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“Xbox wins?” » Gamers cautiously celebrate Microsoft Activision deal

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When Microsoft announced it was spending $69 billion to buy video game maker Activision Blizzard in January last year, Justin Katz was stunned.

For Mr. Katz, a 34-year-old former professional video game player from Lansing, Ill., it was a seismic event that gave Microsoft a victory over Sony in the console business in getting Activision’s list of popular games, like Call of Devoir.

“I thought there’s no way – it’s not possible,” he said. “Are the console wars over? Xbox wins? Mr. Katz, who now streams video games recreationally on Twitch under the name FearItSelf for Evil Geniuses, a professional gaming organization, feared that Microsoft, which makes the Xbox, would take Call of Duty away from people who played on the Sony PlayStation consoles.

But over the past year, Mr. Katz has been encouraged by Microsoft’s plans to keep Call of Duty available on PlayStation, as well as its deals to bring the game to Nintendo’s Switch and other platforms. While the deal finally closed on Friday after a global regulatory battle, Mr. Katz, like many other players, is now cautiously optimistic that Microsoft will take control of one of the industry’s largest publishers video game.

“There’s a lot of energy and hype and attention,” Mr. Katz said, “but with that comes skepticism, and the expectations are much higher because you’ve spent all this money.”

The process of obtaining regulatory approvals for a business merger is often a boring task, overseen only by the staunchest business and antitrust advocates. That’s not the case with Microsoft’s Activision deal, which has captured the attention of millions of video game enthusiasts.

Players flooded a British regulatory agency with more than 2,000 public comments, spent countless hours on YouTube watching legal analyzes of the government’s attempts to block the deal, and packed the Zoom audience for a hearing in federal court over the acquisition in June.

Three-quarters of those who emailed the British agency said they were eager to see Microsoft finalize its deal. Many were convinced that the transaction would support Activision’s game development and give gamers access to premium games at a lower price through Microsoft’s monthly subscription.

Gamers also expressed hope that Activision, which was accused in a 2021 lawsuit of having a sexist work culture, will improve its treatment of Microsoft-owned employees. Some PlayStation players who fear that the quality of their platform is now lagging behind that of Xbox, however, remain concerned.

The acquisition marks one of the most dramatic developments in the history of the video game console wars, a long-running feud between PlayStation and Xbox gamers that is akin to interactions between fans of rival sports teams.

Gamers are notoriously opinionated and have weighed in on aspects of the deal ranging from the future of Bobby Kotick, Activision’s chief executive, to the Federal Trade Commission’s struggles to understand the gaming industry as it sues a lawsuit against Microsoft in an attempt to block the gaming industry. transaction.

Player interest in the transaction was so strong that it was brought up several times in federal court. A Microsoft lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, suggested that the company could not afford to damage its reputation if it reneged on its promises to keep Call of Duty available on PlayStation.

“They couldn’t deal with the anger of the players,” she testified.

In recent years, Microsoft has tried to improve its image among gamers, positioning itself as indifferent to competition from Sony and focusing more on removing barriers to playing games by offering low-cost products like the Xbox Game Pass, the subscription for $11 per month.

It said its acquisition of Activision was good for the industry, although government regulators like the FTC argued the purchase was anticompetitive, and some of Microsoft’s private communications revealed in court showed the gaming giant tech was more interested in fighting Sony by keeping the games. exclusive to its Xbox ecosystem than it had let on.

On Friday, Microsoft said closing the deal would increase access to Activision’s games.

“We believe our news today will open a world of possibilities for more ways to play,” Phil Spencer, general manager of Microsoft Gaming, wrote in a blog post.

Many players are confident that Microsoft will keep its word and believe the deal will be beneficial for the industry. Ross Varner, an information technology consultant in Houston, said he and other players he knew believed Microsoft was likely to improve Activision’s corporate culture while giving the developer freedom and the time needed to produce quality games.

“Since Activision has really only been a Call of Duty machine for several years, they’re hoping Microsoft will get them to come back to franchises they haven’t touched in a long time,” said Mr. Varner, 35, who plays on both an Xbox and PlayStation.

Sony, which declined to comment on the deal’s completion, had opposed the deal with Activision over concerns that Microsoft could remove Call of Duty from PlayStation or downgrade the game on its platforms, although Microsoft said that he wouldn’t do it. After the FTC’s efforts to end the deal failed in July, Sony agreed to a 10-year deal with Microsoft to keep the game on PlayStation. But PlayStation loyalists are still nervous.

“It makes me feel like I have to move to a whole different ecosystem to be able to play the games I was already playing,” said Johnathan Schoepf, a human resources specialist in Cincinnati and primarily a PlayStation gamer.

Mr. Schoepf, 25, said he expected future Activision games to be exclusive to Xbox, just as new games from Bethesda — a developer acquired by Microsoft in 2020 — have been.

“It’s kind of like we’ve been stabbed in the back,” he said. “Microsoft has come to consolidate a large part of the industry, two of the main publishing studios, and is now restricting their production on competing consoles.”

Mr. Katz, the former professional gamer, said he was optimistic, but reserved judgment until he saw exactly how Microsoft handled the development of future iterations of key franchises like Call of Duty.

“The grass is not always greener just because another tech giant has taken the reins,” he said.

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