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On Friday, a coalition of state attorneys general led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a new antitrust complaint (PDF) against Google, giving more details into the company’s alleged collusion with Facebook in programmatic ad markets. The filing was first reported by Politico.
First filed in November, the initial complaint (PDF) alleged broad collusion between the two companies, particularly in a collaborative project codenamed “Jedi Blue” that saw the companies joining together to limit header bidding practices.
Drawing on internal emails, Friday’s complaint shows that the Jedi Blue deal was reviewed at the highest levels of both companies, with personal involvement from Sundar Pichai, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mark Zuckerberg. In one email to Zuckerberg, Sandberg told the CEO “[t]his is a big deal strategically.” Notably, the filing refers to Zuckerberg and Sandberg by their job titles but redacts their name.
The legal implications of the allegations are still contested, and the distinction between normal business practices and anti-competitive behavior will be hotly debated in court. Still, the state attorneys general succeed in digging up a number of moments where the two ad giants seem to be settling into a collaborative duopoly.
In one particularly uncomfortable passage, the complaint quotes a 2015 email in which “Google employees expressed fear that Google’s exchange might ‘actually have to compete’ with other exchanges at some point in the future.
Much of the case rests on the concessions Google allegedly made to Facebook in the wake of the Jedi Blue arrangement, including lower fees and longer timeout limits in exchange bidding. One newly unredacted portion of the complaint claims that the concessions gave Facebook a clear advantage in winning auctions.
One Facebook study in 2019 found that Facebook’s bids for in-app impressions won more frequently in Google-run auctions than they did on any other platform. At the same time, the average price Facebook paid per in-app impression was lower in Google-run auctions than it was on any other platform. This would be a puzzling result, to say the least, if Facebook faced the same competition for inventory across auction houses.
The case comes amid a range of antitrust actions against Google, including parallel antitrust cases focusing on search manipulation and its management of the Google Play Store. But the complaint led by Texas is arguably the most important for the company, focusing on the programmatic ad networks that have long provided the bulk of the company’s revenue.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment but described the complaint as “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit” in a statement to Politico.
Since Activision Blizzard was sued in July by the state of California for a culture of “constant sexual harassment,” among many other troubling issues, the company has been in a state of controversy. There were a pair of employee walkouts, and more than 1,500 employees signed a petition to remove CEO Bobby Kotick. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson recently told the Wall Street Journal that 37 people had exited the company, and 44 have been disciplined as part of its investigations.
Kotick himself was the center of another WSJ report saying the publisher’s former CEO was not only aware of but participated in the company’s pervasive toxic culture. Employees called for Kotick to step down not long after the report was published, as the bosses of both PlayStation and Microsoft told their employees they were troubled by the report.
Now, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer is in line to run the company as Microsoft has a deal to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion to bolster Game Pass and, supposedly, its metaverse ambitions. According to a press release, “Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and he and his team will maintain their focus on driving efforts to further strengthen the company’s culture and accelerate business growth.” After that, the business will report to Spencer.
You can see what Spencer and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told their employees here, and below, we’ve included Kotick’s letter to workers at Activision.
Today is an incredibly exciting day. As we continue our journey to connect and engage the world through epic entertainment, we will eventually do so as part of Microsoft. I am certain that our incredible talent and extraordinary games combined with our shared commitment to the very best workplace will enable us to grow in an increasingly more competitive race for leadership as gaming through the metaverse evolves.
How we got here and where we’re going
When you reflect on what we’ve built together, we have so much to be proud of. For the last 31 years, we’ve continuously shaped gaming through our commitment to deliver joy, fun, and the thrill of accomplishment.
We’ve transformed games into social experiences and enabled players to find purpose and meaning through the most engaging form of entertainment – our games. By doing so, we’ve created and entertained communities of hundreds of millions of players.
Connecting these communities together is the next step. Facebook, Google, Tencent, NetEase, Amazon, Apple, Sony, Disney – and many more – have ambitions for their own gaming and metaverse initiatives. Established and emerging competitors see opportunity for virtual worlds filled with professionally produced content, user generated content and rich social connections.
Our talent and our games are important components of the construction of a rich metaverse. We have always attracted the very best game makers and built the very best games, seizing opportunity with passion, inspiration, focus, and determination.
A partnership to define the future
As investments in cloud computing, AI and machine learning, data analytics, and user interface and experience capabilities are becoming more competitive, we believe this partnership will better enable our ambitions.
In considering possible partners, all roads ultimately lead to Microsoft. Like us, they have been making games for a long time. Microsoft has already distributed games to hundreds of millions of the world’s computers and computing devices and has technologies and innovation that will support the next generation of games.
Microsoft also will support our journey to further strengthen our culture. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has been a passionate advocate for caring as the currency of leadership. Inspiring people through empathy is a powerful motivator, and one we embrace as we renew our resolve – and in the work we are now doing – to set a new standard for a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture.
Importantly, Microsoft wants you – your talent, your creativity, and your dedication to each other. Activision Blizzard’s success throughout the years can be directly attributed to each of you. Microsoft recognizes the commitment to excellence and creative independence that sets us apart, and we anticipate minimal changes for our workforce following the close of the transaction. Microsoft’s diverse operations will give us access to valuable expertise, technology, and tools and provide even greater opportunities for learning and development.
No organization’s culture, including ours, is without need for improvement, and thanks to your input, we are making strides in improving ours. My commitment is to continue evolving our culture so that come closing, Microsoft is acquiring an exemplary workplace.
Transactions like these can take a long time to complete. Until we receive all the necessary regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions are satisfied, which we expect to be sometime in Microsoft’s fiscal 2023 year ending June 30, 2023, we will continue to operate completely autonomously. I will continue as our CEO with the same passion and enthusiasm I had when I began this amazing journey in 1991.
Of course, this announcement will give rise to so many questions. We will host numerous forums and events to make certain we address your concerns.
I am incredibly proud of this company, you, and the work we have done together. Now it’s on to our next chapter and the endless possibilities this transaction represents for us. I couldn’t be more appreciative of your efforts, focus, and the dedication to connecting the world through joy and fun.
In July, Kotick published a letter explaining that he and the company were “committed to long-lasting change.” However, employees later stated that the message failed “to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns,” including issues like forced arbitration (which finally ended last month).
More recently, Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal, who took on the role as the studio’s leadership shifted in the wake of the lawsuit, stepped down after only three months. According to the Wall Street Journal report, Oneal was paid less than her male counterpart (former Xbox exec Mike Ybarra) and wrote in an email to the company’s legal team that she had been “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.” Oneal told employees that Activision Blizzard only offered her equal pay after she had tendered her resignation, IGN reported.
has revealed its latest batch of devices geared toward students. Perhaps the most eye-catching offering is a Snapdragon 7c-powered Windows 11 tablet. The company suggests the 10w Tablet might be a great fit for younger students, since the device has a rugged design with a rubber bumper and Corning Gorilla Glass on the Full HD, 10.1-inch display. The screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio and 400 nits of brightness. There are 2MP front-facing and 8MP rear-facing cameras too.
The tablet comes with a detachable keyboard and there’s an optional pen. The 10w Tablet has a 30Whr battery and comes with up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM and up to 128GB of eMMC storage. Unfortunately, there’s only one USB-C port, but there is a headphone jack, which should help students avoid having to fiddle with the Windows Bluetooth settings. The tablet weighs 573g (1.26 lbs) and 1.1kg (2.42 lbs) with the keyboard.
Lenovo suggests the Snapdragon platform will help deliver responsive performance, dependable WiFi connectivity and an extended battery life. The ARM-based Windows experience hasn’t historically , but we haven’t seen Windows 11 running on Snapdragon 7c chipsets as yet. Microsoft has seemingly improved the Windows-on-ARM experience, however.
The 10w Tablet and keyboard bundle starts at $239 and it’s expected to ship in the US in April.
For (perhaps older) students who need extra power, Lenovo is also planning to ship the 13w Yoga convertible laptop in April. The system is powered by an AMD Ryzen 5000 U-series processor with on-chip graphics.
The laptop has a 13.3-inch, Full HD display with 300 nits of brightness. The front-facing 1080p camera has a privacy shutter and you’ll find a 5MP camera on the rear. There’s an optional fingerprint reader on the power button too.
The 13w Yoga includes up to 16GB of 3200Mhz DDR4 RAM (which users can upgrade) and up to a 512GB SSD. Lenovo says it has Dolby Audio and a 51Whr battery.
The connectivity options are far more generous than on the 10w Tablet. Along with an audio jack, there are two USB-C 3.2 ports, one USB-A 3.2 port, a full SD card reader and HDMI 2.0. There’s WiFi 6 and optional 4G LTE support as well. The 13w Yoga will start at $749.
In addition, Lenovo announced a partnership with VictoryXR to offer educational experiences in . Students will be able to access more than 60 VR titles from VictoryXR, centered around science, history and career and technical education. They’ll be able to virtually visit the likes of The Great Wall of China and see California Redwoods.
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Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service now has 25 million subscribers. That’s up from the 18 million Microsoft previously reported in January last year. The Xbox Game Pass all-you-can-eat catalog of downloadable games — or the “Netflix for video games” as it’s often described — continues to attract new subscribers as Microsoft looks to extend the service.
As Microsoft’s subscriber numbers grow, so does the amount of titles available on Xbox Game Pass. In 2021, Xbox Game Pass added iconic Bethesda games, with 20 in total on the service, including Dishonored, Doom, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Wolfenstein.
Microsoft announced the milestone while revealing its planned $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which will have Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and its 10,000 employees reporting to Phil Spencer.
The acquisition also bolsters Microsoft’s Game Pass portfolio with plans to launch Activision Blizzard games into Game Pass, which has reached a new milestone of over 25 million subscribers. With Activision Blizzard’s nearly 400 million monthly active players in 190 countries and three billion-dollar franchises, this acquisition will make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse lineups of gaming content in the industry. Upon close, Microsoft will have 30 internal game development studios, along with additional publishing and esports production capabilities.
Spencer said in a blog post that “we will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard’s incredible catalog.” There are no specifics, but with the Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, and Candy Crush brands to choose from — to name a few — the service will have a lot of options.
Microsoft has also been chasing sports fans over the past year with the addition of NBA 2K21, Madden NFL 21, NHL 21, and more. Outriders also debuted on Xbox Game Pass last year, and Microsoft added Flight Simulator to the service over the summer. Microsoft also had a big Xbox Game Pass holiday, with Age of Empires IV, Forza Horizon 5, and Halo Infinite launching day one on the service.
Microsoft has also been working on extending where Xbox Game Pass is available, thanks to Xbox Game Streaming. A web version of Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly Project xCloud) was made widely available to players on iOS and PC last summer, and Microsoft started rolling the service out to Xbox consoles in November. This will allow newer games, like Microsoft Flight Simulator, to be streamed and played on older Xbox consoles too, as the service is fully powered by Xbox Series X hardware.
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