Microsoft announced its largest game studio acquisition yet on Tuesday, as it plans to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.
Activision Blizzard’s biggest game franchises include “Call of Duty,” “Warcraft,” “Diablo,” and “Overwatch.” The acquisition also includes “Candy Crush” developer King along with the esports organization Major League Gaming.
If approved, the deal would be Microsoft’s most expensive game studio acquisition by far. The company purchased ZeniMax Media (“Elder Scrolls,” “Doom”) for $8.1 billion last year, and acquired “Minecraft” developer Mojang in 2014 for $2.5 billion. In recent years, Microsoft has also bought up a string of smaller studios, including Ninja Theory, Obsidian Entertainment, and Double Fine Productions.
Microsoft’s press release doesn’t directly address the elephant in the room: Last year, the state of California sued Activision Blizzard after a two-year investigation, citing widespread sexual harassment and discrimination toward women at the company. Although CEO Bobby Kotick initially downplayed or denied his awareness of those allegations to directors and executives, a Wall Street Journal report from November claimed that he knew of the company’s problems for years.
At the time, Microsoft vice president of gaming Phil Spencer told staff that he was “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision Blizzard, and that Microsoft was “evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments.”
Nonetheless, Kotick will continue to serve as Activision Blizzard’s CEO, though it’s uncertain if that will change after the deal closes.
Also unclear is what kind of antitrust scrutiny the acquisition will attract from regulators. Microsoft says the deal will make it the third-largest gaming company in revenue behind Tencent and Sony, but further consolidation could affect gamers’ ability to play the most popular games on the platforms of their choosing. Case in point: “Starfield,” a highly anticipated sci-fi game from ZeniMax’s Bethesda Game Studios, will be an Xbox exclusive when it launches in November.