On January 18th, Microsoft announced that it would be acquiring Activision Blizzard, the company behind Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Overwatch, among other popular titles.
The acquisition, which cost $68.7 billion, comes at a time when the company has been under a lot of scrutiny. There are two main reasons why the acquisition by Microsoft is stirring conversation among some long-time fans of the company’s titles.
In July of 2021, it was announced to the public that the state of California was suing Activision Blizzard over claims of a hostile and sexist working environment. According to the New York Times, the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing said that Activision Blizzard “is a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”
For fans of Blizzard’s games, this news was troubling for a few reasons. First of all, this is not the first time a major game company has been accused of sexism or harassment. Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends and VALORANT, has also had its fair share of controversy surrounding allegations of gender discrimination.
Workers at Activision Blizzard have stood together since the lawsuit was filed, promptly standing together and denouncing the company’s reaction to the lawsuit last summer. The Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance, also known as “A Better ABK”, has been organizing tournaments and fundraisers to support current and former employees while they are on strike.
The other main question fans have regarding Microsoft’s plan moving forward is what is going to happen to Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV? These games offer an exciting sequel and new installment to two of Activision-Blizzard’s biggest titles.
Though the concept of adding installments to undoubtedly popular and competitive titles is one that many companies have used in the past to keep their games relevant, both Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV were announced over two years ago and players have yet to play even a beta version of either game. This development timeline is extremely slow and has resulted in many players choosing to stop playing Overwatch entirely. Activision Blizzard announced in 2020 that it has no new content for the original game planned until the release of Overwatch 2, and we still don’t know when that will be. As for Diablo IV, PC Gamer reported not to expect the game until “2023 at the earliest.”
Acquiring Activision Blizzard gives Microsoft new leverage in the gaming industry. Since the deal is so large – the largest in Microsoft’s history – it's still under review by the Federal Trade Commission. Yet this hasn’t stopped Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella from commenting on what he intends to do with his company’s new acquisition.
Nadella believes that having a larger card to play in the gaming industry will propel Microsoft into the lead as fellow companies scramble to build the metaverse. Having the ability to utilize resources that come from owning Activision Blizzard will give Microsoft a big step forward in this process, since gaming has been a big focus in the metaverse up to this point.
Nadella also stated that he believes the acquisition by Microsoft can fix Activision Blizzard’s sexist and discriminatory culture. One key action that Activision Blizzard employees were calling for after the lawsuit became public was for the resignation of CEO Bobby Kotick, and much of the public agreed. Yet with Microsoft’s new involvement, Kotick will be receiving a hefty paycheck. This begs the question, how can Microsoft fix the culture in the company while still employing many of the people who cultivated that environment in the first place?
As a fan of games that Activision Blizzard has produced, these comments by Nadella make me a bit concerned. While forward innovation and restructuring is something that Activision Blizzard desperately needs, I question the ability to reform the current and long standing environment of sexism. I also hope Microsoft doesn’t leave fans of its classic games in the dust by expanding into the metaverse, but only time will tell what is in store as the deal between the two giant enterprises develops.