The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has finally approved the Microsoft Activision Blizzard deal, a seismic industry move that could spell trouble for Apple if it doesn’t play its cards right.
In a release this morning, the CMA granted the request for the merger after Microsoft tweaked the deal to get it over the line. As our friends at Windows Central explain, the restructured deal will see Microsoft sell off the cloud gaming rights of Activision Blizzard titles to Ubisoft for both current titles and any new games for the next 15 years.
So while Microsoft might not be getting the cloud gaming leg-up it was hoping for, native gaming on iPhone and iPad could see some big changes thanks to this deal and impending EU legislation. Between its acquisition of ABK and those changes, one insider believes Microsoft’s real goal is to create “the Steam of mobile gaming”, taking apps like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and more off Apple’s App Store and placing them in their own marketplaces, a path it needs the EU to clear for it.
“With the European Union pursuing regulation that could force Apple to open up its walled garden, it puts Microsoft in a lucrative position to control many of Apple’s most popular mobile titles on iPad and iPhone,” Windows Central Managing Editor and prolific Xbox insider Jez Corden told iMore in wake of the announcement.
“Microsoft already considers the iPad competition to traditional gaming consoles, per my conversations with the firm,” he added and says the company expects the EU’s “efforts to force more competition on mobile platforms (including Android) to extend to the United States and other markets.”
“Microsoft will likely seek to partner with major staple mobile publishers, from Genshin Impact to Fortnite to Clash of Clans and beyond, and offer them a better deal than Apple’s steep 30% tax and payment system enforcement,” referring notably to Epic Games’ own major fallout with Apple over Fortnite and its breach of Apple’s App Store rules, which resulted in a significant court ruling in Apple’s favor. “Epic Games is currently banned from Apple’s App Store for daring to advertise their own payment methods in-game,” he notes, and says “Genshin Impact’s Mihoyo also found itself in hot water after suggesting to users on its forum to purchase Genshin in-game items via its own systems, instead of Apple’s. Apple responded by deleting Mihoyo’s forum app from the App Store.”
Corden believes Microsoft “has a huge opportunity to court mobile game developers to that end, by offering less restrictive policies,” ultimately forcing Apple to either “ offer its developers a better deal, boosting the game industry” or fight regulation changes with litigation.
It’s clear the Microsoft ABK merger will have massive ramifications for the console market, and now Microsoft is perfectly poised, ready to walk through any door the EU will open for it. Apple is already reportedly exploring options to allow third-party app stores and sideloading on iPhone, and Apple confirmed at WWDC that it would work with the EU to comply with its wishes, but what that could look like is anyone’s guess. Apple has made clear it plans to fight for every inch of its App Store and still plans to collect commission from business that happens on its iPhone.