Will joining a monopoly be the end of the ‘frat boy’ era at Blizzard?


Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, a leader in game development and an interactive entertainment content publisher. The planned acquisition includes iconic franchises from the Activision, Blizzard and King studios like “Warcraft,” “Diablo,” “Overwatch,” “Call of Duty” and “Candy Crush.”

Michael Davis, Editor Emeritus

On Jan. 18, Microsoft announced plans to buy Activision Blizzard, creators of “World of Warcraft,” “Overwatch” and the “Call of Duty” franchise, in a massive $68.7 billion deal, making it the company’s largest acquisition ever. While this deal can bring a lot of positives to both companies, some issues require close attention: the possibility of Microsoft becoming a monopoly in the gaming industry, and if this buyout will fix the “frat boy culture” Blizzard is reportedly known to harbor.

Before snatching up Activision, Microsoft already owned plenty of in-house developers that they bought up in order to build their massive library of games.

The two most notable of these companies are Bethesda, developers of the “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls” series, in a deal completed on March 9, 2021, for $7.5 billion, and Mojang, creators of “Minecraft,” for $2.5 billion in 2014

On top of that list of in house talent, Microsoft also shares deals with outside developers such as Moon Studios, creators of “Ori and the Blind Forest.”

If Microsoft was to add Activision Blizzard to their portfolio, that would make it the third-largest gaming company in the world by revenue, just behind Tencent in China and Sony in Japan.

With its army of developers, the huge success of Xbox Game Pass recently reaching 25 million subscribers, in addition to the fact that it would be the second largest tech company in the world next to Apple, the signs of Microsoft becoming a monopoly with disproportionate power are certainly clear to see.

Even though Microsoft can argue that it is actually still smaller than Sony and Tencent in order to justify its acquisition, the Biden administration is cracking down on big tech companies, such as Amazon and Facebook, so it is not a done deal that Microsoft will be able to close this purchase by the end of the  2023 fiscal year.

Concerns about monopoly aside, the opportunity for Microsoft to buy Activision Blizzard actually comes at a good time. Recently, Blizzard has actually been caught in a whirlwind of scandals involving sexual harassment and discrimination of female employees which eventually caught up to CEO Bobby Kotick, who allegedly knew about the sexual-misconduct at his company for years.

In addition to the sexual harassment of women, some of the poor practices at Activision Blizzard include layoffs as recent as last year that led to a strike, having a hotel suite at BlizzCon 2013 called the “Cosby Suite,” men taking credit for the work of women, breast milk allegedly being stolen from nursing rooms and much more.

Activision Blizzard has been trying to ease public tension by making some changes to their games and company. 

One of those fixes was changing the names of many in-game characters based on actual employees caught in the scandals, such as changing Overwatch’s Jesse McCree, named after one developer of the game and members of the “Cosby Suite,” to Cole Cassidy. Another more substantive change came in the form of “pushing out” over three dozen employees and disciplining about 40 others over workplace misconduct since the accusations started in July of.

It is uncertain if and when Kotick will leave the company, but according to the Wall Street Journal, Kotick is expected to do so after the deal has closed. His departure has been implied to the employees of Activision Blizzard as well as in an all-heads meeting after the announcement of the sale, where Kotick said that he would “stay (only) as long as is necessary to ensure that we have a great integration and great transition.”

Employees of Better Activision Blizzard King, a worker’s alliance formed after the California lawsuit also wished for the removal of Bobby Kotick as CEO and said the Microsoft acquisition “does not change the goals of the ABK Workers’ Alliance,” and that they will “continue to work alongside our allies across the gaming industry to push for measurable change in an industry that desperately needs it.”

On the other hand, it seems like the acquisition has left many Activision Blizzard employees with mixed feelings. Some have expressed optimistic views about the hands-off approach Microsoft tends to take with its developers to allow them to create games at their own pace. Others feel worried about another possible layoff implied with the transition and the rest are just relieved that any change at all is happening in the company.

The fact is, too many people have been hurt, and that big changes need to be implemented at Activision Blizzard. As long as Microsoft takes a hands-off approach to allow the development of great games, and intervenes enough to change the toxic work culture of the company, they might just be the change Activision Blizzard has desperately needed.