The announcement came as a gigantic surprise to the industry, and quicky spread like wildfire. Microsoft is buying publisher Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion! Or rather intends to buy because even though the two partners may already be in commercial agreement, the final word from the authorities is still pending. This would mean that the Windows and Xbox group would not only own powerful licenses like Call of Duty but also World of Warcraft, Diablo, all the former titles of cult developer Sierra, the mass phenomenon Candy Crush and even PlayStation icons like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Phew, that’s a lot to take in as a Sony gamer….

Microsoft on a shopping spree

As someone who has been loyal to Sony since the very first PlayStation and first fell in love with videogames through Final Fantasy VII, this is crass news. After buying Zenimax last year for a whopping seven billion dollars, Microsoft already owned 23 developer studios. With the purchase of Activision Blizzard some very important additions had been made, but, Microsoft has also been on a buying spree in the years preceding this.

The purchase of studios began in 2001 when the company acquired Turn 10 Studios responsible for the Forza series which is now an integral part of the Xbox portfolio. Only one year later the takeover of the legendary studio Rare caused something of an earthquake among Nintendo fans. After all, the studio was responsible for classics like Goldeneye, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the Banjo-Kazooie series. Fans feared that after this takeover no more titles from Rare would appear on Nintendo platforms in the future – and they were (almost) right. Except for a few titles for the Game Boy Advance until 2005 Rare then exclusively produced games for the Xbox and since 2018, also for Windows. The studio has not yet been able to continue its previous successes. The sequels to well-known Rare franchises like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts only achieved average ratings, and the re-releases of games that were already released on the GameCube were also disappointing in terms of sales figures. As a result, Microsoft decided to restructure in 2009. Many employees had to leave the studio and Rare developed games for Microsoft Kinect in the meantime. Even though Sea of Thieves (no longer for Kinect), which was released in 2018, sold over two million copies again, Rare was never able to regain its former glory.

Why so much detail at this point? Because for many gamers the case of Rare exemplifies a narrative that goes something like this: an all-powerful corporation buys a cult studio and destroys it. However, it wouldn’t be fair just to generalise. Not all studios disappear into insignificance after a takeover. Double Fine just proved that with Psychonauts 2. The title was first announced at the Game Awards in 2015and finally came out in 2021 – despite or rather because, of the takeover by Microsoft in 2019. Many fans of the first part already feared that the game would never be released. But it did appear, and it was a success. Double Fine was able to maintain its identity despite the takeover.

Other studios that Microsoft added to its portfolio over the years: 343 Industries (Halo), Mojang Studios (Minecraft) and Obsidian Entertainment (Knights of the Old Republic 2) to name a few. These studios had previously developed for different platforms. But now they were still fulfilling their old obligations to Microsoft’s competition when Deathloop for example was released exclusively for the PlayStation 5for the time being Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that some big franchises like The Elder Scrolls will be released exclusively for Microsoft systems in the future. Many games will probably also find their way into Gamepass and thus be available to subscribers at no great additional cost. Of course, this has potential, but also risks. But more about that later.

Microsoft is now the number three games publisher

The acquisition of Activision Blizzard would make Microsoft the third largest games publisher in the world. Sony and Tencent are still ahead of Microsoft.  No reason for Sony fans to worry, right? Well, it depends. Sony is currently still ahead of Microsoft and Sony-owned studios like Guerilla Games (Horizon Zero Dawn) or Santa Monica Studios (God of War) also produce excellent exclusive titles that sell millions of copies worldwide. Still, for the Playstation platform the loss of big franchises like Call of Duty could be problematic. The main concern here is: will Sony Playstation players continue to have access to Microsoft titles in the future?

Again, We’re waiting for the last word on this. Just because Activision Blizzard is now part of Microsoft doesn’t automatically mean that no game from the publisher will ever appear on Sony’s console again. After all, Sony’s God of War was recently released for PC. And Activision titles could also appear for the PlayStation in the future. The only question is… which ones? The omission of a major franchise like Call of Duty could already lead to many people, especially those who only play one or two blockbuster titles or only occasionally, switching to the Xbox. And even if Call of Duty doesn’t become Xbox-exclusive, including the series in Xbox Gamepass would already ensure that many people will at least consider switching in the future. At around 80 Euros for each new Call of Duty released every year vs. the low, constant subscription fees for the Microsoft Gamepass, this is quite understandable.