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Microsoft planning mobile app store launch, says Phil Spencer

Activision Blizzard deal is key element.

Microsoft is planning to launch its own app store for games across mobile devices, according to Phil Spencer.

In March 2024 new rules are expected under the EU's Digital Markets Act, which will require Apple and Google to open their mobile platforms to app stores owned and operated by other companies.

Microsoft aims to capitalise on this with its own Xbox platform, for which its proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard is a key element.

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"We want to be in a position to offer Xbox and content from both us and our third-party partners across any screen where somebody would want to play," Spencer told the FT ahead of GDC this week. "Today, we can't do that on mobile devices but we want to build towards a world that we think will be coming where those devices are opened up."

While Microsoft's bid to take over Activision Blizzard has raised concerns about industry competition, Spencer argued the deal would boost competition in the mobile space - what he called the "largest platform people play on".

"The Digital Markets Act that's coming - those are the kinds of things that we are planning for," he said. "I think it's a huge opportunity."

It's unclear when Microsoft will be able to launch its own store, but Spencer said it would be "pretty trivial" to adapt Xbox and Game Pass to mobile.

The acquisition of Activision Blizzard would also fill an "obvious hole in our capability", said Spencer, with the likes of Call of Duty Mobile, Diablo Immortal and Candy Crush Saga being "critically important" to attracting players to its new platform.

However, all this requires both the Activision Blizzard deal to go through and the EU's DMA to be accepted. The EU is expected to label Apple and Google as "gatekeepers" to mobile, though they could appeal this to delay any enforcement beyond the March 2024 deadline.

Microsoft has argued Apple's App Store rules restrict the ability to offer cloud gaming in a single, natively-running, iPhone app. Apple has denied it blocks cloud gaming apps.

The European Commission previously had a deadline of 25th April for its decision on Microsoft's takeover of Activision Blizzard, but this was pushed back to 22nd May last week.

And while the importance of Call of Duty has been a major point of contention, Spencer's comments suggest mobile gaming is a much bigger incentive for the deal being accepted.

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