Microsoft recently made huge progress in its efforts to acquire Activision Blizzard by winning its case against the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, but there are still holdouts on the deal. One of the biggest is the U.K.’s Competition and Market Authority which took steps to block the acquisition earlier this year over concerns the deal would hinder innovation in the industry and the future of cloud gaming.
But in a surprising turn of events, Microsoft has announced a new deal with Ubisoft that aims to address the CMA’s biggest worries surrounding the Activision Blizzard acquisition. While it could lead to Microsoft moving past yet another roadblock, Ubisoft comes out as an unexpected winner as it gains the cloud streaming rights to Activision Blizzard’s catalog of games — which is a saving grace for the company’s fledgling streaming service Ubisoft+.
Remember Ubisoft+? The games subscription service from Ubisoft has been around since late 2020 (as a successor to Uplay+) and acts as the publisher’s answer to Xbox Game Pass, the erstwhile best deal in gaming. Those who pay the subscription fee — which is $14.99 for PC and $17.99 for multiplatform — get access to the publisher's catalog of titles to download or stream as well as access to new titles on release.
While it seems simple enough in theory the service doesn’t have the same value as its biggest competitor, Xbox Game Pass. As laid out in a Forbes article from April 2023, the service’s high fee does not justify the content gained by a subscription.
“$18 a month is around $220 a year, probably more with tax. At the current $70 price of AAA games, that’s three Ubisoft full-priced games a year, every year, plus change.” Paul Tassi writes in the Forbes piece, “That seems…ambitious to expect a consumer to otherwise buy that many to get their money’s worth from this, plus there is the extremely obvious fact that if you wait maybe a month after launch, most Ubisoft games usually drop in price by 50% or so and are easy to pick up.”
Ubisoft’s attempt at a subscription service mostly shows that Xbox Game Pass has nearly cornered the market on games subscription in the current market. This is exactly the problem the CMA has with the Microsoft Activision Blizzard deal. In the UK agency’s decision to block the deal, it wrote that it “prevented Microsoft’s proposed purchase of Activision over concerns the deal would alter the future of the fast-growing cloud gaming market, leading to reduced innovation and less choice for UK gamers over the years to come.”
As a globally recognized major publisher, Ubisoft’s sudden involvement in the Microsoft Activision Blizzard deal makes sense as a way for Microsoft to assuage the CMA of its worries. Microsoft President Brad Smith explained the reasoning behind the new deal in an August 22 blog post in which he writes that “To address the concerns about the impact of the proposed acquisition on cloud game streaming raised by the UK Competition and Markets Authority, we are restructuring the transaction to acquire a narrower set of rights.”
Microsoft’s past acquisitions, such as Bethesda, have released new and old games onto Xbox Game Pass, building a massive catalog of some of the most beloved titles in video games. Activision Blizzard’s claim to Call of Duty, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and more would only serve to solidify Game Pass as a must-have service.
Instead of bolstering Game Pass, the new deal gives Ubisoft+ a major upgrade and helps it rise above the competition to become second only to Game Pass. For Ubisoft, the sudden acquisition of Activision Blizzard’s immense catalog for streaming paves the way for an influx of subscribers to Ubisoft+, breathing new life into the service. While this deal helps Microsoft get closer to its goal of acquiring Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft comes away with a big win.