A federal judge has set a date for the first pre-trial hearing between Microsoft and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The two go to court on January 3rd to spar over the fate of Microsoft’s $69 billion bid to buy Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard. Microsoft and Activision announced the merger at the start of 2022. At the time, the tech giant said it expected the deal to close no later than June 2023. Last month, the FTC sued Microsoft to block the acquisition from moving forward.
“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” FTC Director Holly Vedova said at the time. “Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”
The FTC is expected to face an uphill battle trying to convince a judge of the merits of its case. For one, Microsoft isn’t pushing for a “horizontal” merger that would see it take one of its direct competitors out of the picture. Additionally, the company has signaled it’s ready to make concessions to rubberstamp the deal. Should the merger move forward, Microsoft has pledged to release future Call of Duty games on competing platforms for at least 10 years. It also said it would bring the franchise to Nintendo consoles.
“The commission cannot meet its burden of showing that the transaction would leave consumers worse off, because the transaction will allow consumers to play Activision’s games on new platforms and access them in new and more affordable ways," Microsoft wrote in a legal filing last month. The deal also faces regulatory scrutiny from the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority, which recently said it would conduct an “in-depth” investigation of the proposed merger.