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Microsoft's deal with Ubisoft answers the CMA's objections over Activision Blizzard | Opinion

And what does this say about Xbox's view on cloud streaming?

In the future, will we be streaming our video games rather than downloading them?

And if that were to happen, is Microsoft destined to become the all-powerful force in video games?

Those are the two questions that sit at the heart of the CMA's decision to block Microsoft's bid to buy Activision Blizzard.

And both questions don't have a definite answer. Right now, people are not streaming games. Not really. But one glance at TV and music suggests that it's something that could happen.

If that future was to come to pass, there's no denying that Microsoft would be in a prime position to do very well. It has a powerful global cloud infrastructure, it has a huge catalogue of games, a large portfolio of people making games, it has a popular PC operating system to leverage, and, of course, Xbox.

But could it dominate the market? The data right now suggests it could, but that's because Microsoft is the only player with a games line-up worth a jot actually doing anything significant in this space. Would the data be the same if Sony improved and pushed its cloud streaming service? Or if Nintendo started streaming its games?

It's a market that doesn't really exist, so any data out there doesn't really tell us anything.

Yet the regulators have been stung before. They've made decisions that seemed fine on paper, only for them not to be down the line. I can see why they're being cautious and sceptical. I can also see why they might go 'we're 95% sure this is fine, but just in case it isn't, we're going to say no'.

Microsoft's counter to the streaming concerns has been to hand out the Activision Blizzard line-up to other streaming services on 10-year agreements. How could buying Activision allow them to dominate streaming when everyone else has the same games? This was a move that ultimatley placated the EU.

Yet the CMA's objection to this is that Microsoft is still in control of the Activision Blizzard games. It sets the terms, it sets the prices and it can pull the deals or change them.

So the news today that Microsoft will sell the streaming rights of Activision Blizzard's games, including those that will released over the next 15 years, is significant. It means they're no-longer in control of that. It will be owned and managed by a company that's trusted by Microsoft's competitors, and has a long history of supporting multiple cloud services, including Google Stadia and Amazon Luna.

15 years is also a significant length of time. You could argue the 10-year deals that Microsoft had been signing may not be long enough. Just how long would it be before cloud streaming becomes a market of any significance? But 15 years is a lifetime in video games. It's two entire console generations. We might even have a new Grand Theft Auto by then.

The downside is the CMA doesn't consider this an ammendment to the original proposal, but a new restructured deal that needs to go through the whole process once again. A situation I am pretty sure nobody wants.

The most interesting thing for me is what this says about Microsoft's view on game streaming. If it believes that the future of games is in cloud distribution, and that the desire to buy Activision Blizzard is about ensuring a position of dominance in that future... would this even have been an option?

It's almost as if the deal to buy Activision Blizzard really was about mobile and PC.

Who knew?

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Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
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