Dark Days have arrived.
Well, well, well…this is exactly what I was warning about in my previous Game Pass article. The Bethesda buyout is coming to fruition. Make no mistake, it does not give me any joy being right. This is truly horrific for the industry and is not good for anyone. Despite how Microsoft and their fanboys will spin this, we are heading down a dark dystopian future for gaming. I could spend a few hours and come up with pages upon pages of why this is bad, however, that’s not really necessary. There are just a few key points you need to consider and the house of cards falls.
Ultimately, they paid $70 billion not because the purchase was worth it, but to STARVE THE COMPETITION and gain a monopoly. First of all, just like big Pharma has bought out all the organizations and people necessary to get their way, so has Microsoft. It is a huge company with more, if not the most, influence and control than almost any other in the world. And now, every safety mechanism put in place to prevent this very type of competition-killing consolidation appears to no longer exist in anything but name. What does that mean for the industry and the world? What has Microsoft achieved by doing this?
Call of Duty, one of the biggest franchises in the world, that has been multi-platform for nearly 18 years, will now likely be an Xbox exclusive. Microsoft already made the statement recently that they have no plans for first-party studio games to go multi-platform. Diablo, WoW, Overwatch, Starcraft, all of them will now only be available on Xbox. If you enjoy any of these games and only play on console, you literally have no choice but to buy an Xbox. Those are your only options: buy an Xbox to continue playing these games, or stop playing them entirely.
In fact, it kind of gets worse than this. Crash Bandicoot, which just got a multiplatform revival after being a PlayStation exclusive back in the day, will no longer be on PlayStation. Off the top of my head, these are now all the IPs Microsoft owns after the Bethesda buyout, bearing in mind the studios making these titles will be making much more in the future:
- Call of Duty
- World of Warcraft
- Crash Bandicoot
- Guitar Hero
- Tony Hawk Pro Skater
- Elder Scrolls
I quiver thinking about how MS is going to RARE Blizzard. Another point to consider, although Bobby Kotick may be fired later as a result of this buyout, it does not matter. He has a new contract he is happy with and would have made an insane amount of money from this. He just got the best golden parachute he could ever have received thanks to this buyout. Phil’s silence on the Activision Blizzard PR disaster has now started to make sense. One could argue that he kept silent because they were buying them out, but time will tell.
So, again what does all this mean for the industry? It’s not an exaggeration to say that Xbox has a near-infinite war chest and could effectively buy Sony out with their money. No third-party dev or publisher is off the table now. If Microsoft wanted to buy every studio in existence, they likely could. Now, some people will praise this because it makes Game Pass “amazing”, but there’s an issue with that short-sighted statement. This all leads to one thing: a dead, controlled industry. Every developer will have a Game Pass budget, every developer will have the same structure which dictates how their games are made. Sure, some developers will be given a longer rope but they all will experience what all the developers in Ubisoft currently face. Everything will have to follow the same approved structure. Creativity will absolutely be going out the window and THERE IS NO SCENARIO WHERE THIS IS GOOD FOR THE CONSUMER. Who’s next on Microsoft’s list? EA? Ubisoft?
What happens then? Everyone is forced to buy an Xbox because every game they ever loved and grew up with is now on that platform? So, what happens then? You only need to glance at existing monopolies to have an idea. Suddenly, everyone is paying a much higher price for their titles, or maybe the production values plummet, or you’ll have to concede any private information they want just to keep the service, and most importantly, anyone on Game Pass just owns a license and not the game itself. “You own nothing and you will be happy.”
Now, what about the other big dog in this fight? What about Sony? There’s no way they can be happy about this. They now have a problem to an extent. While their exclusives are unrivaled, and replaying God of War on PC has thoroughly reminded me of that, this still limits which games they can have on their platform. This is likely why they have been building up their own internal studios, to prepare for something like this. However, while they can certainly live off a hardcore audience like Nintendo does, the average gamer will be lost. Because let’s be honest, most gamers buy a console and then buy 2-3 games a year on it. Not everyone has enough disposable income to buy two consoles, let alone three, plus a PC. And going off sales, the majority buy CoD or FIFA. Now, CoD is now going to be Xbox-only and will be included on the cheap on the Game pass. Just throw a Ubisoft and/or EA acquisition and it’s obvious where the average consumer will go. I mean, that would make the most financial sense. And not to be too judgemental, but as consumers, we just tend to buy what we like and ignore what it took to produce it, which is an understandable but very problematic mindset.
Despite Xbox failing constantly and losing more and more of its user base with every generation, with even the Xbox Series S and X painfully lagging behind the PlayStation in many regions, with this acquisition Sony will be hard-pressed to compete. They absolutely could fortify their first-party titles in the long run, which seems to be the plan, and they are pushing VR incredibly hard which is something Xbox currently does not have, however, all of this is going to take time. And while Sony has also been buying studios, they tended to acquire only those that were pretty much Sony studios in anything but name, and they were a lot more conservative with their acquisitions.
We are now heading down a dystopian path in video gaming. Creativity will be stifled, prices will be jacked up, and you won’t own any titles (just look at Halo Infinite where the disc is just a license). Gaming has just taken one massive step away from independence with the Bethesda buyout and this Activision Blizzard buyout. Microsoft is just a few steps away from consolidating pretty much the entire industry and forcing everyone onto their platform unless you have the balls to drop the hobby. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to see a future where Sony decides that discretion is the better part of valor and forges some kind of deal with Microsoft. Today is a very dark day for gaming that no one should be celebrating.