FTC accuses Microsoft of misrepresenting its Activision Blizzard plans after layoffs

FTC accuses Microsoft of misrepresenting its Activision Blizzard plans after layoffs

Microsoft argues the firings were going to happen, with or without the acquisition.

FTC accuses Microsoft of misrepresenting its Activision Blizzard plans after layoffs
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

One week after Microsoft laid off nearly 2,000 employees in its gaming division, the Federal Trade Commission is accusing Microsoft of contradicting its pledge to allow Activision Blizzard to operate independently post-acquisition. The FTC filed a complaint in a federal appeals court on Wednesday, arguing that last week’s downsizing, which affected employees of Activision Blizzard, “contradicts Microsoft’s representations in this proceeding.” The FTC is asking for a temporary pause of Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard as it further investigates potential antitrust issues.

In its arguments to the FTC over the past two years, Microsoft said it would treat Activision Blizzard as a vertical acquisition and suggested that it wouldn’t need to institute layoffs, since there would be no redundancies. On January 30, Microsoft announced it was cutting 1,900 jobs across Activision Blizzard, ZeniMax and Xbox after identifying “areas of overlap” specifically between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard. This discrepancy is the core of the FTC’s complaint.

“Microsoft’s recently-reported plan to eliminate 1,900 jobs in its video game division, including in its newly-acquired Activision unit, contradicts the foregoing representations it made to this Court,” the FTC’s complaint said. “Specifically, Microsoft reportedly has stated that the layoffs were part of an ‘execution plan’ that would reduce ‘areas of overlap’ between Microsoft and Activision, which is inconsistent with Microsoft’s suggestion to this Court that the two companies will operate independently post-merger.”

Though the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority approved Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard in October, the FTC hasn’t seen satisfaction regarding its own antitrust concerns. The FTC is still challenging the acquisition, which means there’s a possibility that Microsoft will be forced to divest all or part of Activision Blizzard.

In Wednesday’s complaint, the FTC argued that the recent layoffs also undermine its own ability to order relief for employees who were negatively affected in the acquisition.

Microsoft’s layoffs join an avalanche of mass firings in the video game industry, specifically in the past few months. An estimated 10,500 people in video games lost their jobs in 2023 — and already in 2024, 6,000 workers have been laid off.

Microsoft on Thursday filed a response to the FTC’s complaint, arguing that the regulator has not provided evidence of harm resulting from the Activision Blizzard acquisition. Microsoft’s letter to the federal appeals court reads, in part, “Consistent with broader trends in the gaming industry, Activision was already planning on eliminating a significant number of jobs while still operating as an independent company. The recent announcement thus cannot be attributed fully to the merger.”

A Microsoft spokesperson also provided Engadget the following statement: “In continuing its opposition to the deal, the FTC ignores the reality that the deal itself has substantially changed. Since the FTC lost in court last July, Microsoft was required by the UK competition authority to restructure the acquisition globally and therefore did not acquire the cloud streaming rights to Activision Blizzard games in the United States. Additionally, Sony and Microsoft signed a binding agreement to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation on even better terms than Sony had before.”

Update, February 8 2024, 12:30PM ET: This story was updated to include Microsoft’s response to the FTC complaint.

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