31 August, 2022
In 2014, Microsoft purchased Minecraft's developer Mojang. It cost $2.5 billion (PS1.8 billion). This was the first of a series bullish acquisitions of video-game studios by Microsoft. The games division is led by Phil Spencer, an executive who has been a strong advocate for video games in Microsoft and other business areas for eight years. For undisclosed amounts, more studios were acquired: Ninja Theory in the UK, Double Fine comedy-game creators from California, and Obsidian Entertainment, a RPG specialist. Under Spencer's direction, Microsoft seemed to be firmly committed to the Xbox console as well as the video-games industry by investing in the people who make games.
Then 2020 struck a deal to acquire Zenimax and Bethesda for an astonishing $7.5bn. This was different. This was not the Xbox division buying studios to create games for its consoles. This publisher was comprised of several studios and a wide range of game series. Microsoft's spending began to look like a monopoly strategy - an attempt to control the market and close off highly popular games that were not available on its own consoles or services. It was revealed that Bethesda's upcoming games, which included this year's epic space-role-playing Starfield and the next fantasy Elder Scrolls, would only be available through Microsoft Game Pass and Xbox. I began to wonder if Microsoft was aligned with its stated goal to make video games more accessible to all. The game servers might not be available to people without some kind of season pass.
Zenimax is nothing when compared to this week's announcement that Microsoft has bought Activision Blizzard for almost $70bn. This latest acquisition, which is the largest in video-game history, and more than 17 times the price Disney paid for Marvel, shows that Microsoft is determined to dominate the video-game market in the future. Sony, its main competitor, has an extraordinary team of developers creating games for its PlayStation 5 console. Insomniac Games was purchased in 2019 for $299m. Although Microsoft has not released sales figures for its Xbox consoles in recent years, there is widespread consensus that the PlayStation outsold them by a substantial margin.
Call of Duty is just one of the many huge games properties Microsoft has now, leaving PlayStation even more dependent on its studios to make games people love to play. Activision Blizzard will soon make all its games Xbox and PC exclusive like Bethesda's. This will create a more monopolistic market. There are currently only three major players in the games console market, and that is Nintendo. Is it really worth the effort to make that number more than one? What does that mean for games and those who create and play them? It is possible that studios won't have to worry about creating what they want. This will not affect the creativity of games. One company takes a significant portion of all profits.