Microsoft’s $ 68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard does not give the Xbox maker and Halos home control of everything essential in console gaming. Sony still stands out with its strong stable of PlayStation exclusives, while Electronic Arts, Take-Two and Ubisoft continue to win positions across all platforms.
But it’s damn close to everything. Since 2014, when Redmond shook $ 2.5 billion from its piggy bank to acquire Mojang and Minecraft, the company has been on an escalating buying spree that has brought a who-is-who catalog of AAA games to its Xbox Game Pass library, now 25 million subscribers strong.
Pilled at the beginning of the Xbox One console generation in 2013 for an allegedly shaky interest in video games, Microsoft soon promised – under the then new boss of Xbox Phil Spencer – that it would take a renewed, diamond-hard focus on the games, the good games, and nothing but the games. So help him, God, he’s done well. Here are all the big franchises, developers and names in play that Microsoft now controls.
The sci-fi shooter series has always been a Microsoft-owned, Xbox-exclusive franchise. But if it’s only for posterity’s sake, it’s worth pointing out that the company owns and controls this blockbuster intellectual property, just as strong and relevant with the launch of Halo infinite as it was then Halo: Combat Evolved debuted 20 years ago. Microsoft bought the series creator Bungie in 2000 and then set up 343 Industries to take control of Halo, after Bungie separated from Microsoft and fulfilled its remaining obligations to the series.
Gears of War
Cliff Bleszinski’s Gears of War franchise was also an exclusive Xbox / Windows PC, owned by Epic Games, until Microsoft bought the property in early 2014. The company handed the series over to Black Tusk Studios, later renamed The Coalition, and hired industry heavy hitter Rod Fergusson to oversee a remaster of the first Gears of War, plus Gears of War 4 and Gear 5. Like Halo, Gears has been a well-known IP anchor for the Xbox Game Pass since this service was launched in 2017. Fergusson left The Coalition for Blizzard Entertainment in 2020 to bring Diablo 4 for the long term. With Tuesday’s news, Fergusson is officially a Microsoft employee again.
Xbox’s first major acquisition of a gaming franchise that was not exclusive to its platforms was there Minecraft and its producer, Sweden-based Mojang, seven months after the Gears of War deal went through. Although Microsoft spent $ 2.5 billion – its 10th largest acquisition since 2007 – for what began as an indie sandbox and survival game on PC, the company fetched Mojang with cash that it literally had sitting in the bank without doing anything. Since 2014 has Minecraft has seen 19 major revisions and has remained a focal point, both for console and PC, in the Xbox and PC Game Pass library.
Hellblade, Dilapidated condition, Wilderness, The adventures of Double Fine and Obsidian
At E3 2018, Microsoft announced that it had acquired Ninja Theory, manufacturers of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (and DMC: Devil May Cry for Capcom before that), and Undead Labs, creators of the zombie survival series State of Decay plus two other studios (Compulsion Games, known for 2018’s We Happy Get, and Playground Games, which has been developing the Forza Horizon series since its launch in 2012).
Five months later, during their X018 showcase, Microsoft announced that they had added Obsidian Entertainment – the creators of Baldur’s Gate, Fall out: New Vegas, and The pillars of eternity and its sequel – as well as InXile Entertainment, the studio behind the Wasteland RPG series and the latest adaptations of The Bard’s Tale.
Since then, the successors Maturity 3, Wasteland 3, The outer worlds 2, and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 have all been advertised as exclusive on PC and Xbox.
Microsoft followed this buying tour a year later by announcing at E3 2019 that they had picked up Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions, known for a fan-favorite catalog that, among other things, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest, and Broken Age. Since Microsoft bought Double Fine, Psychonauts 2, a sequel to the cult hit from 2005 Psychonauts who began life as a crowdfunding project, was released by Xbox Game Studios.
Like Halo, Gears of War and Minecraft before, all of these titles and franchises are in the Xbox Game Pass library.
Fall out, The older ones roll, Wolfenstein, Doom
Until Tuesday, it was hard to imagine a bigger takeover than the 2020 deal that brings ZeniMax Media’s parade of AAA franchises and developers home to the Xbox. Microsoft’s $ 8.1 billion acquisition of privately owned ZeniMax – nearly one-eighth of Tuesday’s deal for Activision – gave Redmond a back catalog of Dishonored, Prey and The Evil Within; heavyweight franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom and Wolfenstein; a landmark game brand in Quake; and Todd Howard’s next million-hour RPG, Starfield, which is scheduled to launch in November.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda Softworks’ parent company did not disrupt plans to supply two exclusive PlayStation consoles, Deathloop (September 2021) and GhostWire: Tokyo (delayed until 2022). But those agreements were made before the acquisition; afterwards, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the company would decide on a case-by-case basis whether new games from the ZeniMax family would be launched on third-party platforms like the PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. Then, at E3 2021, Howard announced it Starfield would truly be an Xbox / PC exclusive, and launch day and date on the Xbox Game Pass to create even more awareness for this service. It is likely The Elder Scrolls 6, announced next to Starfield in 2018, will follow the same path.
And now: Call of Duty, Diablo, Overwatch, Warcraft, plus much more
Tuesday’s $ 68.7 billion deal would bring Microsoft’s in-house game development studios up to 30. With them would come billions of cornerstones like the annual Call of Duty series and the landmark MMO World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo and Overwatch franchises, both due out in 2023, may be the first games to be released by Microsoft when the deal closes. That says nothing about King, the mobile game maker behind massively popular franchises such as Candy Crush.
And that’s not all. Activision’s back catalog contains the remasters Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Tony Hawk‘s Pro Skater 1 + 2, and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s time, as well as the prior franchise. The company was also one of the last heavy hitters to make licensed non-sports video games, with remakes of GoldenEye 007, Transformers, Spider-Man and Cabela’s outdoor series. Guitar Hero and Skylanders, which the company has shut down in recent years, are still there if music games or the toys-to-life genres, respectively, ever make a comeback. And hell, Pitfall! – the first blockbuster video game IP developed specifically for consoles – is an Activision product.
Although Microsoft has acquired a bestseller from year to year like Call of Duty and two A-list franchises where any development is breaking news, the acquisition of Activision gives the company control over a video game history that goes back to the beginning of the console game itself.
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