There’s a lot to be said about Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard for the past months and today a Microsoft communications person, Frank X. Shaw, said this on Mastodon:
I hear Sony is briefing people in Brussels claiming Microsoft is unwilling to offer them parity for Call of Duty if we acquire Activision.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We’ve been clear we’ve offered Sony a 10 year deal to give them parity on timing, content, features, quality, playability, and any other aspect of the game.
We’ve also said we’re happy to make this enforceable through a contract, regulatory agreements, or other means. ?Sony is the console market leader and it would defy business logic for us to exclude PlayStation gamers from the Call of Duty ecosystem. ?Our goal is to bring Call of Duty and other games – as we did with Minecraft – to more people around the world so they can play them where and how they want.
None of what Shaw says is necessarily false, but taking the words that come out of any giant corporation (Sony, Microsoft, etc) at face value would be a mistake. We do not know what exactly Microsoft has offered unless we see the contracts. Similarly, this kind of compression and acquisition while not entirely bad — more games on a subscription seems great! why pay $70 a year for Call of Duty when you can pay $15/month and get access to every Call of Duty and hundreds of other games, right? — is definitely awful for both the workers at these companies and people who play games, let’s go over the ways.
- From a labor perspective, a larger Microsoft could be a more difficult target for labor unions to organize post-acquisution. Despite Microsoft’s claims that they are friendly to labor, they are anything but and that is clear to anyone who is familiar with Microsoft’s practices with Xbox quality assurance and certification. While it’s great that workers were able to unionize in a few circumstances, recently, Microsoft has long outsourced that labor group to VMC/Volt (I worked for Microsoft through VMC/Volt in the early 2000’s) so as to offload the liability of their abuse of these workers.
- From a player perspective, a larger Microsoft that owns more games is able to dictate and influence the terms of how we have access to games. Microsoft seems like it is friendly now, when their games are coming to Steam and other platforms in addition to Microsoft’s Xbox platforms, but the bigger any of these companies get the more they can dictate every method of access and even preservation. Game Pass seems like a great deal for players, but it has the opportunity to fully control both development of games and their distribution.
- Microsoft may pay lip service to preservation, but a Microsoft that locks down control of Call of Duty (and other Activision Blizzard games) can go where it wants and make the only option for playing their games a subscription streaming service that cannot be preserved.
- A stronger Microsoft, especially in a world where Xbox/PC Game Pass and their streaming services (Xbox Cloud Gaming) become dominant, can ruin first and third party game development studios just like Netflix and the corporate entity known as Warner Bros. Discovery that is boxing up shows and movies just to resolve tax liabilities and cut developers out of the money they could have earned.
- People will drag out the Minecraft example, but Minecraft was from a different time and we have no idea what the publishing agreements for it look like on different platforms. Each one is negotiated separately and…
- Microsoft may attempt to negotiate a contract for Call of Duty to be on PlayStation platforms that is particularly onerous for Sony, speculation has pointed towards Microsoft requiring Sony to have some version of Xbox Game Pass/Xbox Cloud Gaming, but even if that isn’t true today, it may be something Microsoft wants in the future.
- The price of these services that Microsoft is moving towards can and will change as they become more powerful. Today’s $10 or $15 a month can easily turn into $50-$150 or more just like a cable television bill.
Sony can do much of the same, and is attempting to do so with similar services and acquisitions, even if they don’t appear to be as successful.
None of these acquisitions are good for anyone in the end, besides the billionaires and millionaires at the top of these companies who stand to profit if they’re successful at achieving their maximum control of video games.