Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive welcomes Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard--and Meta announces partnership with Microsoft on cloud gaming for virtual reality headset

Shortly after an unconditional-clearance decision by Brazil's antitrust authority, Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard has received another major endorsement:

Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive (best known for its Grand Theft Auto series, and the third-largest publicly traded game maker in the Americas and Europe), has declared himself in favor of the deal as Yahoo! was first to report. He says it's a good thing for the industry and will create opportunities for other games companies (such as Take-Two).

Take-Two acquired Farmville maker Zynga to build up muscle in online games, just like Microsoft's primary reason to buy Activision Blizzard (or Activision Blizzard King, reflecting the importance of Candy Crush) is to become a major player in mobile gaming. The CEO of Microsoft Gaming, Phil Spencer, explained this again a few days ago in an interview. The #2 reason he mentioned is that company's strength in PC games.

In that video interview, Mr. Spencer mentioned the Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft franchises. During my Blizzard years, we launched Warcraft II, Diablo I, and Starcraft I, and my names appears in the credits of all three of those mid-1990s titles. As you might imagine, it feels very special when I now hear a senior executive of one of the world's largest corporations discuss the importance of those games:

Microsoft wants to open up game distribution, which is why Google is lobbying against the transaction. Open markets are not in Sony's interest either: it capitalizes on its walled garden and is projecting its own strategic focus on exclusive content (it has gobbled up numerous game development studios in recent years) onto Microsoft.

My guess is that Take-Two is just too afraid of being disadvantaged by Apple and Google, and that may be the reason why the company isn't officially supporting Epic Games' appeal against Apple. (Let me point you to my previous post, which discusses why the stage is set for a major reversal, even more so now that the names of the three judges who will decide Epic v. Apple are known.)

I have experienced my own problems with the mobile platform monopolies as a small app maker. I can't imagine that Take-Two likes Apple's and Google's app distribution terms and policies more than Epic Games or I do. It's just that not all of us are equally vocal about it. The current mobile app distribution universe is a tyranny, if not a reign of terror. If the market is opened up through some combination of legislation, regulation, and litigation, and if Microsoft then delivers on its promise of "better revenue and fair marketplace rules" by creating additional ways to connect game creators and players, many companies (such as Take-Two) will benefit. Hopefully the popularity of franchises like Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Call of Duty, and Candy Crush will contribute to that.

In other--but somewhat related--news, Microsoft announced a partnership yesterday with Meta (Facebook). Xbox Cloud Gaming and Xbox Game Pass will come to the Meta Quest Store. Meta Quest is the company's virtual reality headset.

It was, in fact, one of the motivations for Epic to challenge Apple's and Google's app store monopolies that the future of gaming will in no small part involve virtual reality and agumented reality, and Epic was worried about the VR/AR world being subjected to similar rules as today's smartphones and tablet computers. That became known thanks to last year's Epic v. Apple trial.

GameSpot reported on the Meta-Microsoft announcement. That site has been around since the early days of the World Wide Web. In 1996, GameSpot published my first online article ever, which at the same time was my first English-language article: the "WarCraft II Insider's Guide," which "reveal[ed] facts not found in the game's documentation or in the Map Editor" because I obtained some information on the game's inner workings from my friends on the development team. While I can't find the article on GameSpot itself anymore, a third party cached it, and it's still referenced by Wowpedia, a World of Warcraft fansite.