Does Microsoft have the wrong idea about Blizzard? (Picture: Activision Blizzard)
I’ve tried to stay out of the arguments about Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard, and their general attitude to outspending Sony. I don’t like it but there’s no doubting that Sony would do exactly the same thing if they had the money, so there’s only so my sympathy I can feel about one giant company being bullied by another even bigger one.
As expected, Microsoft has become unbearable ever since getting the go-ahead for the acquisition, as if spending $69 billion to buy the company that makes Call Of Duty is some kind of great artistic achievement. They won, they’re full of themselves, I get it. But what crossed the line for me was when they apparently described Blizzard as being the ‘Pixar of gaming’.
I think that solidifies what rubs me up the wrong way about all this: that Microsoft is a sucker for its own hype and really doesn’t understand what it’s doing with these companies it’s buying or what their place in the industry is.
Bethesda has made some classic games in their time, but I’d say they’ve been on a downward spiral for a while now. The last great game from their main studio (Bethesda Game Studios) was probably still Skyrim and apart from Hi-Fi Rush their last good game from one of their other developers was id Software’s Doom Eternal in 2020.
They’re a decent company, with some talented studios, but they’re inconsistent and Bethesda Game Studios seems incapable of keeping up with modern standards in terms of gameplay, story, and graphics. Starfield was okay but it was old-fashioned and stuck in the past.
Then you’ve got Activision, who basically only make one game. Obviously Call Of Duty sells, but the way Microsoft talks about it you’d think it was the most critically acclaimed series of all time – rather than just part of the gaming furniture, doing the same thing year in and year out.
Which brings us back to Blizzard, the ‘Pixar of gaming’. Before I start, that’s an amusingly old-fashioned phrase that used to get thrown around a lot in the 2000s, during Pixar’s golden era. It was used to describe anything that was seen to be the best and most successful in its industry, especially in terms of creativity and imagination, so that being the ‘Pixar of whatever’ was a great compliment.
I remember Valve being called the Pixar of gaming quite a lot, until they stopped making games, but it’s certainly been used for a number of others too. All American as far as I know, when I would’ve thought Nintendo was a far better comparison, but maybe that’s on purpose because Pixar are American?
Either way, it’s not much of a compliment now because whatever you think of the quality of their output Pixar are no longer the hit factory they used to be, so it’s no longer the accolade the nameless Microsoft exec must’ve meant it as.
That aside, I wouldn’t say creativity and imagination are the first words I’d used to describe Blizzard. World Of Warcraft seems to have hit a dead end, they’ve run Overwatch into the ground, and while Diablo 4 was well received at first, I’ve heard nothing but complaints since.
Those are the only three franchises they ever seem to bother with now and they all seem very tired and safe. Is that really the best example of creativity in the games industry?
I feel like Microsoft is acting like someone who’s put too much on their credit card and is trying to convince themselves and others that it was all worth it. Maybe it will be, if they can keep Call Of Duty ticking over and revive some dormant franchises (I guarantee they’ll try and make Starcraft: Ghost happen at some point) but they’re only setting themselves up for disappointment if they think they’ve bought someone of the quality of Naughty Dog or FromSoftware.
Maybe Call Of Duty and Candy Crush is worth $69 billion but those aren’t exactly avant-garde gaming, like the best of Sony and Nintendo. I still think Microsoft would have been better taking that money and setting up brand new studios. Phil Spencer has been in charge for almost a decade now and he hasn’t created anything, just spent the company’s money buying things that already exist.
If it works, it works but fooling themselves into thinking companies like Bethesda and Blizzard are at the cutting edge of gaming seems like Xbox is setting themselves up for a fall.
By reader Grackle
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A reader questions the reputations of Bethesda and Blizzard and suggests that Microsoft doesn’t fully understand the companies it’s buying.