Opinion: Microsoft's US$70 billion purchase of Activision will give it a massive advantage and gamers will benefit

There is plenty of good news for gamers - unless you're a PlayStation fan.
There is plenty of good news for gamers - unless you're a PlayStation fan. Photo credit: Getty Images

OPINION: Waking up this morning and reading about Microsoft's proposed nearly US$70 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard had me positively salivating.

Normally the news of a multi-billion dollar technology deal like this would leave me cold and worried about the impact on gamers, but I can only see positives if the purchase is given the go-ahead after regulatory review.

Unless you happen to be a diehard PlayStation fan, that is.

Long ago I accepted that the 'good old days' of gaming were well and truly gone. That was when I paid for a game, it worked and didn't need to be patched and you weren't fleeced for in-game purchases.

Subscriptions are already here, but the new acquisition deal signals Microsoft isn't waiting around for Sony to finally launch a worthy rival service; it's going for the jugular and its ever more impressive Game Pass could deal a devastating blow.

Subscriptions on the PlayStation have long been terrible. I grudgingly pay my fee for PS Plus each year so my son and I can play online, but the expectation of getting decent games each month is now non-existent.

I suspect if I totalled up the number of PS Plus games I've played for more than half an hour I would have been able to pay for them all and more with the money I'd have saved from not subscribing.

The Japanese tech giant couldn't even be bothered releasing it's PS Now on demand games service in New Zealand, leaving us with even less choice than some.

Importance of value

That may be about to change, though, with growing rumours that Sony is going to launch a new service, codenamed Spartacus, to take on Microsoft's Game Pass in the first half of this year.

But, by then, my time as a PlayStation diehard may well be over. I just can't see myself paying for two gaming subscriptions each month any more, especially when my gaming time is relatively limited.

And Spartacus is going to have to impress massively if it expects me to give up my Game Pass Unlimited subscription.

For just $20 a month I get access to hundreds of games on my Xbox Series X as well as on my PC - and, unlike the PlayStation, there are many new games included in that offering.

In the last few months I've been able to run around killing aliens as Master Chief in Halo: Infinite, drive expensive cars up a Mexican volcano in Forza Horizon 5 and manage my favourite team in Football Manager 2022 on the very day the games were released for no extra cost.

That's fantastic value, even without considering I also get access to all the EA Play games including FIFA, NFL, NHL and the Battlefield series, as a bonus.

Microsoft has already signalled the purchase of Activision Blizzard is going to bolster the Game Pass portfolio, with the behemoth that is Call of Duty almost certain to make its to PC and Xbox subscribers in the coming months and years.

A screenshot from World of Warcraft
A screenshot from World of Warcraft Photo credit: Blizzard

Throw in Starcraft, Diablo, Overwatch and World of Warcraft too and I might never actually have to buy another game again.

Microsoft has to be careful. The company has already hinted not all of the game franchises it has purchased will be Xbox and PC exclusives. But it may be saying so simply to address any antitrust or monopoly complaints.

I do think it's highly likely you'll still be able to purchase Call of Duty games on the PS5 for the foreseeable future - but you're unlikely to see them on whatever version of Spartacus is finally launched.

They'll be part of Game Pass, though, and people will be clamouring to pay to get access to those games the day they are launched.

It also positions Microsoft nicely in the eSports market too, with three of the top 10 games by earnings part of the deal.

It doesn't take a tech genius to see the prospect of gaming tournaments being streamed directly to consoles and desktops as part of Microsoft's gaming offering in the future.

The negatives

Of course not everyone is happy and there has been a mixed response to the news from gamers.

Jess Conditt, writing for Engadget, pointed out this is likely to lead to more game company acquisitions by Microsoft, Sony and others.

"With just a few massive studios controlling a huge chunk of the software pipeline, it could instill a sense of homogeneity among new titles, killing innovation as each developer attempts to conform to the corporate environment around them, actively or subconsciously," she wrote.

Luke Plunkett, writing for Kotaku, thinks the deal is already going to have other companies worried.

"There is zero chance that boardrooms everywhere from EA to Ubisoft to Sony aren't going to be full this week with panicked executives talking about their options for something similar, because their only instinct will be to match this," he wrote. 

I understand where they're coming from but, even considering those risks, I can't help but be excited about the news.

As a gamer, I've never been one to give money where it doesn't belong (although my recent purchase of the remastered Grand Theft Auto Trilogy comes close), and if games become too similar then I'll simply unsubscribe.

Until that point, I'm just looking forward to the new worlds this will open up, without me needing to spend an absolute fortune on games.

"This acquisition will make Game Pass one of the most compelling and diverse line-ups of gaming content in the industry," Microsoft noted when it released the news of its purchase.

Often press releases are full of speculative, flowery language. In this case, it's as accurate as I've ever seen.

Bring it on. I've got my controller ready.

Mike Kilpatrick is Newshub's technology editor.