Microsoft pulled off what may be one of the biggest jaw droppers for the year when they announced that they’re in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s biggest third party publishers. Activision Blizzard, besieged by the current scandal of toxic work culture, seems like a weird purchase but it’s actually one filled with huge potential.
Modern gamers may know Activision Blizzard from their big franchises like Call of Duty, Diablo or Overwatch. Hardcore gamers though know that there’s a veritable goldmine of slumbering I.P.s that Microsoft can add to their already sizeable lineup. Stuff from waaaaaaay back that modern gamers have never even heard of.
Blizzard alone has more than its fare share of nostalgia inducing I.P.s such as Blackthorne (which is just begging for a gritty reboot in the vein of Gears of War!) and the Lost Vikings. Its dormant StarCraft franchise can easily be resurrected, especially as Microsoft already has a proven track record of raising from the dead its RTS Age of Empires series. The latest, Age of Empires IV, is an incredible RTS game and more than proves Microsoft’s (and Ensemble Studios’) RTS prowess.
Imagine if they, plus the crew at Blizzard, got down to making a new StarCraft. RTS fanboys will probably have a heart attack. I’d probably join them. Or hell, imagine Microsoft announcing a remake of the cancelled StarCraft: Ghost.
Activision too has a host of old school franchises that could make huge impacts if resurrected and done well.
Interstate 76 (and its Vigilante 8 spin-offs) could easily give Sony’s rumored Twisted Metal remake a run for its car combat money. Sim fans still hold the Caesar franchise in high regard. Hell, I regularly play Caesar IV on Steam to this day. It took could herald a majestic return to form if Microsoft puts its muscle behind the series’ resurrection.
Don’t discount the power of old school point and click franchises like the Quest (Space and Police) series or the horrific Phantasmagoria games, which brought horror (along with the 7th Guest series) to the forefront for PC gamers in the 90s! With horror games being a very popular genre now, a brand new, modern Phantasmagoria game could certain take the world by storm, especially as EA readies its much anticipated Dead Space remake for release.
While it’s easy to see the value of Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard for modern franchises, it’s the slumbering I.P.s that may prove to be the best things to come out of this potential purchase.
Microsoft’s shown that it’s not hesitant to reawaken old franchises for the new age, so here’s hoping that they resurrect some of these powerhouses for a fresh go round in the coming years. For gamers, young and old, this might just mean the best is yet to come.
For Sony and Nintendo though…it might mean the direct opposite.
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.
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
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.