Hoo boy, this is a big deal. Microsoft recently purchased another publisher, Activision-Blizzard, meaning Xbox will now absorb franchises like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Candy Crush.
Yes, Candy Crush. That one was owned by Activision-Blizzard, and one of less serious theories about the acquisition is that Microsoft was tired of the agreement they had with the publisher to load Candy Crush Saga on every installation of Windows 10 along with all the other bloatware you’re forced to uninstall when you install a fresh version of the OS.
However, the reason Microsoft made such a mammoth purchase could be a number of things. I don’t intend to position this post as a definitive answer to the question while giving the cop-out of “I don’t know”, so without further ado, here’s what I think is going on.
First, let me preface this by saying you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. Hell, you should probably upscale that to a 500 ton salt crystal honestly, because I have zero years of experience in the game industry, and even less experience with professional speculation (is that a thing?). Still, there are a number of things we can call on to come up with an idea of Microsoft’s intentions.
Let’s look back to Microsoft’s purchase of Mojang. At the time, there was enormous fear that Microsoft would take the company behind Minecraft and lock it up in the Xbox/PC ecosystem, effectively destroying any access to the game for PlayStation and Nintendo users. Except Microsoft defied those pessimistic expectations and has continued support of platforms outside the Xbox and PC, despite it seemingly being in their interest to restrict it to their own hardware and software as a means to drive sales.
However, the opposite could be said if news following the purchase of ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda and others) is true; specifically that The Elder Scrolls VI will be exclusive to Xbox and PC. It certainly seems to be true given that it’s coming from Xbox lead Phil Spencer. Conceivably, this will likely extend to the rest of the ZeniMax catalog of franchises, including Doom, Fallout, Dishonored, and others. All that leads to the question of whether or not the purchase of Activision-Blizzard will mean the same for its franchises as well. Call of Duty (despite stumbling over itself over and over, repeatedly) continues to be a leading title in time played on PlayStation, up there with the giants of FIFA and Grand Theft Auto V on a consistent basis. With Call of Duty exiting its golden years, it’s fairly likely that it (along with any other games in the Activision-Blizzard catalog) will ever be system sellers for Xbox.
So with the idea that Microsoft will still sell their newly acquired IPs on rival hardware platforms apparently ruled out, what could be the plan?
Game Pass; It Was Always Game Pass
Hear me out. The place that game publishers and platform owners make the majority of their income is through recurring sales via subscriptions and microtransactions. This is how franchises like FIFA and Grand Theft Auto have basically become money printers for their respective publishers. Now that Game Pass has come along, users can have access to a massive (and ever growing) list of games with a membership that includes Xbox’s first subscription service, Xbox Live. Sure, you can buy Game Pass on its own. However, if you have access to the internet, there’s little reason to not spring for Game Pass Ultimate if you’re already wanting to use Xbox Live, especially if you also own a PC.
As Microsoft has purchased studios and publishers ranging from the most recent one such as Activision-Blizzard and ZeniMax, to smaller studios like Obsidian and inXile Entertainment, they’ve been adding their IPs to the Game Pass catalog. Additionally, they’ve been expanding their XCloud cloud gaming platform as well.
Between you and me, I think this is all about padding their list of available IPs to beef up their catalog. I doubt Microsoft really cares that their proprietary hardware isn’t the top-selling console of all time as much as they want to have as many gamers as possible pay to access their services, because that’s where the money is at. Consider this: the current setup means that a gamer with a capable phone and a controller can play over WiFi or cellular service without even owning a console, and PC gamers can access a similarly deep pool of games on a PC they already own, and Microsoft makes money either way.
I wouldn’t be surprised Xbox’s move eventually is to get out of hardware entirely, and to have Game Pass expand to any platform available, including PlayStation and Nintendo. I don’t know if it will ever come to that end, but I think if Microsoft had the choice, they’d go that route.
All of this comes from the feeling that I don’t think Microsoft is trying to get an edge over PlayStation; I don’t think Microsoft is concerned about being a competitor to PlayStation anymore, despite apparently pursuing the path of walling off content from their console. It has become exceedingly obvious over the last year that relying on a piece of hardware as a gateway to a gaming ecosystem can be an insurmountable bottleneck. With PS5s and Xbox Series X consoles going for double their MSRP, and gaming graphics cards being priced even higher in comparison, services like XCloud, and even PlayStation Now or GeForce Now (I still can’t believe they are both called “Now”) are beginning to look more appealing.
What could be concerning is I don’t see Sony being able to compete on the same level as Microsoft, as they don’t possess the capital to make such large purchases. Microsoft appears to be ascending to a higher plane of existence in the gaming space. Only time will tell if my guess is correct. There are far more intelligent and business-savvy folks making these decisions with amounts of money I can’t even comprehend, so I’m honestly a little over my head when it comes to all of this.
What do you think of the news? What do you think will happen with Xbox?