The Biden administration filed a complaint on Thursday aimed at blocking tech giant Microsoft’s $69 billion bid to buy “Call of Duty” games maker Activision, over concerns the deal would deny rivals access to popular games.
Microsoft, which owns the Xbox, said in January 2022 that it would buy Activision for $68.7 billion in the biggest gaming industry deal in history.
In its complaint, the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces antitrust law, said that Microsoft had a record of buying valuable gaming content and using it to suppress competition from rival consoles.
“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” said Holly Vedova, director of the FTC Bureau of Competition. “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.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company would fight the FTC. “While we believed in giving peace a chance, we have complete confidence in our case and welcome the opportunity to present our case in court,” he said.
The decision to sue comes as the Biden administration has taken a more aggressive approach to antitrust enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice recently stopped a $2.2 billion merger of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest book publisher, and smaller U.S. rival Simon & Schuster.
Shares in Microsoft and Activision both fell on news of the FTC complaint. Shares in Activision were down 2.3% at $74.19 per share, while Microsoft slipped from earlier highs but was still trading nearly 1% higher for the day at $246.31.
The U.S. software company had said it wanted the deal to help it compete with gaming leaders Tencent and PlayStation owner Sony, which has criticized the deal.
To woo regulators, shortly after the deal was announced Microsoft launched a new set of principles for its app store, including open access to developers who meet privacy and security standards.
And in December, in another move to blunt criticism, Microsoft entered into a 10-year commitment to bring “Call of Duty” to Nintendo platforms, bringing the popular first-person shooter series to the company for the first time. Microsoft made the same offer to Sony.
Chair Lina Khan and the two Democrats on the commission voted to approve the complaint, while Commissioner Christine Wilson voted no.