has increasingly become a pariah…

“We hold all teams, and all leaders, to this commitment. We’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard.”

Also included as if to show receipts was a graphic of Microsoft’s gaming leadership team, a slim majority of whom are women, complete with preferred pronouns.

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Substantial workplace issues aside, Activision Blizzard’s output of games have also faced challenges in recent years, with players expressing dissatisfaction over the increased focus on microtransactions and gambling. Meanwhile the publisher’s titles have nosedived both in number and critical reception; it published just three new games in 2021, and some of Blizzard’s ongoing games are currently at their lowest player counts in years.

While Microsoft has so far avoided engaging in predatory game design like loot boxes and real money economies, there’s still a question of how to rehabilitate the several Activision Blizzard series that are on a downward trajectory. How do you get players in to existing games while making the absolute most of the studios and classic properties the company owns?

Microsoft’s answer to this is undoubtedly Game Pass. Through the subscription system it can make decades of older games immediately available to more than 25 million players, growing the popularity of long-running series, while also lowering the barrier to entry on new games. Players could potentially jump in and out of the likes of World of Warcraft without worrying about an additional fee, for example. And Game Pass’ distribution across console, PC and mobile (via streaming) also provides opportunities for expansion.

Finally there’s also the question of whether or not this acquisition would constitute an unfair monopoly. The deal will surely be scrutinised by regulators around the globe, given there are only three or four publishers of Activision Blizzard’s size in existence and a few more similar acquisitions could leave us with only Sony, Microsoft and Tencent.

Call of Duty may be exclusive to, or less expensive on, Microsoft’s platforms in the future.

Call of Duty may be exclusive to, or less expensive on, Microsoft’s platforms in the future.Credit:

And beyond the regulatory factor, there’s a question of whether players will resent Microsoft for locking away Activision games on its own platforms. Again, the company can’t say much of its future plans beyond the fact that it intends to offer as many Activision Blizzard games on Game Pass as is possible. So, will future Activision Blizzard games skip PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch?

We can take some guidance in answering this question from Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Zenimax, which at $US7.5 billion was the previous biggest gaming aquisition but orders of magnitude smaller than Activision.

In that case, Microsoft had to play coy on whether games from the likes of Bethesda (Skyrim, Fallout, Doom) would be supported on rival systems until completion of the deal. At that point it loaded Game Pass with more than 20 Zenimax titles, some of which exist on PlayStation but are now much more attractive on Xbox given the low subscription price. It also confirmed that major 2022 games — Redfall from Arkane and Starfield from Bethesda Game Studios — would be only on Xbox and PC.

And yet games from studios Microsoft previously acquired — including Minecraft — are still offered everywhere, and the company maintains that it will support series on systems where they already have big built-in fanbases.

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Microsoft is unlikely to have paid close to $100 billion for a business if it doesn’t plan to leverage it for as much value as it possibly can, and the logical conclusion is that most future Activision Blizzard games will only be found on Xbox, PC and whatever devices end up supporting cloud-based Game Pass. But in the case of a juggernaut like Call of Duty, which is tremendously popular on PlayStation, it’s also possible Microsoft will take $120 each from diehard Sony fans while also offering the game as part of its subscription service.

And all this is not to mention that, if Mr Spencer and Microsoft are right, whether you have an Xbox or a PlayStation under your TV will matter less and less as years pass. Both may become content apps you can access on your phone or smart TV, just like today’s video and music streaming services.

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