In a move that rocked the gaming world, Microsoft announced it will buy major publisher Activision Blizzard for a huge $68.7 billion; that’s the largest acquisition in the gaming industry ever.
This follows in the footsteps of 2020’s move by Microsoft to buy Bethesda and all of its developers. So understandably, there have been murmurs that this could be bad for the gaming world, seeing PS5 and PS4 players left out on the cold as Microsoft bolsters the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S with exclusive games.
While I’m no business guru, I don’t think being bought by Microsoft is a bad thing for Activision Blizzard or a sign of an insipid monopoly building up inside the gaming industry. Rather, I feel there are some positive things here, and the deal could benefit gamers hugely. Let me tell you why.
Xbox Game Pass becomes an even better deal
It’s not original to say Xbox Game Pass is the best deal in gaming; for a flat fee you can get access to a seemingly ever-growing range of games. These stretch from generic shooters to intriguing indie games, as well as all of Xbox Game Studio’s first-party titles like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5.
With the Bethesda purchase, Microsoft added a suite of the developer's games to Game Pass. And it plans to do the same with Activision Blizzard's portfolio, meaning a range of Call of Duty games, Overwatch, Diablo and more are set to arrive on Game Pass, likely in 2023.
When you add those up with games from Bethesda and a range of EA games, not least of all Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Game Pass becomes a killer service for pretty much any device that’ll support it.
Affordable access to more games
Not everyone can afford the $50 to $70 prices many games now command, let alone a $499 Xbox Series X. And that's especially true of nations not blessed with the wealth of the U.S. or Europe; affording one game a month could be quite the ask for some.
But for roughly $10 a month, Xbox Game Pass provides access to a bounty of games, old and new, meaning you don’t even have to be a long-time Xbox gamer to play some of the best Xbox games over the space of twenty years. Blizzard has already announced development of a new survival game, one that's likely to be an Xbox and PC exclusive. That democratizes gaming and that's good for gamers from all walks of life.
Sure, Microsoft could ramp up the price of Game Pass, as we’ve seen Netflix do by hiking prices. But I feel it’ll still be a bargain for what it’s offering: access to a load of games across multiple platforms, generations and publishers.
Play console-quality games anywhere
Building upon the accessibility point, expanding Xbox Game Pass also seems set to have the knock-on effect of making the likes of Overwatch, World of Warcraft and more available for anyone to play on pretty much any platform providing they have a decent internet connection, be it wired or 5G.
That’s because with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate you don’t actually need an Xbox console to play a range of games, with cloud-powered game streaming piping the like of Gears 5 to the best phones and best Chromebooks.
With Xbox Series X restocks still tricky to pin down, being able to stream the latest and best Xbox Series X games to an Xbox One or another compatible device is brilliant. It means those who can’t get the latest console or afford to buy it, can still enjoy a fresh generation of gaming. This would also benefit PlayStation fans, as even if they don’t want to get an Xbox console they could still access Game Pass on a myriad of devices.
Heck, even if you have all of the consoles, being able to stream modern games to a smartphone when you’re out and about is very slick; Microsoft has even worked on retrofitted touchscreen controls for some games.
A purge of toxicity
Activision Blizzard is currently embroiled in a U.S. lawsuit around the way it's treated its workers. And the company has come under a lot of scrutiny from allegedly creating a toxic work environment, especially onwards women.
While the publisher isn't struggling too much financially, it’s no surprise that it’s not put out a stellar game for a while; unhappy workers rarely do good work. Prior to the acquisition announcement, Phil Spencer, Xbox boss and newly minted CEO of Microsoft Gaming, has been vocal against the behavior of Activision Blizzard as a company and its executive board.
Due to the way acquisitions and publicly traded companies work, Microsoft can't come out and say exactly what will happen to Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard and a man heavily involved in the publisher’s controversy. But the structure of the Microsoft Gaming division seems to make it clear that there's no room for two CEOs — meaning it's likely to be game over for Kotick.
As a result, I’m optimistic that Microsoft will purge the toxic elements of Activision Blizzard and bring in a better working culture. After some initial slip ups with its early acquisitions of studios, like the now-defunct Lionhead, Microsoft seems to be a lot more savvy when it comes to letting studios define their own path yet supporting them financially. So a lot of Activision Blizzard’s studios and teams could find themselves with greater freedoms and a less challenging environment to work under.
That could all make for better and more creative games rather than just another rote Call of Duty game. Spencer has said he’d like to see more of Activision Blizzard’s older games make a comeback in some form or another. So we could see a burst of creativity from the publisher’s developers; that's good for gaming. Evidence of this could be traced back to the likes of Obsidian being given the scope to work on Avowed or Double Fine being able to create Psychonauts 2, a game that may not have had the approval of a traditional publisher.
Access to globe-spanning tech
Microsoft might be deeply involved in gaming, but it’s a tech company first. And that means all the developers it has acquired could tap into the mass of technology Redmond has. Microsoft has the second-largest cloud platform that supports everything from streaming services to development tools and machine learning.
As such, a developer who may have been on a cash-strapped budget and needing to purchase Azure cloud tools, would now have access to them. I can imagine games getting better AI thanks to Microsoft’s work on machine learning. Or having more stable servers thanks to the support of the Microsoft Cloud.
Again, for gamers this is good as it could mean more innovative games that also look better and run better. These games could even be bundled into the new version of Windows; it might sound silly, but imagine if the next Windows 11 update came with Skyrim, as that game seems to be installed just about everywhere.
I will caveat all the above, by saying I could be very naïve and be putting too much faith in a corporation I think has been a good entity over the past few years. And I’m sure some diehard PlayStation fans will balk at the deal.
But of all the companies that could have bought Activision Blizzard, I think Microsoft is the right one.