Phil Spencer defends Xbox ambitions following EU hearing

Microsoft Head of Gaming, Phil Spencer, has reassured everyone that 'Xbox will exist' even if its Activision Blizzard deal collapses.
microsoft xbox phil spencer activision blizzard

Microsoft Head of Gaming Phil Spencer has spoken out about the turmoil facing Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard, following a major EU hearing which surfaced concerns of anti-competition behaviour in the video games industry.

In a new interview with The Times, Spencer reiterated that Microsoft is largely pursuing Activision Blizzard for its mobile expertise, and not as a means to disrupt the games industry. He described this move as a much-needed ‘catch up’ in the mobile market, as Microsoft does not currently house internal mobile-focused studios.

However, despite admitting the acquisition of Activision Blizzard was ‘important’, Spencer did claim the deal wasn’t strictly essential – and that Microsoft could survive without it. ‘It’s not some linchpin to the long term – Xbox will exist if this deal doesn’t go through,’ Spencer reportedly told The Times.

This comment has been widely interpreted as a blasé means to downplay Microsoft’s ambitions, and the impact a firm anti-trust ruling would have on the company. Beyond contributing to a money drain with few tangible outcomes, this ruling could potentially disrupt years of future plans for Microsoft, which has already begun making deals with fellow publishers to bring Activision Blizzard titles to other gaming platforms.

Read: Microsoft commits to bringing Call of Duty to Nintendo for 10 years

For now, the Activision Blizzard deal remains in limbo. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority recently handed down provisional findings that warned any deal could actively harm players and the games industry as a whole. The US Federal Trade Commission is in the process of determining the outcome of its own investigation.

With Microsoft issuing new compromises in recent weeks – namely, 10-year deals with PlayStation and Nintendo to keep the Call of Duty franchise on both platforms – the investigation is an ever-shifting beast filled with nuance.

Spencer spoke to some of this nuance with The Times, calling it an enjoyable, educational experience for everyone on all sides of the deal.

‘Most of the time in my career at Xbox as I’ve met with government regulators, there’s been a real lack of knowledge about the games industry,’ Spencer said. ‘I’ve appreciated spending time with them and in certain cases, helping to educate. I think for a lot of the regulators, this is the first time they’ve looked at this industry.’

Whether Spencer’s guidance or the compromises offered by Microsoft will be enough to pass the Activision Blizzard deal, despite current anti-trust declarations by competition watchdogs, remains to be seen. For now, Microsoft appears to be hoping for the best – but laying the groundwork for a more positive outlook in case of the worst.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.