persuade the FTC to completely abandon its opposition to the merger.

    The FTC still has the option of holding its administrative trial after the merger closes. However, it’s rare for the agency to proceed with an in-house case after it loses a federal court battle.

    The initial deadline for the acquisition to close was Tuesday, though Microsoft and Activision extended their merger agreement until October 18th to give them “additional time to resolve remaining regulatory concerns.” They agreed that Microsoft will be on the hook for a breakup fee of as much as $4.5 billion if the deal falls apart, though both sides are determined to wrap things up. 

    Microsoft and Activision still have to gain approval from a UK regulator to close the deal without having to resort to workarounds to continue doing business in the country. The Competition and Markets Authority initially blocked the merger in April, but over the last week or so, it has signaled a willingness to amicably resolve its concerns over the potential impact of the deal on the cloud gaming market. 

    Microsoft is poised to submit an updated merger proposal to the CMA. The regulator will make a decision by August 29th, though it aims to do so as soon as possible. In a hearing this week, a CMA lawyer said that both the regulator and Microsoft are confident that the company will be able to resolve its concerns. That’s yet another sign that the biggest merger in gaming history is very likely to close in the coming weeks.

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