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OPINION

Updated January 1st, 2024 at 13:33 IST

Microsoft will finally make its mark in mobile

Buying “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard affords Microsoft as much opportunity in smartphones as it does to upgrade its Xbox division.

Reuters BreakingviewsJennifer Saba
Satya Nadella
Satya Nadella | Image:X.com
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Game on. Microsoft is finally answering the call on mobile. After missing out on much of the boom, the software goliath is in prime position to make up for lost time. Boss Satya Nadella’s two latest deals provide a useful boost, but engaging in app wars also carries great risk.

Buying “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard affords Microsoft as much opportunity in smartphones as it does to upgrade its Xbox division. One of the company’s most valuable assets, and a big contributor to its $3.5 billion of 2022 mobile revenue, is “Candy Crush Saga”. Released in 2012, the addictive tile-matching video game, which has been downloaded some 5 billion times, keeps topping the charts more than a decade later, according to research outfit Sensor Tower.

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Artificial intelligence gives Microsoft another way to dial in to the market. Its $10 billion capital injection into ChatGPT owner OpenAI should help Nadella expand further beyond its primary business customers. The chatbot racked up more than 100 million users within two months of its release, making it the fastest rollout UBS analysts had seen in two decades of following the industry.

Together, these two investments increase Microsoft’s ability to gauge consumer behavior, using data collected from in-app purchases and cloud gaming subscriptions. It also ratchets up the competition with other technology titans fiercely competing to match or surpass human intelligence.

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Nadella’s growing mobile clout already has emboldened him to talk with partners about starting Microsoft’s own gaming app store. The company previously staked some ground by testifying for “Fortnite” parent Epic Games in its ongoing lawsuit against Apple and Google, which alleges that monopoly power enables them to force developers to use proprietary payment systems that take a 30% cut of purchases.

The European Commission, meanwhile, recently targeted six tech “gatekeepers”, which could lead to third-party workarounds of the two operating-system goliaths. With Microsoft’s branding power, its own Xbox shop would be an attractive alternative and threaten the fees Apple and Google collect. Gaming accounted for an estimated 20%, or $17 billion, of Apple’s services revenue for the year ending September 2023, according to Jefferies analysts.

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Throwing its weight around in mobile will invite more regulatory scrutiny of Microsoft, after largely avoiding the spotlight in the 25 years since it was a defendant in a landmark U.S. antitrust case. Increased market power should also reverse another piece of history in a more beneficial way. When asked about the newly released iPhone a dozen years ago, Microsoft’s then-boss Steve Ballmer cackled about its prospects. Nadella may yet have the last laugh.

(This is a Breakingviews prediction for 2024. To see more of our predictions, click here.)

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Context News

Microsoft is in discussions with partners about unveiling a mobile app store for games to challenge rival ones operated by Apple and Google, according to a Bloomberg report on Nov. 30, quoting the company’s Xbox chief, Phil Spencer, at a convention in Brazil.

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Published January 1st, 2024 at 13:33 IST

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