Posts with «acquisitions & takeovers» label

UK regulators want to investigate Three and Vodafone's blockbuster merger

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned that the merger Three and Vodafone announced last year could lead to "substantial lessening of competition" and might conduct an in-depth investigation into the deal. Three years after Virgin Media's merger with O2, Three and Vodafone revealed their intention to enter a joint venture agreement that would knock off a standalone mobile network from consumers' choices in the region. go

Apparently, CMA regulators launched a preliminary investigation into their proposed deal back in January and had identified potential issues that could come with combining two of the four remaining mobile network operators in the UK. Those issues include the possibility of the merger leading to higher prices and lower quality of service, since competition typically helps keep prices low and compels operators to make investments meant to improve their network quality. In addition, the CMA is worried that having fewer networks could affect mobile virtual network operators' ability to negotiate for the best deals possible for their customers.

When the two companies announced the merger in 2023, they said that together, they will "have the scale needed to deliver a best-in-class 5G network" and open up "new opportunities for businesses across the length and breadth of the UK." But CMA regulators say their claims "need more detailed assessment." They've now given the companies five working days to respond to their concerns with "meaningful solutions," otherwise they'll proceed towards conducting a more in-depth investigation. 

In 2015, Three also made an attempt to purchase O2 for £10.25 billion ($12.9 billion), but the CMA and the European Commission blocked the purchase after concluding that it would reduce competition and lead to higher prices. The CMA approved the joint agreement between O2 and Virgin Media, a landline, cable and broadband operator, however, after it found those very same concerns to be unfounded. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Saber Interactive may escape Embracer’s death hug and become a private company

Saber Interactive has reportedly found an exit strategy from the death grip of its parent company, Embracer Group AB. Bloomberg reported Thursday that “a group of private investors” will buy the studio in a deal worth roughly $500 million. Saber would then become a private company with about 3,500 employees.

Engadget emailed a spokesperson from Saber for confirmation about the alleged buyout. The studio declined to comment.

The alleged agreement would be one of Embracer’s most significant cost-cutting moves since the collapse of a reported $2 billion deal with a group backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Some criticized the imperiled deal as the gaming equivalent of “sportswashing,” using popular sporting acquisitions and partnerships to boost beleaguered governments’ global images. That followed US intelligence’s conclusion that the Saudi regime murdered The Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018.

Other cost-cutting moves at Embracer have included laying off about 900 employees in September, cutting another 50 or so jobs at Chorus developer Fishlabs and implementing more layoffs at Tiny Tina’s Wonderland developer Lost Boys Interactive, Beamdog, Crystal Dynamics and Saber subsidiary New World Interactive. Embracer also closed Saints Row studio Volition Games and Campfire Cabal.

LucasArts / Aspyr

According to Bloomberg, Saber’s sale won’t affect the studio’s role in developing an upcoming Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) remake. That game has already changed hands once: One of Saber’s Eastern European studios took over from Aspyr Media in the summer of 2022.

Aspyr had reportedly already been working on the game for years before providing a demo for Lucasfilm and Sony in June 2022; a week later, Aspyr fired its design director and art director. (Reports of the KOTOR demo costing a disproportionate amount of time and money may indicate a possible reason for the fallout.) By late that summer, Saber had taken over the development of the highly anticipated — and indefinitely delayed — remake.

Embracer bought Saber for $525 million in 2020 as it scooped up gaming studios left and right. It acquired at least 27 companies during that period, folding some of them (Demiurge Studios and New World Interactive) into Saber. Bloomberg reports that the deal to sell Saber to private investors includes an option to “bring along multiple Embracer subsidiaries.”

One studio that’s far too big to be included in this transaction is Borderlands developer Gearbox Entertainment. However, Kotaku reported Thursday that Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told staff this week that a decision about the studio’s future had been made. He allegedly said he’d be able to share more details with them next month.

In the meantime, a cloud of uncertainty envelops Gearbox — and Embracer’s other remaining studios. “I’ve personally been looking for roles elsewhere not just due to the Embracer layoff fears, but due to pay,” an anonymous developer reportedly said to Kotaku. “Vague and in a holding pattern is definitely par for the course at the moment and has been for most of 2023.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

FromSoftware's parent company has acquired Acquire, the studio behind Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler developer Acquire has been purchased by FromSoftware’s parent company, the Kadokawa Corporation, for an undisclosed sum. The Japanese conglomerate announced the acquisition in a quarterly earnings report published today, as revealed by

The purchase makes Acquire a sister company to FromSoftware and Spike Chunsoft, among others. For the uninitiated, FromSoftware is the developer behind little known games like Dark Souls, Elden Ring and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Spike Chunsoft is also no slouch, as it's behind the Danganronpa and AI: The Somnium Files franchises.

Acquire has made many games beyond Octopath Traveler and its sequel, including No Heroes Allowed VR, Akiba's Beat and Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed. Kadokawa said the purchase should help the company “generate synergies” with its “existing game-related subsidiaries.” We don’t know what that means, but hopefully it refers to a bizarre Octopath Traveler and Elden Ring crossover title.

Kadokawa also says the move will enhance its “line-up of console games.” This is true, as the original Octopath Traveler sold over three million copies and the sequel sold a million copies in just three months. Those are big numbers for JRPGs with old-school mechanics. The company hasn’t announced whether it’ll still rely on Square Enix for publishing future entries in the Octopath franchise, but with those sales numbers it’s a fairly safe bet.

Last year’s Octopath Traveler 2 arrived to mostly positive reviews, though we dinged it for the same reason many people took umbrage with the original. The eight storylines don’t intersect enough, making the whole thing seem kind of random and disconnected. Still, the games are gorgeous and manage to capitalize on nostalgia for retro gameplay mechanics. They “feel” like classic Square Enix RPGs, even if they struggle with some of the execution.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

FTC accuses Microsoft of misrepresenting its Activision Blizzard plans after layoffs

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, 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 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.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Samsung chair acquitted in Korean stock manipulation case

Samsung chairman Jay Y. Lee's legal troubles may be in the rearview mirror as a Korean court acquitted him of stock manipulation and accounting fraud charges over a 2015 merger, The Financial Times has reported. The ruling allows Lee to continue leading Samsung, which saw a sharp decline in revenue last year. 

Seeking a five year jail term, prosecutors accused Lee of manipulating the share price of two Samsung subsidiaries to smooth the way for a merger that allowed him to consolidate his power. However, the Seoul Central District Court ruled that the prosecutors failed to prove that. "It is hard to say that Lee Jae-yong [aka Jay Y. Lee] . . . spearheaded the merger, and that the merger was done just for the sake of Lee’s succession," the judge stated in the ruling.

The verdict will allow Lee and Samsung to focus on its declining smartphone and memory chip businesses. Samsung recently lost its smartphone sales crown to Apple, and is now behind SK Hynix in the new and hot market of high-bandwidth memory (HBM) used by NVIDIA and others to create artificial intelligence (AI) models. 

The decision was heralded by business groups including the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but not everyone in the country agreed. "The ruling will free Lee of legal risks, but I am at a loss for words in terms of the country’s economic justice," Park Ju-geun, head of corporate thinktank Leaders Index, told the FT. "This goes totally against all previous court rulings on the merger."

Lee was originally sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 after being found guilty of bribing public officials over the same merger. He walked free after a year in detention, but the South Korean Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered the case to be retried.

While Lee was sentenced with two-and-a-half years of prison time in early 2021 in that retrial, he was paroled half a year later in a development that civic groups had described as another example of the justice system being lenient towards the country's elite. (Korea's former president Park Geun-hye also went to jail for her role in the same affair.) 

In 2022, Lee was given a pardon by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, ostensibly so he could help the country overcome its economic crisis. Ironically, Yoon is the country's former chief prosecutor and oversaw the original convictions of Lee and Park. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon abandons $1.4 billion iRobot acquisition after EU veto threat

Amazon and iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum line, just announced that they would be dropping their proposed merger. The potential acquisition was announced back in August of 2022 and was immediately the target of antitrust watchdogs, particularly in the EU. The European Commission (the EU's executive branch) officially announced it was looking into the $1.4 billion dollar deal last July and it raised formal concerns over the potential impact on competition in November. 

iRobot also just announced a large round of layoffs now that the deal isn't going through. The company says it is laying off about 350 employees, which represents 31 percent of iRobot's workforce.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon's statement on the matter blasts regulators for the "innovation" that would come with Amazon scooping up yet another company. "This outcome will deny consumers faster innovation and more competitive prices, which we're confident would have made their lives easier and more enjoyable," said Amazon SVP and General Counsel David Zapolsky in a statement. "Mergers and acquisitions like this help companies like iRobot better compete in the global marketplace, particularly against companies, and from countries, that aren't subject to the same regulatory requirements in fast-moving technology segments like robotics."

iRobot's statement was more muted. "The termination of the agreement with Amazon is disappointing, but iRobot now turns toward the future with a focus and commitment to continue building thoughtful robots and intelligent home innovations that make life better, and that our customers around the world love," said Colin Angle, Founder of iRobot.

While the companies didn't mention the pressure from the EU specifically, Bloomberg notes that a veto looked likely. And while that might not have immediately killed the deal, Amazon and iRobot appear to have decided to shut things down completely rather than work through any proposed changes to make the deal more palatable to regulators. 

Earlier in January, the European Commission was said to have warned Amazon that the deal was on thin ice. However, according to Reuters, the company declined to offer any potential remedies to soothe the bloc's concerns over the acquisition. As outlined in the original agreement, Amazon is paying iRobot a $94 million termination fee now that the deal is dead.

This isn't exactly the first time Amazon and the EU have butted heads. They previously squared off over the company's handling of third-party seller information. In 2022, the two sides reached an agreement over Amazon's treatment of third-party sellers.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The FTC is investigating Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet's investments into AI startups

The Federal Trade Commission is launching an inquiry into massive investments made by Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet into generative AI startups OpenAI and Anthropic, the agency announced on Thursday. The FTC said that it had issued “compulsory orders” to the companies and would scrutinize their relationships with AI startups to understand their impact on competition.

“History shows that new technologies can create new markets and healthy competition,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement. “As companies race to develop and monetize AI, we must guard against tactics that foreclose this opportunity. Our study will shed light on whether investments and partnerships pursued by dominant companies risk distorting innovation and undermining fair competition.” The companies have 45 days to respond to the agency. 

Ever since OpenAI released ChatGPT at the end of 2022, generative AI has exploded, sparking both excitement about its potential to increase productivity as well as anxiety about job losses. Against this backdrop, the world’s largest tech companies have been racing to develop their own versions of the tech as well as pouring billions of dollars into smaller startups creating it. Microsoft, for instance, invested more than $13 billion into OpenAI for a 49 percent stake, using the startup’s tech to add generative AI capabilities to Bing, its own search engine, as well as Windows and Office. Amazon and Alphabet invested $4 billion and $2 billion in Anthropic, an AI startup that makes a chatbot called Claude.

In an opinion column in The New York Times last year, the FTC’s Khan wrote that “the expanding adoption of AI risks further locking in the market dominance of large incumbent technology firms” and argued for AI regulation.

As part of its investigation, the FTC is seeking information about the specifics of Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet’s investments, decisions around new product releases, oversight rights, analyses of market share and potential for sales growth among other details.

The US isn’t the only country examining Big Tech’s ties with generative AI startups. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority said last month that it was examining whether Microsoft’s investment into OpenAI was subject to antitrust law.

In a post on X in December, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith characterized the company’s OpenAI investment as a partnership “that has fostered more AI innovation and competition, while preserving independence for both companies.” Microsoft currently has a non-voting observer seat on OpenAI’s board, which, said Smith, was “very different from an acquisition.”

Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Anthropic, and OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Engadget.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Bobby Kotick's reign at Activision Blizzard ends December 29, 2023

We knew it was coming, but now we have a date: Bobby Kotick will officially step down as CEO of Activision Blizzard on December 29, 2023. Blizzard and King vice chairman Humam Sakhnini will also leave at the end of December, Activision Blizzard chief communications officer Lulu Meservey is out in January, and a handful of other executives will leave in March, according to an internal memo from Xbox head Phil Spencer published by The Verge.

Activision Blizzard vice chairman Thomas Tippl, Blizzard president Mike Ybarra and King president Tjodolf Sommestad will remain at the studio and report to Matt Booty, Microsoft's president of gaming content and studios. Otherwise, leadership teams across Activision, Blizzard and King will stay the same, according to the memo.

Kotick has been the head of Activision since 1991. At Activision Blizzard, he oversaw massively popular franchises including Call of Duty, Diablo, Starcraft and World of Warcraft, and once the company acquired mobile studio King in 2016, he added Candy Crush to that list. The company is a AAA powerhouse and it generated $7.5 billion in revenue in 2022.

Activision Blizzard was sued by California's Civil Rights Department in 2021 over allegations of systemic sexism, discrimination and harassment at the studio, and executives were accused of fostering a frat-house style culture. At the time, all top leadership roles at Activision Blizzard were filled by white men. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a separate, related lawsuit against the studio a few months later. In November 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported Kotick had long ignored and helped cover up instances of sexual harassment at the studio. In response, workers at Activision Blizzard held walk-outs and demanded Kotick's resignation, but a shareholder vote in 2022 kept him in place.

Activision Blizzard settled the SEC lawsuit for $35 million in February, and it settled the California CRD suit for $54 million just days ago.

Microsoft announced its intent to purchase Activision Blizzard in early 2022, lawsuits and all. The deal was valued at $69 billion, and considering the scale of both companies involved, it faced intense scrutiny from regulators in the US and the UK. The acquisition was approved in October, after 21 months of legal arguments and concessions. Microsoft is now the third-largest video game studio in the world by revenue and it's the face of the ongoing consolidation craze tearing through the industry.

Once Microsoft's purchase went through, Kotick said he'd stay on through the end of 2023. According to Bloomberg, Kotick is set to make $375 million from the acquisition, and he's expecting a golden parachute of $14.6 million.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Adobe walks away from its $20 billion Figma acquisition amid regulatory scrutiny

Adobe is abandoning its planned $20 billion acquisition of Figma after the companies determined that there was no clear path to obtaining approval from UK and European Union regulators. The two sides have signed an agreement that fully resolves all aspects of the failed deal. Adobe will pay collaborative design platform Figma a previously agreed $1 billion termination fee.

In November, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the European Commission both cited concerns over the proposed acquisition's impact on competition. The CMA said in its provisional findings that that the merger would “eliminate competition between two main competitors.” The competition watchdog said it was considering either blocking the deal or requiring Adobe to sell Figma's core product, Figma Design, along with Adobe XD.

Earlier on Monday, Adobe claimed that it wouldn't offer the CMA any potential remedies. “It is clear that no realistic remedy would satisfy the concerns the CMA is maintaining,” an Adobe spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We believe that the best path forward is to continue our ongoing engagement with the CMA on the merits.”

Meanwhile, Adobe had anticipated a potential lawsuit from the US Department of Justice in an attempt to block the deal Stateside. The company and Figma reportedly met with DOJ officials last week to try and secure approval for their merger. 

This story is developing; please refresh for updates.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The UK's competition regulator is reviewing Microsoft's links to OpenAI

The UK is considering an investigation into Microsoft's partnership with OpenAI to decide if it has resulted in an "acquisition of control" that's subject to antitrust law, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote today. The regulator said it's considering "recent developments," no doubt referring to the Sam Altman CEO ouster drama in which Microsoft played a large role. 

"The CMA is now issuing an ITC to determine whether the Microsoft/OpenAI partnership, including recent developments, has resulted in a relevant merger situation and, if so, the potential impact on competition," it said in a news release. "The CMA will review whether the partnership has resulted in an acquisition of control — that is, where it results in one party having material influence, de facto control or more than 50% of the voting rights over another entity."

The regulator noted that the "close and multifaceted" partnership includes a multi-billion dollar investment by Microsoft, technology development cooperation and cloud services. It added that both firms have significant activities in financial and related markets, meaning their business dealings directly affect investors. It added that Microsoft was recently involved in developments related to OpenAI's governance.

When Sam Altman was fired by OpenAI's board, Microsoft stepped in to hire him, and a majority of OpenAI's staff threatened to bolt to Microsoft as well. OpenAI's board relented soon after and Altman returned as CEO. "Microsoft executives have since concluded that the current situation [with Altman back in charge] is the best possible outcome," according to a New Yorker expose on the drama. 

The CMA is now seeking views on whether the partnership creates a relevant merger situation and how it impacts competition in the UK. If an investigation is launched, it would be the second one involving Microsoft in the last year, following the company's Activision Blizzard acquisition. The UK's probe had material effects on that merger, as Microsoft agreed to sell Activision Blizzard game streaming rights to Ubisoft to satisfy the CMA. 

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