Some news today on Microsoft acquisition journey towards a monopoly: The company announced that it has signed a “binding agreement” to continue to produce Call of Duty games for PlayStation. This comes off the back of much hang-wringing about the PlayStation being locked out of such a critical load of content, and as you can probably suspect from the usual gaggle of pundits, champagne bottles were popped. Acquisitions are good again! Content for all!
Related reading: This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this acquisition to warn people that we’re not going to like the long-term implications. I am really not looking forward to saying “I told you so.”
As quoted by Brad Smith, Microsoft Vice Chair and President, on Twitter: “From day one of this acquisition, we’ve been committed to addressing the concerns of regulators, platform and game developers, and consumers. Even after we cross the finish line for this deal’s approval, we will remain focused on ensuring that Call of Duty remains available on more platforms and for more consumers than ever before.”
But for all the self-congratulating and mainstream celebration of Microsoft being the heroes of equitable content, one load of content from Activision Blizzard was never the problem with this acquisition. No matter how much people enjoy that load of content over the next however many years, and no matter how many copies it sells on the PlayStation, this doesn’t fix anything, whatsoever, about a deeply problematic acquisition by a deeply problematic, monopoly-minded corporation.
In fact, speaking of Monopoly, let’s reference the board game for a little analogy. Let’s say someone buys Mayfair from someone else, and now they are in possession of a growing empire on the board that makes it almost impossible to miss their squares. Let’s say you land on that new property. The problem isn’t that you now get to pay the new owner of Mayfair. The problem isn’t that you get to participate in the consumerism. The problem is that that guy’s getting more and more resources together and soon he’s going to just take everything on the board.
And then you don’t get to play at all.
The problem with Microsoft buying Activision has nothing to do with the loads of content it spits out. It has everything to do with Microsoft gaining access to a vastly deeper pool of resources, which it can then use to bludgeon the industry to the shape it chooses. Will it expand Game Pass with this new deep pool of revenue it has? You betya. Sucks, of course, for all those developers working on heartfelt games that aren’t really appropriate for Game Pass. As well all know, Game Pass monetisation requires hundreds and hundreds of hours of play, and that little heartfelt game’s now only worth about $0.0001 per player. But you, game developer, should have thought of that and made another 100-hour open world live service game or Fortnite clone. Who knows, if you had have done that, Microsoft may have bought you next.
Because yes, of course Microsoft is going to use its additional scale to press for more acquisitions. Capitalism means companies like Microsoft need to keep growing, and given that they’ve hit the peak for easy organic growth long ago, they’ll be doing that in the future by gobbling up everything that they can find. And then they’ll make sure that those developers are producing content that benefits the overall group. Sure, they’ll come out with grandiose PR statements at the time of the acquisition about giving the developers creative freedom (because press releases are never deceptive), but if you had the slightest clue how the industry works then you would know that no, those studios now have “contacts” and “review teams” inside Microsoft, and you bet they’ll be getting “suggestions.”
It wasn’t enough to watch Disney sit there and absorb entertainment group after entertainment group, before deploying its power in a way that is shaping the film industry for the worse. Now we’ve got Microsoft doing the exact same thing, and apparently all it took to become the heroes in the story was to promise a load of content to PlayStation.
I know Monopoly’s an unfair and generally unentertaining game, and it’s annoying how you can get about halfway into the game and already realise who’s probably going to win. From that point all you’re doing is rolling the dice and getting increasingly bored while you wait for the inevitable to finally put you out of your misery.
But perhaps, as boring and frustrating as it is, some people out there need to play some Monopoly and realise that that is the goddamn point.