One of the parties rumoured to be in discussions with Vivendi to acquire Activision Blizzard, following the news that it may well be up for sale, is Microsoft.
This would be bad news for both Sony and Nintendo, and even Apple. Love it or hate it, Activision Blizzard is the real deal when it comes to the games industry. It is the one that produces the mega-blockbusters, and every console needs those.
Call of Duty is the obvious franchise that would be a big loss to everyone. A console without a Call of Duty release is a console that is missing out on a big piece of the annual revenue of the entire industry. And that, in turn, would strengthen Microsoft, as it would be a genuine console-seller.
But it’s the other games that the Microsoft competitors would miss out on where the real worry lies here for Microsoft’s competitors. People often forget that Activision produces some very big, very important and very innovative games that pull is massive revenue and sell systems. Consider Spiderman – that’s a very valuable license that Activision currently owns. Or Skylanders – a number #1 selling game on the iPad, and just like the best collectible card games (Magic: The Gathering), a game that has a very high level of engagement from customers. Given that Microsoft wants the Xbox to be a console for the whole family, Skylanders would be a massive IP acquisition to that end, too.
And then there’s the James Bond license. That’s a very valuable IP in itself. Consider how popular the remake of Goldeneye 007 was – it was possibly the biggest third-party release on the Nintendo Wii in terms of hype and critical expectation. A console without a Bond game is also a console missing out.
Or consider Transformers, Cabela, Rapala, Marvel and all those licensed games that Activision publishes – Shrek, Madagascar, Kung-Fu Panda. This games aren’t often good, but they don’t need to be. If they’re sitting there on the retail shelf exclusive to Microsoft, then they’re going to encourage fans of those IPs to buy an Xbox, not a Nintendo or PlayStation console.
And, finally, here’s one area I think everyone in the west is ignoring – Microsoft will gain a new lease on life in Japan. Of all the western publishers, it is Activision that is proving to be the most successful. Call of Duty actually manages to sell copies in Japan, and that’s a rapidly growing market. In other words, the Japanese are just starting to realise the thrills of the FPS, and if Microsoft had the biggest games in the genre exclusive to its platform? Well, that’s going to eat away at a market that Sony and Nintendo both rely very heavily on.
Gamasutra outlines why Microsoft might not be wise to make this acquisition, and there are a couple of other companies that would be just as interested in picking up Kotick’s company, but we’re in for some interesting times is acquisition-happy Microsoft is the eventual buyer.