US consumer advocates ask FTC to investigate Microsoft’s ActiBlizz buyout over “serious competition issues”

A collective of consumer advocacy groups has called on America’s antitrust agency to dig into Activision Blizzard’s sale to Microsoft.

The groups addressed a letter to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday, March 1, that highlighted potential problems in consumer protection, data privacy and wage suppression should the sale go ahead.

“Gamers are already raising concerns that the merger will result in popular games becoming exclusive to Microsoft hardware,” they write (opens in new tab). “The advent of streaming games and Microsoft’s existing cloud infrastructure offers further opportunities for the corporation to stamp out smaller market participants through anticompetitive conduct. By absorbing another major gaming studio and publisher, Microsoft will grow its ability to control content and self-preference its own at the expense of market competitors.”

Ultimately, they say, “Microsoft’s expanding role in the gaming market may result in the company using its leverage to raise subscription prices and limit options, among other possible consumer harms.” In other words: Game Pass might be a bargain right now, but if its prices go up, we might not have many other places to turn.

The signers of the letter include a consumer advocacy organisation, a public interest group, one union, a corporate accountability nonprofit, economic and antitrust law watchdogs, a nonprofit law firm, a digital rights advocacy group and various community-focused rights groups, as well as organisations set up to scrutinise US lawmaking.

They point out that Microsoft already holds a significant stake in gaming – beginning with the purchase of Mojang in 2014, and continuing with Bethesda’s acquisition in 2020. If the FTC clears the merger, Microsoft will become the third largest gaming company in the world. None of Microsoft’s US-based employees currently belong to a union.

“Workers at Activision Blizzard have powerfully mobilized over the past year to shine a light on a workplace culture rife with sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and instances of assault that top management swept under the rug,” the groups write. “Now, as those workers seek to form a union to address their collective interests, the potential takeover by Microsoft threatens to further undermine workers’ rights and suppress wages.”

The acquisition will even affect workers outside Microsoft, the letter claims – since game developers will have fewer potential employers, and contractors will have fewer partners competing for their work, which could lead to less money and innovation in the industry overall.

The signers identify the merger as the latest in an “alarming pattern” of concentration across the games industry of late. They’re not wrong that companies seem to be gloming together like never before. Chinese tech giant Tencent (opens in new tab) and Sweden’s Embracer Group (opens in new tab) have also been on acquisition sprees, scooping up major game studios.

Want to see the results of Microsoft’s buyouts? Here’s the best of Game Pass.

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