In a deal reportedly costing $68.7 billion dollars, Microsoft is acquiring publisher Activision-Blizzard. First reported by Wall Street Journal, and later confirmed by Microsoft themselves on Xbox Wire, this is the latest in acquisitions by the company, which has recently acquired several developers and publishers of various size. The last major acquisition was Bethesda, in which the company spent $7.5 billion.
This deal is understandably orders of magnitude larger, as Activision-Blizzard are developers of the popular Call of Duty franchise, which recently had the first and second best selling games in America in Call of Duty: Vanguard and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, according to NPD reports. That’s in addition to the major Blizzard franchises like Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft, as well as mobile developer KING’s major franchise Candy Crush.
Activision-Blizzard has been in the news frequently lately, as the company battled a lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing because of accusations of the company having a toxic culture. This lawsuit has caused news to come out both about Activision’s workplace culture as well as information about Activision-Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick dealing with multiple harassment allegations, including Kotick threatening to kill one of his assistants and threatening to “destroy” a flight attendant who sued him for sexual harassment in 2007. (Credit to Kotaku for meticulously covering everything surrounding the ActiBlizzard lawsuit.)
Despite pressure from both within (which led to a staff walkout) and without, Kotick, who had been CEO of Activision since 1991, refused to step down. However, with this purchase, it’s been implied that Kotick is likely to step down once the deal is officially approved at the end of fiscal 2023. Regardless, a change in the power structure is a given, considering once the deal is approved, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer will be in charge of Activision-Blizzard.
This is obviously a huge deal for multiple reasons. For one, this is actually the second games publisher that is now owned by Xbox. What everyone understood to be the pillars of gaming are continuing to change as mobile takes over as the biggest money maker for gaming and international developers like Tencent and NetEase become even bigger.
Of course, as of late Activision-Blizzard had been struggling with having more than one or two successful IPs on the market. Activision’s studios all turned into Call of Duty satellite developers, while Blizzard struggled to get anything new onto the market. With this, it’s likely that Microsoft will shift the way Activision-Blizzard does things going forward. Microsoft’s goal isn’t to have only one or two major properties, but rather to have as much content on Xbox Game Pass as possible. Greater spending like this now is likely to make it so that they have to make fewer deals with major developers later, all while maintaining a large number of available titles for subscribers.
It’s a long way from assuming that Xbox will suddenly stop making Call of Duty annual, but even things like making Crash and Spyro into active IPs again would be a welcome change. And that’s without considering Microsoft doing more with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Starcraft IPs, two IPs that could use sequels or new games in different genres as spin-offs.
Speaking of Call of Duty, gaming fans can enjoy a debate that will likely last until the deal is finalized on whether that franchise will continue coming to PlayStation consoles. To me, you don’t spend $68.4 billion to allow Activision’s biggest property to be playable on PlayStation… with a notable exception. Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone, the free-to-play battle royale, is likely to remain multi-platform in the same way that Minecraft has remained multi-platform. Meanwhile, the annual game will likely become another piece in the Xbox Game Pass strategy.