Microsoft bets on Game Pass, Call of Duty promises to calm regulators

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Microsoft’s unprecedented $68.7 billion purchase of embattled video game giant Activision Blizzard has antitrust regulators sniffing the scene with raised eyebrows, prompting a response this week from the tech giant. Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty series, he said, will continue to launch on Sony’s PlayStation consoles as well as Xbox, while Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service will bring franchises like Overwatch and Diablo to other devices, including phones, via streaming.

This last point – underlined several times by Microsoft – glosses over an inconvenient fact: Game Pass is itself a platform that gives users access to a rotating selection of hundreds of games to download and play for one low monthly price. By distributing it everywhere, Microsoft is not performing an act of disinterested magnanimity. Instead, it’s gearing up to emerge victorious in the next video game console war, a war in which apps and services win, not specific devices. (A UK regulator backed it up in a decision released Thursday, which was the first real public challenge to Microsoft’s planned acquisition).

In short: Microsoft is building the Netflix of games. Being everywhere is to his advantage.

In a post on Thursday, Xbox boss Phil Spencer described the “reasonable course” the company is taking in its acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Despite concerns that “this deal could drive franchises like Call of Duty away from places where people currently play them,” Spencer said Microsoft intends to do the opposite. While looming behemoths like “Starfield” and other games from Microsoft’s expanding stable of studios will be Xbox exclusives, it has positioned Game Pass as an equalizing force.

“Game Pass allows developers to deliver more games to more players, not fewer,” Spencer wrote. “We intend to make Activision Blizzard’s much-loved library of games – including Overwatch, Diablo, and Call of Duty – available in Game Pass and grow those gaming communities. By delivering even more value to gamers, we hope to continue to develop Game Pass, extending its appeal to mobile phones and any connected device.

UK warns Activision merger gives Microsoft ‘unprecedented advantage’

At first glance, this seems like a respectable anti-competitive measure. If you can play games on a plethora of devices, how does Microsoft limit access? But it is spin, and should be treated as such. Microsoft is positioning a highly competitive move – get what is functionally a Trojan horse for its platform and ecosystem on as many devices as possible – as something that will level the playing field.

This is a bold assertion, bordering on falsity. If the console wars were going in the same direction as in previous generations, Microsoft’s reasoning would make sense: the industry’s definition of a platform revolved almost entirely around proprietary devices and hardware. But this generation has seen companies – especially Microsoft – expand their boundaries to encompass services and live service games that span mobiles, PCs and even smart TVs. Gaming has changed, and everyone knows it, including Sony, which launched its own competing PlayStation Plus subscription service earlier this year and bought ‘Destiny 2’ creator Bungie to expand its service offerings by direct.

The way forward for Microsoft is clear: continue to expand its lead in building what is functionally the Netflix of games by filling Game Pass with original content, bolstered by the video game studio buying spree that the company has experienced in recent years. It won’t transform the video game landscape into a purely digital one overnight, but there is a possible not-too-distant future in which Microsoft takes more pages from Netflix’s playbook – establishing (temporary) dominance in service space and repeatedly raising subscription prices in a way that annoys, annoys and discourages users. Additionally, Game Pass guarantees that certain games will only be playable on Microsoft’s terms and thus could fall prey to the failures of similar services: boom times for creators followed by sobering crises and rights expirations resulting in sudden disappearance of content.

The Competition and Markets Authority (or CMA), a UK regulator investigating Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, has highlighted Game Pass’s potential to tip the scales in a struggling subscription market. still in its “infancy”. making Microsoft’s response here even more baffling. Microsoft, however, insists it’s best for the industry.

“To all gamers and game developers,” Spencer wrote, “you remain at the center of everything we do, and we will continue to listen to your feedback and do whatever we can to nurture this industry we all love. .”

But whichever way you slice it, Microsoft is doing what’s best for Microsoft. Players, developers, and the industry as a whole are, at best, secondary concerns.

About Douglas Torres

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