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Xbox's Activision Blizzard is about more than beating Sony | Opinion

Microsoft has more likely targeted Candy Crush than Call of Duty to grow its business

Microsoft acquiring one of the world's biggest games publishers is certainly not good news for PlayStation.

Even if Call of Duty remains a multiformat IP (which given its scale and reach, may be the case), losing more big brands and big developers to Xbox is going to make life harder for PlayStation, and indeed anyone trying to keep people engaged in their ecosystems.

But this huge, industry-shaking acquisition isn't really about Microsoft selling more boxes than its rivals. It's not even really about Game Pass (although both of those things are part of the wider strategy). It's about that dream of going beyond the hundreds of millions that Microsoft currently reaches, and getting to billions of players. Activision Blizzard gives Microsoft some of the biggest weapons yet in achieving that goal.

King and Blizzard are two of the biggest components of this proposed acquisition, and neither have anything to do with beating PS5

I would actually argue that Call of Duty isn't even the most important part of the acquisition here. Call of Duty is one of the biggest games brands in the world, but it's growth has slowed recently, and when it comes to shooters, Xbox had plenty of strong IP already through the likes of Halo, Doom, Wolfenstein and Gears of War.

For me, the acquisition gives Microsoft two significant additions that actually has little to do with the console space at all.

First, there is Blizzard. The developer has had some recent troubles, but it remains one of the biggest names in PC games development in the world. Microsoft has some strength in PC through brands like Age of Empires and Flight Simulator, and it's been steadily growing in this area in recent years. Yet Blizzard has significantly advanced that, giving Microsoft both a catalogue of major PC titles, plus significant ongoing brands like Diablo and Warcraft. In buying Blizzard, Microsoft has made its biggest move into the PC space so far, and bolstered its PC Game Pass subscription offering.

Then, it's about King. Microsoft had a presence in PC before Blizzard, but mobile has remained elusive to the company. Smartphones are going to be vital for Microsoft to reach the billions of players it wants to, particularly in currently untapped territories like India. Through King, it has one of the most powerful mobile developers and publishers in the world, bringing in not just brands like Candy Crush, but the expertise to develop more.

Call of Duty's growth has been slowing, and Microsoft already has plenty of shooter IP, making it less likely to be a driving force behind the acquisition

To me, it feels like King and Blizzard are two of the biggest components of this proposed acquisition, and neither have anything to do with beating PS5.

Microsoft is making one of the biggest bets on the future of games, and it can't possibly know if it's going to work. But it looks like we're going to find out

And there are other smaller things here that go beyond Call of Duty. It now owns Major League Gaming, which gives it a presence in that corner of the business. It owns brands like Crash Bandicoot and and Spyro The Dragon, which boosts its kids offering outside of Minecraft.

If there's one thing Call of Duty does bring to Xbox that it doesn't have, it's in Call of Duty Mobile, which has a big audience in China -- another big new area Xbox would like to grow in.

The challenge now for Phil Spencer and Xbox is to actually deliver on all this. Xbox Series consoles are trending ahead of Xbox One, and Game Pass' 25 million subscribers is a strong base to build from. But this isn't close to the dream.

Xbox has laid out its vision for video games that involves speaking to three billion-plus gamers. It's talking about streaming games around the world, and the metaverse and changing how games are sold and distributed.

A couple of years ago that sounded exactly like the sort of Xbox dream that would get quickly scuppered by a change in direction by its parent company. Now, it feels like Microsoft has most of the tools to go out and try and do these things.

Nobody has done this before. Microsoft is making one of the biggest bets on the future of video games, and it can't possibly know if it's going to work.

But it looks like this time we're going to find out.

Author
Christopher Dring avatar

Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 15-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who

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