Should Microsoft’s $69 Billion Acquisition Of Activision Blizzard Ring Alarm Bells For Gamers?
This Tuesday, tech giant Microsoft announced a landmark acquisition of…
This Tuesday, tech giant Microsoft announced a landmark acquisition of troubled developer-publisher Activision Blizzard. At $68.9 billion ($95 to the share), the takeover shattered records for Microsoft, making it the third-largest video game company in the world.
“Today, Microsoft Corp. announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard Inc., a leader in game development and interactive entertainment content publisher,” said Microsoft in a press release. “This acquisition will accelerate the growth in Microsoft’s gaming business across mobile, PC, console and cloud and will provide building blocks for the metaverse.”
Becoming Gaming’s Disney
With China’s Tencent and Japan’s Sony still ruling the roost when it comes to market strength, it’s clear that Microsoft now stands (largely alone) as the champion of western-based game development.
For starters, let’s observe the list of studios that Microsoft now owns as the new masters of Activision Blizzard:
Games: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2
Founded in 2000, this Canadian studio was bought out by Activision way back in 2005, and has been largely used as a co-development studio in tandem with other headliners.
Games: Diablo, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Starcraft, Hearthstone
As one half of the name, Blizzard is one of the biggest video game companies of all time, and runs a beloved bunch of IPs that range from the world’s most popular MMO, to classic ARPGs, and a deceptively addictive card game.
High Moon Studios
Games: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Destiny 2
Largely focused on support, the 2008-acquired studio has played a key role in maintaining several online FPS game systems.
Games: Candy Crush Saga, Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!
Founded in 2003 and acquired in 2016 for nearly $6 billion, the Candy Crush developer is best known for being a powerhouse in the mobile gaming market.
Games: All Call of Duty Titles (Excluding Black Ops)
Infinity Ward was founded in 2002 and has solely worked on the Call of Duty franchise as its original founders. They have developed the Modern Warfare games; Ghosts, Infinite Warfare, and most recently, Call of Duty: Warzone.
Games: Call of Duty: Warzone, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Star Wars: Jedi Knight
As the second studio taking prime responsibility for Call of Duty titles, Raven has a lot of FPS experience under their belt. They also are the main team responsible for maintaining, updating and debugging new Warzone content.
Games: Call of Duty: Vanguard
Founded in 2009, Sledgehammer has been another force in Activision’s massive Call of Duty machine. While it has played an important support role for Infinity Ward and Raven in previous CODs, it recently took centre stage as the main developer for 2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Toys for Bob
Games: Skylanders, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Call of Duty: Vanguard
One of the oldest companies on this list, Toys for Bob was founded in 1989 and primarily caters to action adventure titles, although they joined in help for Vanguard in 2021.
Games: Call of Duty: Warzone, All Black Ops Titles, Call of Duty: Vanguard
An old face that’s co-developed Call of Duty since 2006, Treyarch has an important slice of 2000s gaming history to its name. That said, it currently has its hands tied as the main developer of Vanguard’s ‘Zombies Mode’.
All in all, the takeover represents a change in the destiny of dozens of IPs, and a potential revival of Activision Blizzard’s heavily tarnished image. In the wake of horrendous work culture issues and legal strain, Microsoft may just have snagged the deal of a century – giving them the world’s most popular MMORPG and the ultramassive 2M+ concurrent player base of Warzone/CoD.
What Does This Mean For Gamers?
Perhaps the most obvious thing to note is that this acquisition seems to have very little to do with the infamous ‘console wars’. The PS5 has already sold a million units over the Xbox Series X – so this likely isn’t about console sales power.
Rather, Activision Blizzard will fan the flames of ‘games as a service’ – the ubiquitous presence of Game Pass offers a variety and depth of modern gaming that was simply inaccessible through older pricing models, such as Sony’s PS+ subscription. At 700 bucks and under, it’s just not easy to compete anymore with Microsoft – especially when you consider it’s huge catalog and on-release access features.
Adding all the IPs we’ve mentioned gives Sony and by extension, EA, a serious run for their money – after all, Activision Blizzard is simply a captain in Microsoft’s growing horde of publishers and development studios.
On the PC gaming front, the question is more about distribution – where do we buy our games? Consider this brief interaction between gaming journalist Evan Lahti and Call of Duty staffer Robert Taylor:
Does Bnet ever evolve to be integrated as an MS delivery program with game pass somehow? I have no clue, but it interesting to think about.
— Robert Taylor (@clipperrob) January 18, 2022
The discussion here hinges on BattleNet – Activision Blizzard’s storefront and game launcher. Some theorize that Microsoft may revamp its own digital store to replace BattleNet, or simply build a Game Pass interface on top of it. This means that the millions of people currently addicted to WoW and Warzone will have flashy Game Pass offers on the table, every time they log in.
Atleast, that’s what we should expect.
For those of you with PS4 or PS5 consoles, it’s time to wait and watch. With Sony’s greatest all-time rival now packing some serious gaming firepower, things could get a bit more exclusive. It’s unlikely that Microsoft will bar say, Warzone from Playstation – but they now have the power to do so, if they wish.
Not to sound alarmist, but imagine this scenario – you play CoD every couple of nights, and have done so for nearly two years. You have a solid party of friends and acquaintances that you play with, and spend 80% of your gaming time on this experience.
What if, however… two years down the line, Microsoft releases an Xbox-exclusive CoD title? Chances are that you’d buy an Xbox or PC, and leave Sony behind – or lose your main gaming outlet and leave behind communities of fellow gamers.
Let’s not forget – every single monopoly we’ve seen before hasn’t done too much for the actual consumers that keep it running. As the stakes rise, we creep towards a flatter, simpler playing field where companies (Activision Blizzard being the latest example) lose track of accountability and tend towards more exploitative business practices.
This means less choice, less freedom as a gamer – even if we can now afford to play literally thousands of games a month for less than half the cost of an average AAA title. At the very least, we can expect Microsoft to inject some cash into new and revived IPs – so there might be something interesting in store for us Xbox and PC fans.
(Image Sources: Microsoft Game Studios, 343 Industries, Activision Blizzard Inc)