Earlier in the week, reports of Vivendi’s interest in selling its stake of Activision Blizzard surged the internet. It didn’t take long for a few major corporations to show interest, and rumored to be among them were Time Warner and Microsoft. While Time Warner or really any other company taking a deal would make headlines, a buyout from Microsoft would send a shockwave across the video game industry, and more importantly make Sony’s job a lot more difficult.
First off let’s look at what Activision Blizzard is and what Microsoft would inherit. Activision Blizzard was the result of an $18.8 billion move a few years ago that absorbed Activision into Vivendi Games, a French conglomerate that has influence in all kinds of media. The result was the unification of two of the industry’s most productive publishers under one parent company.
Properties under the umbrella of Activision Blizzard all share one thing in common: they’re immensely popular. StarCraft and WarCraft, two of PC gaming’s most prominent, are included as is Guitar Hero. Each of those three alone have sold over 10 million units each, let alone Call of Duty which breaks records on a yearly basis and, importantly, helps shift consoles. Whoever owns Activision Blizzard essentially owns the most powerful military of games in the entire industry.
As with any opportunity that has a lot of potential for profits the buy-in isn’t cheap. Reports state that it would cost Microsoft $8.1 billion if it wanted to go through with the deal. But remember, this is the company that owns Xbox Live and Windows so it isn’t kidding about being interested. You can be sure that management in the gaming division of Microsoft are thinking in the back of their heads what this could mean for their battle for the largest footprint in the gaming industry.
Lately, Microsoft has been banking on the experience of Xbox Live, occasional releases of Gears of War and Halo, and Call of Duty advertising to keep Sony in-check. The craziest thing is it has worked for numerous years now, but it’s really starting to slip among core gamers. There’s no denying that the Xbox family of products could use something new to drive into the next generation, and the full force of Activision Blizzard behind it would help immensely.
If Microsoft were to purchase Activision Blizzard chances are we’d see a radical shift with its gaming division. Merely associating big games like Call of Duty and Guitar Hero with Microsoft could make a major impact on the gaming landscape. Call of Duty has routinely sold multitudes more on Xbox 360 than the PlayStation 3 just because of advertising and labeling. Similar moves with a wider array of products could be devastating to multiplatform sales on PlayStation.
Don’t forget that the PlayStation Vita can also be impacted. Call of Duty is potentially the most important game for the Vita’s future since it’s a popular series that showcases the Vita’s hardware. Although a deal might not impact this year’s Call of Duty, subsequent releases would probably be pulled in an effort for Microsoft to devote resources to other avenues.
One of the most fruitful acquisitions that could be made is with Activision’s Skylanders series. It might not hold a lot of weight with gamers, but the game is the best selling title of the entire year and over 30 million toys have been sold within only a year of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure releasing. Exclusive content, marketing, and bundles could come in effect to give Microsoft a huge edge with the young demographic and allure families that otherwise would have otherwise considered PlayStation for its multimedia capabilities.
However, it isn’t just the well-known Activision games that can make things more difficult for Sony. Diablo III is supposed to move to consoles in the near future, but Microsoft could very well turn the tables and deny PlayStation owners the chance of playing one of 2012’s best PC games. Also, Blizzard has been hard at work on Project Titan which is supposed to be its next premier MMO. No details have been revealed, but if it has potential to grace consoles, you can bet that Microsoft wouldn’t give Sony the light of day.
On the positive side, Microsoft parading around making Activision Blizzard games exclusive might sound plausible, but ultimately it’s all about making money. Spiting Sony by stealing games and making them exclusive might sound great for hardware numbers, but missing out on the massive PlayStation install base (as well as Nintendo) would greatly damage the profitability of Activision, and make the investment a very risky move.
It’s challenging to think of a single good thing that could come out of the deal, and that’s what makes it so frightening. Microsoft has a history of buying competition and has purchased a fine list of successful studios. Once upon a time Lionhead, Rare, and Ensemble weren’t owned by Microsoft and each had hits that ranged from Age of Empires to GoldenEye 007. However, several of these companies have gone from glory to dust after being taken under Microsoft’s wing. It makes you wonder what would happen to Activision Blizzard’s best games if Vivendi were to sign the dotted line.
One thing any corporation hates is being at the mercy of a competitor, and that’s exactly what would happen if Vivendi and Microsoft were to strike a deal. Sony has lost exclusives in the past, so it’s no stranger to bad news, but this is a completely different animal. Microsoft owning a lion’s share of the largest gaming publisher in the world is a big proposition, and one that offers nothing but trouble for the world of PlayStation and gamers alike.