Once finalized, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard will dramatically expand their library of franchises. What are the biggest or most unlikely among this list of IPs, and what might the future hold for them?
The gaming industry shook this week with news of Microsoft’s intent to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, a deal that will be finalized in June 2023. When the dust settles, the house of Xbox will be left holding the keys to a considerable number of established, successful franchises.
There’s a lot of work to be done with both Activision Blizzard, the publisher, and its intellectual properties, however. A long history of success in the industry does not prevent the company or its upcoming products from the ramifications of toxic behaviour within its offices, or stagnating business practices and game designs.
Here are five big Activision Blizzard franchises that Microsoft will have at their disposal as of next summer, the big and the unexpected alike:
5) World of Warcraft
Blizzard is responsible for some of the biggest names in PC gaming, like Starcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch, but historically, their biggest success is World of Warcraft. As the biggest MMORPG in the world for over a decade, it stands to integrate very easily into Microsoft’s PC-heavy strategies.
However, it also has a lot of work to do to regain its player base. In the last few years, Activision Blizzard has seen players flocking from its servers to grassier plains for various reasons—from solidarity for the victims of harassment inside the company, to disapproval of the game’s current meta, to just plain old apathy for a long-running live service game. Microsoft will need to breathe new life into an old time-sink somehow.
Would folding World of Warcraft into the PC Game Pass to some extent help? Or will it take a much more extensive overhaul to the game itself? Time will tell.
4) Call of Duty
Speaking of declining reputations, Call of Duty may be in a bit of a slump. Though its yearly iterations still dominate sales charts, their receptions are mixed by players and critics alike. Depending on the platform, its latest entry, Call of Duty: Vanguard, is currently sitting somewhere between a 3.3 and 4.7 with users on Metacritic, and around a 73 score from critics. Though sales haven’t exactly dried up, the unrest is beginning to fester and grow louder amongst its fan base.
Like Activision Blizzard, Microsoft could simply ride the name’s momentum, keep churning out yearly instalments, and continue sitting atop the charts. But how much longer can this continue? We’ve already seen other series like Assassin’s Creed ditch the temptation for big yearly paydays, and the response from fans has been very positive.
Of course, Microsoft might also be content to stay the course, while making those yearly Call of Duty games exclusive to Xbox platforms. In recent years PlayStation has taken the lion’s share of the sales, so this alone would be a big blow to Sony.
3) Guitar Hero
This list is beginning to sound a lot like the list of games I rotated between about a decade ago, but yes, Microsoft could technically acquire Guitar Hero from the Activision Blizzard library. Once a phenomenon, the rhythm game franchise has lain dormant since 2015’s tepid Guitar Hero Live reboot—an underwhelming performance which later saw its developer, Freestyle Games, sold off to Ubisoft—and Rocksmith has quietly assumed the power vacuum it left behind.
However, both Guitar Hero and Rock Band have seen a small resurgence on the secondhand market and at retro gaming stores recently, as consumers embrace nostalgic outlets to reduce stress during the ongoing pandemic. Could Microsoft launch a revival of the series and genre that once sold so many Xbox 360 units? Or would they avoid it, given how the inherent importance of physical peripherals clashes with the Xbox’ heavy focus on Game Pass and other digital solutions?
2) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
In similar fashion, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater once flooded the market, then faded into dormancy for years. However, Activision Blizzard recently defibrillated the title with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 on modern platforms, reimagining the classics in modern HD and revealing that there was still life in their Airwalks.
The dust has already been brushed off this series, making it a great place for Phil Spencer to invest once the deal is complete. Whether the next game is another HD treatment for THPS 3 and 4, or something more original, there would be a certain sense of victory for Xbox to publish a new iteration of a series that started as a PlayStation title.
1) Crash Bandicoot & Spyro the Dragon
But of course, the most surreal part of this transaction might be that Crash and Spyro could potentially become Xbox exclusives, after their stints as PlayStation mascots at the turn of the century. Both saw successful HD remasters of their original trilogies in recent years, and Activision Blizzard published a successor for Crash, 2020’s Crash 4: It’s About Time, developed by Toys For Bob. Both have been multiplatform names for some time, but now they’re moving into Master Chief’s house—the salt this could rub in Sony’s wounds is probably worth about a billion dollars itself.
However, owning the licenses for Crash and Spyro doesn’t guarantee Microsoft will trot them out for new games. Microsoft has indirectly owned the rights to former Nintendo pseudo-mascots Banjo-Kazooie since it purchased Rare in 2002, but the dynamic duo hasn’t seen a new game since the middling Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. If something new does come down the pipeline, though, you can count on the marketing campaigns flipping a few birds in Sony’s direction.
Again, it will be some time before the Activision Blizzard acquisition is finalized, but once it’s done, Microsoft has some serious cleaning up to do—and the first place it’s needed is within the publisher’s offices. It could mean some big things down the line for dedicated Xbox fans, however, and we’ll have to wait and see how this infusion of intellectual property affects the platforms’ long-running drought of exclusives.