The deal might not be signed yet but it’s now clear that Microsoft will be allowed to buy Activision Blizzard. I imagine Sony are secretly delighted. I know they’ve been trying to get it stopped publicly but while that didn’t happen they did force Microsoft to make lots of concessions, so my concessions that it’s now hard to understand what Microsoft even gets out of the deal. And I think that was Sony’s plan all along.
Consider the facts. Microsoft is having to pay $69 billion for Activision Blizzard. That’s their most expensive purchase ever, which is going to leave them counting the pennies for decades to come – and already has with all the layoffs they announced the other week. There will be a huge spotlight on the Xbox division now, from the heads of Microsoft, and if it’s not made clear why the purchase was worth it then very quickly heads are going to roll.
We’ve already seen something similar happen with Disney. Confused as to why they rushed out the Star Wars sequel trilogy so quickly, without a plan? It’s because Disney needed to prove to their investors why it was worth buying and how they could make their money back. And that was just $4 billion.
The biggest legal fight has been over Call Of Duty, which Microsoft now has to keep multiformat for 10 years and let Sony put on PS Plus if they want. That means, from Sony’s perspective, essentially nothing will change. Microsoft has paid $69 billion to keep the status quo and maybe make Call Of Duty an exclusive in 10 years. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call that bad value for money.
There is the Blizzard side of things to consider but World of Warcraft is already PC only and there hasn’t been any talk of making Overwatch 2 an exclusive. Maybe Overwatch 3 will be but it’s not as if the game is that big and any sequel will be years away.
And all this is before you even consider the difficulties of actually owning and managing a company the size of Activision Blizzard. We’ve already seen what a terrible job Microsoft has done with the studios it already owns, with almost no new games being released and still no sign of Fable after all these years. In fact the opposite, with staff leaving developer Playground Games in droves to set up other studios.
Now consider how much more difficult Activision Blizzard is going to be than that, given that the whole reason they’re in this situation is that both companies were embroiled in scandals involving toxic work conditions, poor morale, and bad management. It is going to take 10 years just to sort all that out and then, at the end of all that, what have Microsoft gained?
Sony will have 10 clear years where Xbox is distracted by all the new studios they’ve bought. We’ve already seen how the purchase alone has slowed down Xbox’s productivity and it’s not going to get better any time soon.
You could argue that Sony has played their fiddle just a little too much at times, with this proclamation from the US Congress that they have an unfair monopoly in Japan. But really, can you imagine the American ambassador making a diplomatic incident out of Final Fantasy 7 Remake being a PlayStation console exclusive?
In the end Sony has gained much more out of this whole sorry mess than Microsoft has and if Xbox isn’t careful they will have set in motion their own demise. You don’t spend $69 billion and not have anything to show for it and yet Microsoft doesn’t seem to have any plan to make even a fraction of that money back. In fact, I think it may be impossible and that they will quickly come to regret spending all that money.
Sony, on the other hand, will be quietly pleased that their competitor has wasted all their cash reserves and will be distracted for years to come because of it. At the end of the day, which console you buy is still all about the games and Sony can just carry on as they were, while Microsoft seems certain to have just as much trouble as always.