Xbox acquires radioactive publisher Activision Blizzard

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Over the past year or so, Microsoft has been on a purchasing spree, acquiring several publishers and studios to swell out the ranks of first party content for Xbox and the latest one is a doozy: Activision Blizzard.

The news just broke via a report from the Wall Street Journal, but was confirmed minutes later by Microsoft itself. The deal is valued at around $70 billion and will add one of the largest publishers in the videogame industry as one of the many jewels that currently festooned an already bedazzled Infinity Gauntlet.

This acquisition isn’t going to be without challenges. Over the past few months, Activision Blizzard has been battered by a number of allegations regarding workplace toxicity, the discrimination and mistreatment of women and other marginalized employee, as well as multiple lawsuits regarding these matters.

Xbox Activision Blizzard

And while some corporate apologists might dare suggest that these are all simply accusations, the company has been caught destroying evidence relevant to these accusations, hemorrhaging talent and its own chief executive Bobby Kotick is a participant in this toxic culture, intervening to protect harassers and abusers within the company.

But for all the negative perception that surrounds Activision Blizzard, the company remains valued at a $50 billion market cap, despite a 30% drop in its stock value. A deal of this magnitude should raise antitrust concerns. Xbox consumers might be happy to see the Game Pass portfolio fatten, but corporate consolidation stinks.

Just to give you a sense of how big a deal this deal is, Microsoft paid $7.5 billion to acquire the full slate of Zenimax Media, including Bethesda Game Studios, Tango Gameworks, MachineGames, Arkane Studios and more, with dozens of marquee IPs like Fallout and Wolfenstein at their disposal. The $70 billion deal for Activision means dozens of studios and franchises like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, Diablo, Overwatch, World of Warcraft and more.

You can expect a lot of conversation and think pieces in the weeks and months to come, but for now it’s difficult to even wrap one’s head around the fact that the fastest growing console brand has acquired arguably the largest publisher in North America. For now, I think the most important question to ask is what Microsoft is going to do about arguably one of the most radioactive companies in gaming.

It was a bit of a disappointment last week when, in an interview with the New York Times by Kara Swisher, Xbox boss Phil Spencer dodged questions regarding his and Xbox’s responsibility in dealing with publishers like Activision and executives like Bobby Kotick. We can see now in hindsight that Spencer’s evasiveness was a consequence of being aware that they were going to be Xbox’s problem soon enough.

Its difficult to pass down judgment on the very company that’s going to be your problem in mere weeks. And now that it is, it’s going to be Microsoft’s responsibility to show the world what kind of company they are in the actions they take and the future that Xbox has in mind for Activision Blizzard.

If it is even possible to clean up Activision Blizzard — to rinse it off the locker room stains and stench that decades of fratboy culture have left and purge it of the discrimination and misogyny that permeated the managerial and executive ranks — it’s going to require years of work and even more years to fully regain trust.

Right now, I’m not optimistic. I may have co-founded a site devoted to Xbox as a platform, but that doesn’t mean I’m uncritically stanning for the corporation that holds and maintains that platform, especially when they’ve chosen to keep Bobby Kotick exactly where he is. Part of me hopes that this is simply a face-saving choice that lets Kotick stay on for a few months until he “quietly retires,” but it’s also a reminder that executives are a protected class accorded a “dignity” they don’t deserve.

There’s a lot to process but for now, I leave you with the reminder that Activision Blizzard still sucks, and if Microsoft and Xbox aren’t careful that suckage could rub off on them too.