Microsoft shocked the tech and gaming world on January 18th when it announced it would acquire Activision Blizzard in a $68.7 billion deal, by far the biggest ever in gaming. Activision Blizzard, one of the most storied developers on the planet, had been reeling for months from multiple scandals, including California’s lawsuit accusing the company of creating a culture of “constant sexual harassment,” an explosive Wall Street Journal report suggesting CEO Bobby Kotick was both aware of that harassment and sexually harassed employees himself, and labor protests from Call of Duty workers.
Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, at the time the company’s Xbox chief, reportedly responded to the accusations from the WSJ article two days later in an email to Xbox staff, saying he was “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision Blizzard and that Microsoft is “evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments.” But based on a timeline of the acquisition Activision Blizzard has now laid out in its official merger proposal to its own shareholders (via CNBC), it seems that Spencer’s idea of changing the relationship with Activision Blizzard was to almost immediately offer to purchase the troubled company.
And, according to the documents, he wasn’t the only one interested in a deal.
The initial conversation about an acquisition happened between Spencer and Kotick on November 19th, just three days after the WSJ’s report about the Activision Blizzard CEO and a single day after Spencer said told Xbox staff he was “deeply troubled.” It might have even come up as part of the same conversation.
“In the course of a conversation on a different topic between Mr. Spencer and Mr. Kotick, Mr. Spencer raised that Microsoft was interested in discussing strategic opportunities between Activision Blizzard and Microsoft and asked whether it would be possible to have a call with Mr. Nadella the following day,” the document reads. The next day (a Saturday), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was apparently more explicit, indicating that “Microsoft was interested in exploring a strategic combination with Activision Blizzard.”
That kicked off nearly two months of conversations between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard into what would become the acquisition announced on January 18th, and you can read the whole blow-by-blow over the course of ten pages in Activision Blizzard’s filing, beginning on page 31. (The copy of the document embedded at the bottom of this article should begin there.) I’ve always wondered what goes on behind the scenes to make these sorts of mega-acquisitions happen, and the document provides an illuminating look at the wheeling and dealing to pull this deal together.
One thing I found interesting was that Activision Blizzard was in touch with four other companies and one individual about some sort of deal in addition to Microsoft. Disappointingly, they are only named as companies A, C, D, and E, and the individual is named as…