A US federal judge has put Microsoft’s $75 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard on hold as the Federal Trade Commission seeks to block the transaction.
A judge in a U.S. district court in California issued an injunction on Tuesday barring the closing of the gaming industry’s largest deal pending an “evidence hearing” scheduled for Thursday and Friday next week.
The FTC had sued last year to block what would become Microsoft’s largest deal to date through its own internal procedures. But on Monday it filed a complaint asking federal court to block the transaction until that process — which begins in August — determines whether the partnership violates U.S. antitrust laws.
The companies have until Friday to file a letter opposing the FTC’s request.
Microsoft said: “Speeding up the legal process in the US will ultimately bring more choice and competition to the gaming market. A temporary restraining order makes sense until we can receive a decision from the court, which is swift.
Activision pointed to a memo released Monday by CEO Bobby Kotick that said the FTC’s complaint is “a welcome update” that “speeds up the legal process.”
The FTC declined to comment on the judge’s order.
The FTC said in Monday’s filing, “With control of Activision’s content, Microsoft would have the ability and greater incentive to withhold or downgrade Activision’s content in ways that significantly reduce competition — including competition in the areas of product quality, price and innovation.”
The regulator has said the complaint was because of media reports suggesting the companies were considering closing the deal “soon”.
The FTC’s position on the multibillion-dollar deal represents one of the most significant merger challenges under the Joe Biden administration. The president has appointed several forward-thinking officials to senior antitrust positions who have taken a tough stance on anti-competitive behavior, including FTC Chair Lina Khan.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority ordered the acquisition to be blocked in April, a serious blow to the deal. The regulator argued that Microsoft could make Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud gaming service.
After bidding farewell to the US and UK, the EU approved the deal last month, saying Microsoft had made concessions that allayed regulators’ concerns, such as allowing all European consumers who buy a current or future Activision game. streaming it on all cloud game streaming providers for a decade.
Additional reporting by Richard Waters and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson