That’s an answer I’ve given few times when people have asked me about the whole shebang about MS buying Activision Blizzard. Sure, they gained applauded and popular IPs with and now can become the ultimate Western military shooting console with Bethesda’s RPGs and whatnot giving a countering balance. On the surface, it looks good for the Xbox in the future and most likely it’ll be a better platform for numerous games over both of Sony’s PlayStations in this regard. The Switch and whatever Nintendo’s cooking up next will be in its own ballpark again.
However, The Windows Company doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to company acquisitions. On the contrary, much like EA, Microsoft has more or less run their companies to the ground in one way or another. Rare is a perfect example. Banjo Nuts and Bolts is a mess and whatever the company did before is mostly remembered as a game Rare made rather than for their own merits. Battletoads looked exemplary in Killer Instinct and they allowed that modern, franchise-undermining soft-reboot to happen. Lionhead Studios had a strong start with Black and White and Fable, but thanks to The Movies failing Microsoft nabbed ‘em up just to produce more Fable with falling quality. We can discuss the merits FASA Studio had with their MechWarrior games, but MS ultimately decided to kill off the studio and license the studio’s games back to one of its original founders. Mojang is just a Minecraft studio, but the franchise’s growth has stalled significantly.
Bungie and Halo was a godsend gift to Microsoft and Xbox and is the sole reason why Microsoft is still kicking the brand around. However, Halo and perhaps a few other titles, everything Microsoft has done is just copying and following trends. Microsoft has not one creative decision under its belt that could be described as original. Nintendo at least has always been a follower as much as they have been a trendsetter. Sony is sort of falling between following and setting trends, but the trends they set have been more on accident rather than intentional. It’s more that Sony has tried to repeat business and technological successes rather gaming innovations. PlayStation 3 tried to create a new marketplace in a flash, similarly, how PlayStation 2 accidentally created a marketplace for DVDs in Japan the night it was released on. Both Microsoft and Sony catered their consoles as the media centers of your living room. In reality, they both kind suck at it.
If I have criticized that Sony lacks their own strong IPs that they could run with pride and prestige, Microsoft is, in all honesty, best known for Flight Simulator and Halo, and even here Bungie had been developing their game for a long time. Microsoft might have a want, or more likely a pressing need, to have their own IPs to contest Sony and Nintendo, but they have effectively failed in this core process. This shows a major weakness in Microsoft’s gaming business model and the lack of understanding of markets outside the US. It is out of weakness Microsoft has purchased Bethesda and Activision Blizzard, and we have yet to see anything solid from the Bethesda deal.
Gaming has not changed, though that is what numerous talking heads have voiced. This is normal business. Microsoft has obtained companies for their IPs so that their platforms would have a competitive edge against their two main rivals. All these IPs will most likely be fed to Microsoft’s game streaming service, of which I have yet to hear or read one positive thing about. I do not think a gaming streaming service will ever become truly mainstream unless games become shorter and more to the point. People do not have enough time to slog through tens or hundreds of hours of games. It works for music and movies just fine; they are something you do not actively engage in. Playing a game requires time and effort with concentration. Perhaps that is why game journalists are trying to push for the Skip-Game button. It is not that they could not learn the game well enough to beat, but they just do not have the time for them. People should not expect gaming to deliver similar passive media experiments. That would be just silly.
Still, Microsoft is intending to make their Cloud services to be worthwhile, and it is highly possible that they intend to include numerous Activision Blizzard titles into their services. As much as Google was touted to become the Netflix of gaming, chances are that Microsoft is aiming for that role. Even then, people really would like to have community ran servers, as it seems most of Microsoft’s online games still suffer from servers being down and preventing online multiplayer. I really wish companies would include local multiplayer functions more these days.
Microsoft’s GamePass will, of course, be the main thing to benefit in terms of IPs, but on a grander scale, this is Microsoft wanting to include more content in their whole digital ecosystem. Honestly, MS picking up Activision Blizzard seems to be a pre-emptying move to keep some other tech giant, be it Amazon or Meta, from acquiring them first and including these IPs in their particular ecosystems. If Microsoft had their own strong IPs to back to, they never would have found the need to make this purchase. The whole metaverse can be ignored, for now, it has no real relevancy outside being the moment’s hot discussion topic.
Of course, the question of whether or not these IPs were worth it. Blizzard has managed to effectively screw up their ‘craft games and their remasters to the point of fans taking things into their own hands. Word of Warcraft is losing people to that latest Final Fantasy MMORPG. Diablo III is still a disappointment. The whole company and every aspect of their IPs have been falling in the eyes of the consumer for the potshots they have taken at ‘em too. Blizzcon fiascos, capitulating to the Chinese Communist Party by banning players voicing for independent Hong Kong outside their games all the while displaying an innocent plastic face while having harassment issues at their company. Looking at all the big hitters there, Blizzard has mismanaged all of them to the point of stopping at a wall.
As for Activision, they never really had a good reputation. They’ve effectively been a smaller EA in that they buy smaller studios and effectively fuck them over. Raven Software developed some great games by using Id’s engines, some better than Id’s own games. Neversoft will always be connected to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Spider-Man alongside Treyarch. Infinity Ward birthed the Call of Duty franchise, which Activision has been riding on ever since their acquisition while cutting down companies like Raven Software from their high position and relegated them as nothing more than CoD support team. Gray matter Interactive developed one of the best sequels in Return to Castle Wolfenstein but got thrown into Treyarch to work in the CoD support teams. RedOctane did Guitar Hero and Activision effectively killed the franchise.
Activision has a lot of good studios under them, but nobody really likes what Activision has done with them. There are so many former studios that it isn’t even funny. So many unused IPs that are completely dead in the water. Even CoD, while printing money, is far less popular now than it used to be. Much like so many of these IPs, it’s run to the ground. As a whole Activision Blizzard has made some seriously stupid and regressive decisions and has backpedaled many opportunities to push their IPs forward. Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon revivals were well received and sold well, all things considered. Despite this, the dev teams were thrown back to the Call of Duty mines to work in a supporting developer role.
Funny that Microsoft now owns numerous family-friendly franchises that originated from Nintendo and Sony platforms.
Now, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, the big dick running the Xbox brand, has stated that reviving old franchises, like Hexen and Guitar Hero, is on the table. While the consumers might see this as a great thing, a return to (their personal) glory days of gaming, stockholders don’t see it that way. These old IPs don’t really make the same amount of money. Thus, it could be possible that Microsoft might want to franchise or lease these newly gained IPs for other developers or whatnot to make a good buck on the side.
Another reason why Microsoft would have wanted Blizzard is to have a foothold in the Asian market. Xbox is still the rag dog that gets kicked around in the Orient, but with Blizzard, the Chinese market opens up that much more, especially with all the mobile phone games the Chinese and Koreans consume. The Japanese on the other hand most likely will still stay as an unsalvageable mess, unless Spencer really wants to change their methods. Spencer should follow what the Japanese have been doing but in reverse. Effectively, copy what Sucker Punch did with Ghost of Tsushima; take something Japanese, and make a somewhat Westernizer version of it to sell to the Japanese. The Japanese have been doing this as their main method of exportation, from cars to video games. Ghost of Tsushima showed that it works the other way too, as the Japanese audience loves the game. Credit where credit is due, Sony publishing the game was a good stroke and netted them some seriously needed credit amidst all the issues with their internal censorship that extends to the developers’ as well.
Microsoft has to respect existing contracts between Activision Blizzard and Sony. There will not be much exclusivity to be seen in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I do wish Microsoft would simply cease putting any of their owned IPs on Sony’s consoles whenever they can just so Sony would be forced to think about their revenue streams first and foremost. However, Microsoft has to think through their growth and revenues now too, and expanding to Sony’s platform and making money on a PlayStation is win in their books. In the short term, we will not be seeing any sort of massive shift in gaming or change in content. If anything, it will take at least a few years until we see anything definitive coming from this deal, and even then, it might be extremely clashing due to the currently incompatible corporate structures and cultures between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard. Sorting that shit, and the whole lawsuit Activision Blizzard has to deal with, takes time.
Sony might be seen as Microsoft’s main rival (Microsoft has really just followed Sony’s path of grabbing up studios and probably will be making extensive limited-time exclusives in the future) but really, we could also see this as a move to counter how much power Tencent has. Tencent has its fingers in so many Western and Asian studios that it is not funny, and most likely few of your games carry their name somewhere on the label too. Honor of Kings or Arena of Valor as known under its international title is the most profitable electronic game in history. It alone has contributed over 13 billion dollars to Tencent’s revenues since 2015 and continues to contribute with its 80 million daily active users. With Activision Blizzard under their belt and the revenue stream possibilities they now have open, Microsoft is in a much better place to contest with Tencent. On the side, all the money Tencent is making is also money the Chinese government is making.
Gaming hasn’t changed suddenly with this purchase nor has Microsoft gained a monopoly. Like most things, the game market is constantly moving and shifting. Making sense out of it is just as hard as any business is. Consolidation of developers under a bigger banner has been happening constantly, but that doesn’t exclude people from putting up their own development studios and publishers. Even if Microsoft and Sony would prevent developers from having games on their platforms, there are tons of alternatives, including Nintendo’s. It might not have the exact same popularity or consumer base, but you have to start from somewhere. The best first step in becoming popular and mainstream is to first become a cult classic. Not every game can be Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter II.
The whole issue on the mainstream Internet media is far too US-centric. The IPs that are cited are most popular in the US, while European and Asian markets fluctuate how popular Microsoft’s games can be. Xbox itself may be more popular in the US, but it still has to fight tooth and nail in the European markets. We’ve covered Asian markets, so there’s that too. Looking at the global situation, this purchase seems to only benefit in the American and select European markets, with only droplets of Asian markets making a dent. Though even then I remember the news about Blizzard making quite the revenues in Asian mobile phone game markets, so that’s a bonus. There are no other home game console companies in the US, and the market is global. It’s not about an issue of Microsoft hogging all these companies and IPs to themselves when it comes to competition. The issue is what the competition is going to do in order to present their device as the superior option. The answer is as it has always been; have content that is able to compete with the opposition.
Personal opinion? I don’t really care for any of the IPs Microsoft acquired, but I do hope the purchase will go through fully and Microsoft will begin to consolidate all the IPs solely into their ecosystem to the point that its competitors have to find their own titles to counter. I wish to see the day when console libraries are vastly different and would be truly unique.