Is the Future of Gamedev Consolidation?

Musing Over Microsoft

This post was originally going to be talking about the Xbox Game pass and what I think about games being developed and released on a platform that isn’t about buying games individually, but then something “small” happened. Microsoft has bought Activision-Blizzard for just around 68 billion, and with that, the state of the game industry has changed dramatically. Microsoft seems to have been going the Disney route lately with acquiring multiple studios, and now has over 30 different indie, AA, and AAA studios under their banner.

When it comes to the ethical restructuring of Blizzard, that remains to be seen, but there is something we need to talk about. Microsoft is becoming like Disney when it comes to controlling many different properties and studios, and between games pass and this buyout, it raises some serious questions about where the industry is going to go.

Games as a Netflix

Microsoft game pass is one of those ideas that no one would have believed 20+ years ago. Being able to access, download, and completely play games for a subscription each month with new games constantly being added and shuffled. For its price, if you just play one full retail priced game a month, you are getting your money’s worth.

Thanks to some friends who gifted me the subscription, I finally installed it and I am currently using it. For someone like me who gets press keys for most of the games I want to play, it’s still a great deal. For someone else who doesn’t have thousands of games on their Steam library to play, this kind of service is really a godsend for them. The very fact that Microsoft puts day one releases on game pass is a huge deal and boon to the service.

However, I’ve talked about and seen the whole “Netflix for Games” model over the past 20 years, and it does concern me. What is often good for consumers when it comes to getting video games comes at the expense of the developers. The 2010’s period known as the “race to the bottom” is a great example of this: with consumers getting games at $10 or less, but with most developers struggling to earn a living. For games on a subscription service, they will usually only receive money based on how much their game is played. For games that are already successful, like AAA titles, they’re not going to have to worry about someone not playing the latest Blizzard or EA game. For indies who already having trouble with discoverability, this presents a problem if a subscription service becomes the norm.

The whole point of having bundle promotions is that you’re getting more by paying less. If someone must decide between spending $14.99 for the game pass and getting dozens of games a month or spending $29 or more on just one game, what will people choose? It’s obvious that the more studios that Microsoft gets under their name, the more attractive game pass will become. There are already people talking about the idea of Call of Duty or Diablo 4 going to be on the pass and could very well be platform exclusive.

Taking it All

We’re used to studios being bought by major companies and firms, but this is the first time that one of the biggest players in the game industry has been bought by another. We have seen time and time again how when a monopoly occurs in any market, it lowers the need to compete. Part of the reasons for the subtle changes and work gone into updating Steam these past few years came out of the competition that Epic brought to the table with EGS.

With this buyout, Microsoft now has a huge catalog of some of the most notable names in the industry, not to mention heavyweight IPs. They have already announced that previous Sony deals for franchises like Call of Duty will be honored, but the deal as a whole means that a lot of future games are going to be locked to Microsoft.


If we can at least get a new Banjo and Kazooie game out of this, I’ll be happy

We haven’t really spoken about monopolies when it comes to the game industry, as the platform wars have kept things divided to some extent. But this is the first time that not a studio, but the entire publisher, has been bought by someone bigger. What this means for the satellite studios remains to be seen, but there is some potentially good news out of all of this.

Freeing Activision from Itself

Activision’s brand includes many well-known and popular franchises over the past 30+ years of the industry. Despite so many studios, they have consistently focused only on their major brands, even moving fan-favorite Toys for Bob who did the great Crash Bandicoot game away from doing more in that space.

With these brands now under Microsoft’s ownership, it gives the platform giant a huge catalog of games and franchises to pull from when it comes to game pass, revivals, reboots, and so on. The more immediate aspect of this buyout is what will it mean for infamous Activision head Bobby Kotick. At this time, all we know is that he hasn’t been officially let go or fired, but it remains to be seen when the merger is official what will his role be if he still has one.

The recent scandals involving Blizzard as well are also going to be a factor in Microsoft’s ownership. The lawsuit with the state of California and the general downfall of the company is a lot of legal troubles to take on, but this could turn out to be the restructuring both Activision and Blizzard need to stay relevant. One thing that no one else is mentioning is that with this buyout, Microsoft now also has Activision’s monetization-based matchmaking patent, and I wonder if they’ll use it at all.

2022 Begins

We haven’t even fully made it through one month of 2022 yet and there are already major things happening in the game industry. I feel that the game pass is a great idea, but at the same time can easily come back to hurt many developers who aren’t on a platform like this. With the merger, I’m optimistic that this will be a way of giving the studios who have been hurt by this a chance to stand out once again.

However, time will tell what Microsoft’s expansion will mean for the rest of the industry and how consumers will view the Microsoft Game Pass vs. buying and supporting individual games.

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