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China becomes the 37th country to approve Microsoft's Activision buyout

Boss fights with US and UK authorities lie ahead, and Redmond may not have enough power-ups to prevail

Another economic powerhouse has assented to Microsoft's $68.7 billion absorption of video gaming powerhouse Activision Blizzard, with China's State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) giving the covenant its okay late last week.

Reports of the regulator's approval appeared late last week, but it wasn't until the weekend that Microsoft confirmed the news, including in an email sent to The Register today.

"China's unconditional clearance of our acquisition of Activision Blizzard follows clearance decisions from jurisdictions such as the European Union and Japan, bringing the total to 37 countries representing more than two billion people. The acquisition combined with our recent commitments to the European Commission will empower consumers worldwide to play more games on more devices," a Microsoft spokesperson told us. Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Japan and others are included in the list of 37 countries that have approved the deal.

Reviews of the Chinese language SAMR website, after machine translation, produced no mention of the unconditionally cleared merger as of Monday afternoon.

We asked Microsoft several additional questions pertaining to China's approval of its Acti-Blizz buyout, but a company spokesperson told us it had nothing to add at this time. That's unfortunate given the tenuous state of Activision Blizzard games in the Middle Kingdom.

Blizzard games, in particular, were distributed in China by local gaming company NetEase from 2008 until earlier this year. But Blizzard and NetEase could not negotiate an extension to the partnership. Chinese gamers were therefore cut off from their Blizzard faves.

Under Chinese law, foreign video game makers have to publish their games in mainland China through a local firm. As of writing, Chinese players of games like World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Overwatch and others have been left without a way to explore Azeroth or any of Blizzard's other virtual worlds since the failure to renew the distribution deal.

Blizzard is reportedly seeking other licensing agreements in China, but nothing has been announced since the NetEase deal ended, likely because the Microsoft merger is still looming on the horizon.

Two raid bosses remain

With Chinese authorities approving the deal, and the European Union also supporting it, last week, just two major economic powers stand between Microsoft's gaming ambitions: The US and UK.

The UK's Competitions and Market Authority used its outsized post-Brexit influence to throw a wrench into the deal late last month when it said the concessions offered by Microsoft (generally the same ones as it offered to the EU) "failed to effectively address the concerns in the cloud gaming sector."

The US Federal Trade Commission hasn't blocked the deal outright but has initiated legal proceedings in which it expressed opposition to the transaction over concerns it would "enable Microsoft to suppress competitors to its Xbox gaming consoles and its rapidly growing subscription and cloud-gaming business."

The FTC's case is set to be heard in court this coming August. In the UK, interested parties have until June 19 to submit responses to the CMA before it issues its final order in the matter. If Microsoft can't manage to survive its boss fights with US or UK authorities, it will likely be Game Over for its Activision acquisition plan. ®

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