Microsoft has formally announced its plans to buy Activision Blizzard, the company known for developing titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Overwatch and Diablo. Activision Blizzard also owns the mobile game Candy Crush, making this a big deal for any middle-aged moms with an Xbox. The acquisition is valued at $68.7 billion, and Microsoft says it will make them the third largest gaming company, behind Tencent and Sony. Is this a push for a new generation of gaming, or is this just Microsoft’s latest bid to win the Xbox/PlayStation console war?
Microsoft’s last acquisition was another high-profile development studio, Bethesda, known for series such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and parent company to smaller studios like iD Software, known for first person shooter staple Doom. Bethesda is also known for making high quality VR ports of their games, with Skyrim VR, Fallout VR, and Doom VFR being some of the best-selling games for VR yet.
Microsoft themselves aren’t exactly VR frontrunners like Steam or Oculus, but they aren’t any stranger to VR either. Modern PCs come pre-packaged with the Windows Mixed Reality platform, a virtual reality storefront similar to SteamVR or the Oculus store. Minecraft, a Microsoft IP, has also received a VR port. Additionally, Microsoft has delved into their own mixed reality headsets, including the Hololens and has worked with partners like Dell, Lenovo, and HP to help them develop their respective headsets.
Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard’s CEO, said last year that he foresees a virtual reality Metaverse is on the horizon, likening it to Ready Player One. The Metaverse will, he hypothesizes, connect games into a “mass-market” experience with a “continuous social connection.” Whether or not Activision Blizzard will take any part in forming that Metaverse by developing games or social platforms in VR, Kotick didn’t say.
Kotick has come under fire after Activision Blizzard was sued last summer by the state of California, claiming that they promoted a culture of “constant sexual harassment.” A number of employees have come forward since the lawsuit, confirming a highly toxic workplace environment at the company. During the acquisition, Kotick will continue as CEO of Activision Blizzard, but no details have been released as to his status following the merger.
It is entirely possible that Microsoft will intend to foray into new gaming territory once they acquire Activision Blizzard. They do have a history of dabbling with VR, and the merger will offer them a vast game library with which to potentially explore VR development. However, any big changes within Microsoft or Activision Blizzard are yet to be announced, and will probably not be revealed until after the merger is complete.
What is true though, is that Microsoft now holds some of the biggest IPs in the history of gaming. Whether they will completely withhold these IPs from PlayStation consoles, or force Sony to pay them licensing fees is up in the air, but Microsoft now has a huge leg up in the ongoing console wars with Sony.