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Game On: Microsoft’s plan to buy Activision-Blizzard has huge ramifications

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 27, 2022

On Jan. 18, Microsoft made public its plan to acquire Activision-Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Best-known for Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush, the deal couldn’t come at a better time for the publisher embroiled in internal conflict.   (Microsoft Corp.)
On Jan. 18, Microsoft made public its plan to acquire Activision-Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Best-known for Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush, the deal couldn’t come at a better time for the publisher embroiled in internal conflict.  (Microsoft Corp.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

News of Microsoft’s plan to buy Activision-Blizzard came early last week, but at the time little was known aside from the whopping $68.7 billion price tag. More information is coming to light.

It’s the biggest gaming industry deal in history, set to place Microsoft as the third-largest force in video games behind Tencent and Sony. The deal is set to close sometime during Microsoft’s 2023 fiscal year, and the ramifications are massive.

Will Activision-Blizzard games become exclusive to Xbox? Same as the ZeniMax/Bethesda acquisition that came before, the answer is “sometimes.” Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer confirmed at the very least, Call of Duty entries will continue to release on PlayStation, which is no small news given the franchise’s tendency to top sales charts on all platforms.

The acquisition also incites humorous questions like, “Will Crash Bandicoot and Spyro be Xbox icons now?” Once seen as prominent Sony mascots in the early years of PlayStation, they may well become exclusive to Microsoft platforms.

At the very least, we know the trillion-dollar company is fond of releasing games on Xbox and PC because Microsoft doesn’t exactly have qualms with gamers playing on Windows – shocking, I know. The acquisition’s timing is strategically sound.

Microsoft has been a crowd-pleaser in gaming for a few years now thanks in no small part to the leadership of Spencer, who has sought to give development teams more freedom and prioritized the expansion of cross-platform play, handicap-accessible peripherals, backwards compatibility features and Xbox Game Pass – all things that bring joy to developers and gamers alike.

Meanwhile, Activision-Blizzard has been floundering for a while now. After stocks tanked from a steady $70-$80 per share to below $50, in February 2019 CEO Bobby Kotick announced the mass layoff of 775 employees – 8% of its workforce.

In July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two-year investigation of the company by filing a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, employee discrimination and retaliation.

And while Kotick claims the deal has nothing to do with controversy at Activision-Blizzard – instead citing the delays of Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 as factors – Microsoft is telling a slightly different story.

Several senior executives at Microsoft suggested Spencer check in with Kotick to offer support, raise concerns about the treatment of women at the company and ensure that if Kotick and the board were willing to sell, Microsoft would be poised to make an offer.

I’m more inclined to trust Microsoft in this matter than Kotick, who has come under public pressure to resign.

In November, the Wall Street Journal published a story regarding 2016-2017 rape allegations at Activision-Blizzard, subsequent out-of-court settlements and Kotick’s failure to report these issues to the board despite clear knowledge of the incidents.

Rumors abound Microsoft’s board will kick Kotick to the curb at the conclusion of the acquisition, and it’s a likely outcome.

While Kotick blames game release delays for the company’s struggling state, Overwatch 2 producer Tracy Kennedy recently took to Twitter to blast the CEO, stating the following:

“Bobby, tell everyone about the random projects for Overwatch 1 you all would shove on us, the team would do overtime for only for them to get canceled and for months of Overwatch 2 development to (be) lost.”

And the employer-employee tension doesn’t end there.

After several quality assurance employees were laid off at Raven Software, a developer under Activision-Blizzard’s wing, dozens of Raven employees took to striking – 34 have agreed to form the Game Workers Alliance Union, which is now asking the publishing giant to voluntarily recognize the union.

In recent years, Microsoft has become well-known in game developer circles for increasing budgets while limiting its influence over the development process.

I hope the tech giant can ease things over while also creating a better environment for the many geniuses struggling to get work done under Activision-Blizzard.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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