The transaction may be seen as a victory for Bobby Kotick, Activision’s longtime chief executive, whom some critics had sought to oust over the controversy. Mr. Kotick negotiated a big premium for investors — Microsoft is paying $95 a share, roughly 45 percent above his company’s stock price before the announcement — and he will continue running the company at least until the deal closes. The companies did not indicate if he will remain after but said the studio would report to Mr. Spencer.
The deal is the largest in the history of the gaming industry, breaking the record set just days earlier when Take-Two Interactive, the creator of games like Grand Theft Auto, purchased the mobile game publisher Zynga for more than $11 billion.
The gaming industry, which has been flush with cash since the pandemic increased the industry’s profits, has been consolidating rapidly. Last year, Electronic Arts and Take-Two engaged in a bidding war over Codemasters, a racing game company — eventually selling to EA for $1.2 billion — and Microsoft made another splashy purchase in 2020 when it purchased Zenimax Media and its slate of gaming studios for $7.5 billion.
In buying Activision, Microsoft gets access to some of the most popular and recognizable titles, most notably Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo and Candy Crush. Activision’s recent profits have been split fairly evenly across its three subsidiaries, with the Candy Crush-maker King pulling in the most money, $303 million in operating income, in its most recent quarterly earnings report. Activision made $244 million in operating income and Blizzard pulled in $188 million.
But Activision’s gaming efforts are also facing headwinds, with its most recent Call of Duty released panned by gamers and delays among titles like Diablo and Overwatch, which have seen key directors leave in recent months in the wake of the company’s series of scandals.
One main driver of deals is the arms race for exclusive content: Locking up a well-known franchise like Call of Duty or Skyrim, for instance, could force fans of those games to switch from Sony’s PlayStation console to Microsoft’s rival Xbox system, if Microsoft chooses to make a game exclusive.
The takeover is likely to be among the biggest announced this year, continuing a boom in the mergers business. Last year, $5.8 trillion worth of deals was struck — breaking the previous record by $1 trillion — as companies embraced acquisitions as a way to grow their businesses.