This Week in Games
What A Twist

by Heidi Kemps,

~~ 𝒯𝓊𝑒𝓈𝒹𝒶𝓎, 𝒥𝒶𝓃 𝟣𝟪𝓉𝒽 ~~

-- 𝒜𝓅𝓅𝓇𝑜𝓍𝒾𝓂𝒶𝓉𝑒𝓁𝓎 𝟩:2𝟢 𝒜𝑀 𝒫𝒮𝒯 --

*may be slightly dramatized

 

Ahh, crap. Why the hell did I wake up so early? I stayed up way too late last night tidying up my Windjammers 2 review and trying to get a way into the new Fate/Grand Order event. Maybe I should go back to bed. A couple more hours of sleep sounds great. Ah, the benefits of working from home.

Well, maybe I should take a quick peek on Twitter before I hit the snooze button for a few more hours. Let me grab this conveniently placed, comically oversized bottle of water and hydrate by chugging it down while I look and see if there's anything going on that people might be talking abo—

PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFPPPBBBBBBTPTTTTTTTTTTTTTTPPHHHHHHHHHHHHPFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF *COUGH COUGH HACK* *SNIFF* WAIT, WHAT. WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW

What.

What.

WHAT.

Microsoft is buying Activision-Blizzard? The Activision-Blizzard that's been in an epic shitstorm for the last several months? For sixty-five billion dollars in cash??!!

HOW IS THIS HAPPENING

Okay, okay. Let's shake off the initial shock and look at this more analytically. Microsoft has been on a quest to bolster their Xbox Game Pass subscription service for a while now, and that endeavor has involved some acquisitions. Some, like Ninja Theory and Arkane Studios, have been smaller fan favorites whose game output could benefit a lot from the additional funding a parent like Microsoft would provide. Others, like Bethesda and id Software (who both came as part of the Zenimax package) were seen as being studios Microsoft could tap into if they ever wanted to start some sort of big game exclusivity war – though, to date, they haven't done anything of the sort and have been pretty chill about cross-play and multiplatform gaming.

But acquiring Activision-Blizzard, publishers of some of the best-known, biggest-selling franchises around, one of the goliaths of the game industry, in a massive transaction only a huge firm like MS could ever afford? Even for a company that regularly throws their weight around, that is a really ballsy (and expensive) move. But it's a move that lands them Call of Duty, Warcraft, Starcraft, Overwatch, Spyro, Candy Crush, Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Guitar Hero… plus a whole library of obscure fan favorites from the days of 80s and 90s PC gaming. That's a lot of big names that appeal to a wide variety of audiences: FPS fans, strategy gamers, music lovers, MMO players, casual mobile users, families, and kids. All of which Microsoft could potentially make exclusive to Xbox and/or Game Pass if they really wanted to. (Sekiro's IP is owned by From Software, so all of you worried about that one can breathe a sigh of relief.)

But why would Microsoft want to buy a company that's been so mired in awfulness lately? Well, it's hard to know exactly when MS made moves to acquire Activision-Blizzard – Microsoft could have been eyeing them for years now, or they could have seen them as particularly vulnerable to takeover after all of the gross news came out. Either way, Activision stock has been absolutely tanking since the State of California announced that they were suing the company, so Microsoft is certainly happy to be paying a lot less to acquire them than they would have a year ago. It also gives Microsoft the opportunity to swoop in and portray themselves as good guys who will take out the trash, clean up the toxic culture sludge, produce more games gamers clamor for, and create a newer, better Activision-Blizzard for workers and gamers alike.

You're already starting to see this spin happening. Xbox head Phil Spencer, talking to the Washington Post, discussed the potential of bringing back a lot of mothballed Activision franchises. Current Activision's reputation as a company that will kill a series and send its developers to work in the Call of Duty content salt mines if their games don't reach unrealistic sales expectations is well-known, and many fans (particularly Spyro and Crash faithful frustrated with the series’ stalled revivals) are now hoping that Microsoft will help bring many of these nostalgic series back to their former glory.

So, Activision-Blizzard gets a parent to help them clean up their act, Microsoft gets a whole lot of big-name series under its wing, gamers (potentially) get a better variety of higher-quality games from Activision and Blizzard. It's good all around, right?

Well… I don't know about that.

I'm rather troubled by the industry's recent trend towards consolidation and acquisitions, especially ones as large as this. We tend to become fans of developers and publishers partially because they have a unique identity and philosophy to their output. When acquisitions happen, there is genuine fear that that identity we love could be lost under the cold, uncaring rulership of a far bigger corporate entity. This doesn't always happen – for example, Atlus under Sega's ownership has kept on doing their thing, and their marriage has benefited both parties – but when it does, it's truly heartbreaking. Think of all of the studios like Maxis and Pandemic EA swallowed and then destroyed, or the slow death and subsequent parts-stripping Konami perpetrated on Hudson Soft.

While I don't think anybody is worried about Activision losing their “identity” (they were the ones stealing souls of other developers, after all), there is a fear that this might kickstart an acquisition arms race among first parties and mega-companies like Tencent and Amazon. Do we really want a Square Enix owned by Sony, a Tencent KOEI-Tecmo, or an Amazon-controlled CAPCOM? I sure don't. I like having a variety of publishers and studios out there with their own business approaches and development philosophies who aren't part of some massive mega-corporation.

There is also the issue of the current Activision-Blizzard employees. Many have been pushing for unionization and a change in culture, and the sudden surprise acquisition news left them blindsided. Many of them aren't completely onboard with the change in ownership yet, as this article on Inverse details. Much of their frustration is directed at Bobby Kotick, the avatar of Satan CEO of Activision who was widely hated for years even before it was revealed that he knew about the terrible corporate culture at Activision-Blizzard and had it swept under the rug. It looks like at least part of the reason why Bobby was determined to cling so tenaciously to his role as CEO in the face of incredible pressure was to secure a potentially massive payday by exiting when everything gets settled up in 2023. There's a lot of debate online speculating if Kotick will get a golden parachute (and how gilded it will be) when he leaves, and plenty of folks – including current Activision investors – are righteously pissed about that prospect. I don't think anybody will be truly happy if Bobby gets rewarded with anything better than a all-expenses paid trip to the fourth circle of Hell.

This might be the biggest game news of 2022, and the year's barely started. There's still so much to this deal and its repercussions that we'll be unpacking for months (and possibly years) to come. All we can do for now is watch and hope for the best for Activision's employees. I really want them to see some sort of justice for all they've endured for the past several years.

NEWSBITS THAT WOULD NORMALLY BE BIGGER NEWS IF THE OTHER NEWS THIS WEEK WASN'T A GIGATON BOMB

  • The first bit of information about Toshihiro Nagoshi's new game development studio has popped up. It's a logo for a team called… Nagoshi Studio, found on the EU IP Office website (now removed). Going the Kojima Productions route of putting the studio head's name front and center, I see! A formal announcement will likely be forthcoming very soon.
  • A free-to-play, team-based battle royale game based on My Hero Academia titled My Hero Academia: Ultra Rumble is in the works from Bandai-Namco Games. A Japanese closed beta test is scheduled for the 28th, with a future release date yet to come. I definitely feel like it's way too late to be hopping on the battle royale bandwagon with Fortnite and Apex Legends so well-established now – MHA Fortnite skins would've been cheaper to make and extremely popular. But perhaps Bamco knows something I don't, or feels like there's still a niche in the crowded BR market they can yet exploit. *shrug*
  • Are we finally at the end of King of Fighters XV character reveals? Maybe for now… but we know there will be DLC for sure. Anyhow, if you had Elizabeth on your KoFXV reveal bingo card, you're winner!
    Okay, so, who wants to speculate on DLC characters? Kim Kaphwan is a given, but what about less popular but still liked characters like Gato and Yamazaki? Maybe some weirdoes like Sylvie and the much-neglected American Sports Team? I, for one, would pay some cold hard cash to see 3D Briancopters.

Good lord. What a week to be into games, am I right? I'm sure everybody has thoughts and hopes and fears about Microsoft's impending Activision-Blizzard assimilation… and I'd like to hear all of them! You can swing by the forums – linked below, for your convenience, as usual – and give us all your freshly baked takes of varied temperatures. As for me, I think I'm going to fling some virtual frisbees while I ponder the future of games as a whole. Take care, stay safe, enjoy games, and I'll see you again soon!


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